Once By Train: Walking From Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth

Once upon a time, there were two train lines that terminated in Exmouth. One is still in use and travels from Exeter to Exmouth through Lympstone. The other one came through Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth.
The branch line that came through Budleigh was closed in 1967, when many of the smaller lines in England were shut down.
It’s only three or four miles from Budleigh to Exmouth, and part of the old train path is now a bike path, so I thought I would walk from station to station, to see what I could see.
In 1967 when the track was closed down, the station in Budleigh was demolished and the area turned into a store. Later that store was torn down and a housing complex put up.
I had my parents Ordnance Survey map, and spent some time wandering the streets between the demolished station and the beginning of the bike path, trying to find any remnants of the tracks.

I found nothing was left of the train path, but I did meet a couple climbing into their car outside their house.
I introduced myself with a “Hello, how are you today?”
“We’re good, and you?”
“I’m good. I was just wandering around trying to find evidence of the old train tracks.”
“Oh, that’s all been gone for a long time now, we used to sit in the back of our house with our children and watch the trains go past.”
“So it used to run along here.”
“Just over the road there.”
“Do you mind if I take your picture? It might be in the story I write about the walk today.”
“Well if it is, you can mention that yesterday was our 59th wedding anniversary.”

Up a side street from the anniversary couple, is a perfect example of the demise of the British car industry.
A late 70’s Lotus Eclat. It was the ugliest car Lotus ever made, though I must admit the plant pot in the headlight bucket doesn’t help.

The houses come to an end at the B3178 road, and here I found the first remnants of the rail line. There is a brick wall at the edge of the road hidden by ivy, that was once part of a train bridge.

On the other side of that brick wall is this field. The train crossed this field from the bushes on the right side, to almost where the photograph was taken.

From this point onward, the local council decided to convert the abandoned line to a bicycle path.

A quite beautiful bicycle path, on this day of quite beautiful English weather. The weather today was, well, English. The saying goes; “If you don’t like the weather, wait twenty minutes.” So on this sunny morning with no clouds, I put on my jacket and fit the folding umbrella in my pocket.
There is a misconception about the weather in England, by, well, most everyone I meet. Especially in Southern California. When they hear I have been in England most of them say the same thing: “Doesn’t it rain all the time there?” Well, no it doesn’t. Here are a few examples of annual rainfall, (in inches):
Amazon Basin: 80.
New Orleans: 62.
New York: 45.
Exmouth (Southern English Coast): 36.
London: 23.
San Francisco: 20.
Anchorage: 18.
Los Angeles: 15.
It rains more in New York than it does in Exmouth, and it rains twice as much in New York than it does in London.
[Although I should mention, for the sake of fairness, that the moors, 30 miles east of Exmouth, where Sherlock Homes once caught his Baskerville Hound, does get 79 inches a year.]
But there is one thing that is definitely true about English weather, it does drizzle quite a bit.
And I think I know the reason for this.
The man in Los Angeles who makes the weather never changes his mind. I can see him, sitting with his coffee in the morning, looking out over the water and saying the same thing every day: “Warm and sunny, that sounds nice.” Every day, a pasty faced chap, who looks harassed, sidles into the room and quietly says that some clouds and a little rain are needed. The man in charge tells him no. But every once in a while the man in charge relents, just because he’s sick of hearing the pasty faced man whine every day.
In New Orleans the man in charge has an alarm clock. Every day it clatters at the same time. He achingly gets up and pulls a string, which upturns all the buckets in the sky with one fatal swoop. The man then goes back to his Mint Julep and cards.
In England a committee gets together each morning, some call for sun, some call for rain, some call for storms, but they can ever reach an agreement, so it just drizzles all day.
Today, in the morning, it was sunny, but by the afternoon the clouds had swished in from the sea, leaving only intermittent holes for the sun to shine through.

Along the path are hidden columns that once held a pedestrian bridge.

Then it crosses under the main automobile road from Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth.

Where some kind youngsters attempted to beautify the boring brickwork.

Hmm, a ‘Permissive Footpath.’ Does that mean the path permits, nay, encourages you to slide your fingers along her exposed roots?

Here’s another bridge, I don’t have anything to say about it, but it’s pretty. Isn’t that enough?

These are nettles. People call them stinging nettles, can you guess why? Unlike poison ivy, the sting of nettles lasts only about 30 minutes and is more a really annoying, -almost painful- itch.
But for some reason, nettles make a great soup.

As the tracks near Exmouth, the forest disappears and the path cuts straight as a, well, train track, between green fields. On the south side is row upon row of corn, standing tall and green with orange fuzz standing on top like a punk mohawk.
Off in the distance, just visible between the low hills, is the English Channel where it meets the mouth of the river Exe.

When entering the town of Exmouth, the pathway fades into a set of council houses.

But picks up again for a short while as it cuts down toward the center of town.

Where again some youngsters have brightened up the drab brickwork.

The railway bridge that once curled round was removed many years ago. I found a picture of the bridge in a book called “Branch Lines to Exmouth” by Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, published by Middleton Press who kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.
Note the distinctive building on the right hand side.

And my picture of same building today.

I cut through town, pausing for a moment at the fish and chip shop, and finished on the seaside wall to watch the black clouds. The local ferry puttered away, while a dog swam back to shore with a ball in it’s mouth.

And a sailboat headed out to sea.

I understand why people like blue skies, but when clouds like this arrive, a blue sky seems, well, boring.

[This photograph is a panorama, please click to see full size.]

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2 Responses to Once By Train: Walking From Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth

  1. Cat says:

    Really nice to see these photos, Saturday was the first time I’ve done this walk to Exmouth (I usually do the cliff path), although I’ve walked the short Budleigh section of the line many many times.

  2. I and my brother knew this line in the forties and fifties. We lived close to Littleham station which was up the hill from Exmouth on the Budleigh line. Littleham had manually operated level crossing gates, an up and a down platform, a booking office and goods sidings. There was one through train to and from London every day and one goods – the eleven o’clock goods – which generally left a truckload of coal. We spent many happy hours in the signal box with the two British Railways station staff who worked there (one on early, one late term) and acted as signalman, booking clerk and porter – such an old fashioned word! Mr Blockley was thin with dark hair; Mr Kirby had ginger hair with pale blue eyes that sometimes fluttered. They occasionally to let us operate the signals – tough – and help turn the level crossing gate wheel. Most of the passenger trains had two carriages hauled by high funneled tank engines dating back to the 1890s. We once travelled in the cab of an engine to Budleigh – an exciting blustery experience! Sadly as the years went by these trains were used by fewer and fewer people.

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