Station to station walks – Topsham to Exmouth

Local train passing by with river estuary views and blue skies.

It’s tempting, when you alight the train at Topsham station to head straight into town. A visit is to be recommended but be warned, Topsham’s riverside vibe, independent eateries and intriguing shops are easily enough to absorb a whole day.

But don’t provide as much exercise as this estuary walk to Exmouth.

The Exe Estuary Trail

Blue skies and swirling brown water with two bridges over them.
The Exe Estuary Trail, Fi Darby

This station to station walk is part of the fantastic Exe Estuary Trail, which provides cycling, wheeling and walking opportunities along both sides of the lower River Exe with Exeter being the midpoint.

The section of the Exe Estuary trail between Exmouth station and Lympstone is accessible for wheelchairs, small mobility scooters, power chairs and larger mobility scooters (as well as pushchairs).

Plenty of train stations.

There can be few walking trails with such an abundance of stations from which to choose. On this section, known as the Avocet line but also the Exmouth Branch Railway, I passed five but the opposite side of the river also has several.

With enough time, you could start at Exmouth station and walk the gentle 36 kilometres around to Dawlish station on the other side.

But the good news is you don’t have to walk all the way.

I’ve covered the Dawlish side of the Exe estuary in my Marsh Barton to Starcross station to station walk. Just hop on and off the train when you feel like it and you’ll enjoy fantastic views however you’re travelling.

Train station walks

Rural signpost pointing right saying 'station' one quarter of a mile. Hedge behind.
Station Sign Exton, Fi Darby

Accessing my walking routes by train has given me a new-found ability to explore. I’m not a confident driver so my adventures by train have enabled me to enjoy walks and other outdoor activities in locations I might not otherwise have been able to get to.

Train travel has given me the freedom to explore.

And what better way to explore than via a station to station walk. No tricky circular route planning, no scenery repetition, no concerns about car park times.

Just me, the train line and the views.

And even better than that, walking station to station often means I get to view the walk I have just done from the comfort of the train on my journey home.

Taking your dog on the train

Small white dog sitting on a purple blanket on the train floor.
Dog on a Train, Fi Darby

My companion on this walk was Fred the (mostly) Jack Russell. Like all terriers, he’s quite excitable so my journeys weren’t quite as relaxing as usual but he loved the walk.

And he did his very best not to bark at everyone who wanted to use the train loo.

Fred and I are currently working up to longer train journeys. We’re getting there and I’m convinced the effort (and all the treats) are worth it. I love taking him on adventures with me and (here’s something you might not know)…

Dogs travel free on trains!

I’m not a dog behaviour expert but I do have some experience of dogs on trains. I’ve put together some information about taking your dog on the train if you’d like to find out more.

Shared cycling and walking paths

Two blue signs for the Exe Estuary Trail with a bike sign and a white number 2 in a red box.
Exe Estuary Trail, Fi Darby

I walked this route on a term-time Monday so there weren’t many bikes around but it’s worth remembering if you choose to visit at a busier time, that shared paths are for everybody. When you’re walking, try to keep to one side of the path and look out for those moving faster than you.

It’s also really helpful if you can keep your dog under close control. Fred stayed on his lead and didn’t seem to mind.

Walking route Topsham station to Exmouth station

Bright yellow field of rapeseed with thundery grey skies above.
Rapeseed Field Lympstone, Fi Darby
  • Start stationTopsham station (a GWR station)
  • Finish stationExmouth station (a GWR station)
  • Distance – 10.19 km (6.3 miles)
  • Elevation – 70.27 metres (mostly flat)
  • Time – 3 hours
  • Refreshments – The Boathouse Cafe in Topsham, the Puffing Billy Inn at Exton, the Swan Inn at Lympstone.
  • Toilets – Next to Exmouth station or at Topsham Quay (10 minutes walking from Topsham station).

Walking route GPX – Topsham station to Exmouth station.

From Topsham station

If you’ve arrived from the Exeter direction, leave the station but don’t cross the level crossing into town. Instead, turn right past the church then right again. Continue until you come to a fork, take the smaller lane on the right.

From here you will be able to follow the Exe Estuary Trail signs.

The lane will eventually take you over the railway line then left alongside it and downhill. When you come to the Bowling Green Marsh sign, turn left to head under the railway and onto the boardwalk of the Exe Estuary Trail.

Along the Exe Estuary Trail

Wooden fence with peep holes at different heights through to marsh beyond. Blue skies.
Hide Exe Estuary Trail, Fi Darby

Keep an eye out for bikes and runners as you enjoy this wide, boarded walkway. Enjoy the bird life behind the hide peep holes set along this part of the trail.

Through Exton

White traditional pub with benches outside and a large sign saying The Puffing Billy. Blue skies.
Puffing Billy Pub Exton, Fi Darby

This section includes some lanes without pavements but it is relatively short. As you enter Exton, the trail turns left away from the estuary and railway. Follow it until you meet a lane then turn right. Keep going along this lane until you spot the Puffing Billy pub on the corner. Turn right towards Exton station, which is a request only station so signal the driver if you want to board.

You’ll find a lovely children’s play area opposite the pub (dogs not permitted).

To continue your walk, just before Exton station, take the path that forks left and rejoin the trail.

