Adventures by train – sea swimming along South Devon’s Riviera Line

The UK’s favourite train line?

Appearing in almost every list of the UK’s top train journeys, the Riviera Line from Exeter to Newton Abbot is a fabulous ride with stunning estuary and sea views.

It’s also an amazing day out.

Throw in a fabulous coast path walk and the possibility of numerous sea swims, it’s easy to see why this is a train adventure people choose again and again.

The Teignmouth to Dawlish Warren walk

Start train station: Teignmouth

Travel time from London: 3 hours

Travel time from Bristol: 1.5 hours

Finish train station: Dawlish Warren

Travel time from London: 3 hours

Travel time from Bristol: 1.5 hours

Author’s adventure tip: This walking route passes multiple food and drink vendors so leave plenty of time to enjoy these, as well as the views along the way. If you’re looking for the best ice-cream in Devon Gay’s Creamery in Dawlish are very generous with the clotted cream, and their shop makes a fabulous halfway stopover with plenty of pies and pasties to choose from.

Practicalities: Not to be recommended at very high tides or in stormy weather.

Much of this walk has the railway line on one side and a steep drop to the beach on the other. Great if you love adventure and train spotting, not so good if you suffer from nerves or vertigo.

There are toilets at Teignmouth Station, Dawlish and Dawlish Warren but none at Dawlish Warren Station.

This route is mostly flat with hilly sections including steps inland around the tunnels at Holcombe and Shell Cove. To avoid these, either walk from Teignmouth to Holcombe then back again or alight the train at Dawlish and walk back to Dawlish Warren.

NB: Renovations on the sea defences at Dawlish have already improved the walkway but work is still ongoing (June 2022). Sensible and well-signed diversions are in place.

Your train adventure

If you’ve ever travelled the Riviera Line you’ll know how stunning its views can be. This train adventure gives you the opportunity to step off the platform straight into the landscape you’ve been admiring. It’s time to breathe that sea air, wave at a few passing trains, and perhaps even join those brave bathers in the sea.

You won’t need walking boots for this one but you should definitely pack your swimming togs because the sea is going to be your companion for most of this journey. Be prepared for a strange combination of traditional English seaside, smugglers’ tunnels and long lonely beaches. I walked in late May.

Your coastal walk

When you leave your train at Teignmouth, the first thing you need to do is sniff. If you can’t smell the sea air yet, you’ll be able to soon.

You’ll also be able to hear the seagulls.

This route isn’t one to be attempted in severe weather (remember what storms did to the Dawlish sea wall) but on a fine day it’s a delight to walk so high above the beach and enjoy the far-reaching views.

You can swim just about anywhere along the route.

But if you’re new to sea swimming or not a strong swimmer, I recommend sticking to the lifeguarded areas (summer only) at Teignmouth South Beach, Teignmouth North Beach and Dawlish Warren

NB: It’s definitely NOT safe to swim anywhere near the Exe Estuary at Dawlish Warren as the area has strong currents.

If you’re not keen on the full submersion experience, consider walking a barefoot section along the beach or submerging your feet and ankles in the water to add an element of difference.

You won’t regret it, I promise.

Your Riviera Line walking route

Walk description

This route includes two long flat sections along a high sea wall, interspersed with some more strenuous sections that allow you to avoid the line’s famous tunnels.

As well as extensive sea views, you’ll get to enjoy a walk up Smuggler’s Lane, a quick taste of South Devon countryside, and a sand dune landscape (plus an optional fun fair at Dawlish Warren).

Planning a walking route using OS Maps 2022

With plenty of station options along the Riviera Line, it’s possible to extend this walk all the way back to Newton Abbot and up the River Exe to Exeter if you fancy a longer challenge. Another possibility is to continue your walk to Starcross and get the Starcross to Exmouth ferry over the estuary where you will conveniently find Exmouth Station and hopefully a train to whisk you off to your next destination.

Walk distance: 10.5km

Total ascent: 173 metres

Your walking route on OS Maps: Teignmouth to Dawlish Warren coast walk.

Route description

The views from this route change dramatically with the weather and tides. Be prepared to watch out for rock stacks, distant ships and perhaps even a bit of cretacean action.

  1. Find the South West Coast Path

Leave Teignmouth Station and follow the signs (and smells of chips) to the seafront. At the beach, turn left, head up onto the walkway, and keep going. You’ll be walking along a piece of history here, this wall was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

2. Take a photo opportunity at Sprey Point

Sprey Point is manmade, created by Brunel himself to allow transport in by boat of materials to construct the railway line you’ve just travelled on.

How many times have you passed this Teignmouth sign on the train? Well now’s your chance to get a photo by it. Don’t forget to tag us in when you share it!

3. Head up Smuggler’s Lane

As you approach Parson’s tunnel spot the stack of Shag Rock out to sea. There was once plenty of smuggler action here with the caves offering opportunities to signal boats, out of view of the excise men.

4. Divert around the tunnels

This section of line goes through five tunnels. None of which you can walk through. At the top of Smuggler’s Lane, turn right and follow the main road for about 200 metres. Then follow the coast path signs down a road, then a narrow footpath. Meet the railway line again briefly (on the other side). Keep following the path as it wriggles towards Dawlish then take the footbridge over the track just past Coryton’s Cove.

5. Back on the sea wall (wave at the trains)

You may find path closures around Dawlish for the sea wall strengthening. Follow any necessary diversions to find your way back onto the sea wall for your walk into Dawlish Warren. This really is a special route so make the most of the experience.

6. Explore the dunes

Once you reach Dawlish Warren you can either stop for a bit of family fun at the fair or bypass the noise and head straight on to the Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve in the dunes. Enjoy a stroll around here and a picnic in the groynes before heading back to Dawlish Warren Station.

Author’s adventure

Living in Torquay, I’ve travelled the Riviera Line more times than I can remember but I know I’ll never tire of that wonderful feeling I get as the train meets the Exe Estuary and the skies grow bigger.

Walking not riding

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to explore this route on foot but on one fine day in May the time seemed right. I set off to the station with a picnic, a drink and my swimming gear packed alongside the smug knowledge that I was in for a treat most people on my train weren’t about to experience.

A blowy day

My plan had been to swim as many times as possible but in the end I was enjoying the walk so much that I settled for a quick dip into a high tide at Coryton’s Cove. The wind was blowing onshore, which made my swim quite splashy but also helped calm my vertigo as it blew me onto, rather than off the high sea wall.

Trainspotting

You would think that the highlight of a coastal walk would be the sea views but for me it was being so close to the passing trains I found most exciting. The track here bends around the coast and as it does, the higher speed trains lean as if excited to have left the city behind and be heading at last to the beach.

Winding Smuggler’s Lanes

The diversion around the tunnels wasn’t my favourite part of the walk but Smuggler’s Lane was charming, and it did offer a glimpse of railside country and some alternative views of the track. After my swim I treated myself to an ice-cream from Gay’s Creamery in Dawlish then sent pictures to make my family jealous.

Groyne yoga

My walk, ice-cream and swim must have put me in a good mood because even the noise of the go-karts at Dawlish Warren made me smile. I bypassed this louder section though for a pleasant stroll around the dunes and a quiet cup of tea next to one of the Warren’s many groynes. Then I tried a very short session of beach yoga to ease my walking stiffness. You might have called it ‘groyne yoga’.

I couldn’t possibly comment.

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