If you are spending some time in Exeter or Exmouth, you’ve got to check out the Exe Estuary. Home to beautiful little villages, a castle, plenty of wildlife and beaches galore, there’s loads to see and do in this area.
You can either hike the 26 mile Exe Estuary trail, which involves a boat across the river, or road trip around, stopping at points of interest along the way. If you don’t have a car, there are also train connections.
This Exe Estuary trail guide will talk about the main points of interest along the route. I’ll include hiking distances, parking information, and train information, so you can make an informed decision about which mode of transport you want to use to explore the estuary. I’ll start and finish the guide at Exmouth, but of course, if you are staying anywhere else, just start from there!
The Exe Estuary trail takes in:
- Exeter (detour, not recommended if you are hiking)
- Powderham Castle
- Dawlish Warren
You can stop at all or some of these places, and enjoy the scenery, activities, and culture of each.
Let’s go into each one…
Things to do on the Exe Estuary
I won’t chat too much about Exmouth, as you’ll likely be staying here, but you can check out my full Exmouth travel guide for all the information that you desire!
In short: it’s a charming seaside town, and if you aren’t staying it is definitely worth hiking to the Geoneedle to see the start of the Jurassic Coast. The marina is a lovely place to walk around, with lots of gorgeous yachts and fancy apartments. There are lots of restaurants to enjoy a meal, any time of day, along the seafront and in the city centre. It (obviously) sits at the mouth of the river. Once you are actually on the river, it’s a perfect place for paddleboarding.
Follow the cycling trail up from Exmouth. This will take you up to Topsham, with a few stops en route…
Lympstone is a tiny village with a few shops and restaurants, but not a massive amount of amenities. If you are fortunate enough to be there during low tide, the beach looks spectacular. Otherwise, it’s a pleasant place to pass through on your way up the estuary. You’ll go past the Lympstone Commando centre and corresponding station – you can only get off at this station if you have official business at the centre!
If you are driving, there is a car park with free (!) parking at Lympstone Village station with 13 spaces. Underhill Car Park is a short walk from the centre and has many more spaces, but prices start at 50p for 30 minutes.
You can take the train from Exmouth to Lympstone Village, but it is a straightforward walk.
Exton is also quite small but charming, but the Puffing Billy Inn is a great place to stop for some food or drink. Also, look out for birdwatching platforms in the area. The Exe Estuary is home to a range of birdlife, so if you are into birdwatching, be sure to pack your binoculars!
You can park at the Puffing Billy if you are eating or drinking at the pub, or there is parking at Exton Station.
Topsham used to be a port and now stands as a historic small town at the top of the Exe Estuary. Enjoy 17th century houses lining the river, and pop into the Topsham Museum to learn all about the history of the town. In true British style, there are of course lots of pubs to pop into here as well. Check out The Lighter Inn and The Globe.
Topsham has a station, with trains from Exeter. A lot of the parking is resident-only, but there are some car parks available in the town. Check here for their parkopedia page.
From Topsham, you can take a ferry across the river to Exminster. If you are driving or taking the train, you might want to pop into Exeter.
If you are taking the train around, you’ll need to stop in Exeter; and you also might want to pass through if you are driving. However, if you are walking, it is a bit of a hike into the centre, and there are enough activities here to pass a whole day!
In Exeter, I’d recommend seeing:
- The Quayside, which is the area nearest the estuary and the Custom House
- Exeter Cathedral
- Exeter’s Underground Passages
If you have longer in Exeter, it’s well worth doing a Red Coat Tour to learn more about the city!
There are, obviously, lots of paid car parks in Exeter, and on-street parking in various locations as well. And you’ll be able to get from any of the mentioned stations to Exeter Central or Exeter St David’s.
The Exe Estuary trail doesn’t actually go into Exminster town, and I wouldn’t recommend detouring unless you want to get some refreshments. The Exe Estuary trail route does go over the Exminster marshes, an excellent area for birdwatching. Keep your eyes out for different types of birds, including geese, redshanks, and widgeons.
There is no station in Exminster, but if you are exploring by train, you could:
- Travel by train to Topsham and cross the river
- Walk from Exeter (one hour thirty minutes)
- Take a train to Starcross and then walk (also one hour thirty minutes).
There are a few car parks; check out the list on Parkopedia here.
Powderham Castle was actually a family home and enjoys 600 years of history. Home to the Courtenay family, Powderham has been the site of resistance against Civil War sieges. It has architectural features from the Georgian, Rococo and Regency period. Guided tours operate around the castle, and you can enjoy the gardens at your leisure.
If you are hiking, you might need to return to Powderham at another time to properly see the castle – unless you make it your only real stop and leave early! However, as it’s only a 2 mile walk from Starcross, you could still enjoy the gardens and the views of the castle.
If you are driving, free parking is available for Powderham guests. The nearest train station is Starcross; from there it is a 30 minute walk.
Starcross is a small village with charming historic buildings overlooking the river. If you’re into rail history, this is an ideal place to stop; one of Brunel’s (the same guy who designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge) railway pumping stations are here. It’s also a great place for trainspotting.
From Starcross, you can take a boat back over to Exmouth. If you have time, and want to experience the coast from the other side of the estuary, you can walk a bit further down into Dawlish Warren, and then backtrack to get the ferry.
If you are driving, you will find on-street parking at Starcross, and there is a station in the village for train travel.
At the end of the Exe Estuary, opposite Exmouth, is Dawlish Warren. This is a very holiday-vibe place (in the summer at least, I once visited on a cold, grey, November day and it wasn’t exactly inviting!). There are sand dunes to walk around, and lots of beach space, as well as a lot of small stalls and shops selling buckets and spades.
There’s a large car park in Dawlish Warren for parking, costing around 1 per hour. There is a station at Dawlish Warren, which is served by the same train that stops in Starcross.
You’ve made it to the end of the Exe Estuary Trail! If you started at Exmouth, you can make your way back to Starcross to get the ferry. If you did this as a circular walk from Exeter or anywhere else, you should be back where you began.
Exe Estuary Trail Guide
The Exe Estuary is a lovely place to visit if you are into hiking, birdwatching, drinking in small village pubs, castles, or beaches! It’s a great day trip from Exeter or Exmouth, so if you fancy seeing some of beautiful rural Devon and its riverside life, be sure to check it out while you are on holiday in the area!
I’ve got plenty of other Devon posts to help you plan your trip to this beautiful county!