From Lympstone Commando

This section of the trail takes you past the Royal Marines Commando training centre at Lympstone. There are some interesting information boards to read and you’ll get a glimpse of their assault courses.

Those nets are much higher than you might imagine.

Lympstone Commando has to be one of the smallest train stations I’ve ever visited. It’s another stop-on-request station so signal the driver if you want to board.

Through Lympstone Village

Estuary view on a windy day. Brown, whipped up water and blue skies with trees framing the picture.
View from Darling’s Rock Lympstone, Fi Darby

As you approach Lympstone, you’ll find two footbridges over the railway. The first is a bit dilapidated, I recommend the second but they both bring you onto the local football field, which is atop the headland known as Darling’s Rock.

The views from the estuary side of this field are magnificent.

Exit the football area towards the town and find your way through to the Swan pub, exploring the Quay and the beach, and spotting Peters’ Tower on the way.

Village beach with houses and a quirky brick clock tower. Washing lines on the beach.
Peters’ Tower Lympstone, Fi Darby

Peters’ Tower is available as holiday accommodation through the Landmark Trust.

From the Swan pub, follow the lane under the railway line and head uphill. Just opposite the large smiley face (you’ll spot it) turn right down the footpath.

At the footpath crossroads, continue straight to head up the hill. The path will take you behind houses then round past an open area. Continue until you reach the lane then turn right and walk until you meet the cycle trail again (just before the railway bridge).

On the other side of the bridge, there is an option for a more coastal public footpath but on the day I walked, this was impassable with mud and the cycle route seemed preferable.

To Exmouth station

Small blue boat planted up with a mix of bright spring flowers. Sign saying Exmouth in Bloom.
Approaching Exmouth station, Fi Darby

It’s an easy walk from Lympstone to Exmouth, just follow the cycle trail. Exmouth station is just beyond the end of the trail. You can make your return journey by train straight away or continue to explore Exmouth beach and enjoy some of the local amenities.

I can recommend Rockfish on Pier Head.

Passenger ferries on the Exe estuary

People walking down to river to meet a small boat coming in. Attractive coloured houses on the other side.
Topsham to Topsham Lock Ferry, Fi Darby

The Exe estuary has some great passenger ferry options, which, in season, give you the opportunity to connect this walk with different sections of the Exe Estuary Trail and alternative train stations.

The Exmouth-Starcross ferry

  • Exmouth – Exmouth Marina entrance (east side)
  • Starcross – next to Starcross railway station (west side)
  • When? – April to October
  • Bikes? – No
  • Booking – On board, cash only
  • Weather – Check Facebook or call for updates

The Exmouth-Dawlish Warren ferry

  • Exmouth – Exmouth Marina (east side)
  • Dawlish Warren – northern tip (away from amenities)
  • When? – Seasonal, from April 1st
  • Bikes? – No
  • Booking – On board
  • Weather – Call for updates

The Topsham-Turf Locks Ferry

  • Topsham – Trout’s Boatyard (east side)
  • The Turf pub – jetty at the end of the garden (west side)
  • When? – Seasonal, from April 1st
  • Bikes? – Yes
  • Booking – Recommended for the ferry and the pub

The Topsham-Topsham Lock Ferry

  • Topsham – Ferry Road slipway (east side)
  • Topsham Lock – locks before the Turf pub (west side)
  • When? – Seasonal, from April 1st
  • Bikes? – Yes (restricted numbers)
  • Booking – Pay on board, cash and contactless cards
  • Weather – Forecast and tide dependent (check the website)

Author’s station to station walk

Woman with orange headband and glasses underneath Topsham station sign.
Fi Topsham Station, Fi Darby

For me this walk was as much about curiosity as anything. I had walked and kayaked the west (Dawlish) side of the Exe Estuary a few times but had never explored the east side. My desire for another station to station walk gave me the opportunity to do so.

And Fred the dog was my eager companion.

Perhaps too eager. Fred is still undergoing train training and his teenage self finds all the excitement of noises and other people a tad over stimulating.

Like British Rail however, we’re getting there.

With Fred’s over eager interest in other passengers and loud dislike for a travelling pug, this wasn’t an entirely relaxing train ride.

I think we were both relieved to alight at Topsham.

It took me a moment or two to get my bearings (my OS Maps app helped with this) but once I’d found my way through Topsham, the Exe Estuary Trail was easy to follow.

Perhaps too easy.

This is a great walk if you’re under confident about finding your way but the wooden walkways, built mainly for cyclists are perhaps a bit soulless for experienced walkers. For families however, they would be great with plenty of safe space for young ones to run around and easy rolling for pushchairs. With several pubs along the way, this walk would also make a great Devon pub walk.

The wetland hide peeps were a highlight.

Despite its gentleness, this walking route offered fantastic estuary views, and I enjoyed watching the local train trundling up and down the branch line. Lympstone Commando gave a few interesting glimpses into Royal Marine life and I loved the quay and beach at Lympstone Village.

Being so flat and easy, this route was also gentle on my knees.

At Exmouth, I had intended to catch the ferry back across to Starcross and then the train home from there but I decided Fred had had enough new experiences for one day.

He was so tired, he behaved really well on the train journey home.