Group Walking Holiday based in Exeter, August 2015
Written by Graham - route planner and event organiser Photos by John T. (see also photo gallery)
Fifty two members had booked out of term student accommodation for 5 nights at Exeter University. We were allocated single and double rooms in Holland Hall all with ensuite facilities. Breakfast and evening meals were included. The rooms also had tea/coffee/biscuits, mini fridges and Wi Fi was available everywhere.
Linear walks were chosen to cover coastal and inland routes in South Devon and different Leaders volunteered for each day. We arranged for an Exeter coach company, Redwoods Travel to take us from Chelmsford to Exeter and back; as well as ferrying us to our various walk locations each day. This year we designed the routes so that long and short walks could be run in parallel, to cater for those who wanted an 11-13 mile walk and others who wished to spend more time to look around and walk at a more leisurely pace. People also had the freedom to take time off and ‘do their own thing’. This is a diary of our ventures:
By 7.30am we left Sandon VH on our 245 mile journey down to Exeter via the M25, M3, A303 and A3. After a couple of stops for rest/lunch and slow traffic around Stonehenge, we arrived at Holland Hall around 2.30pm. Later Peter lead a City tour which took us through a local park with great views over the Exe Valley, then down to the Quayside and finally up to the magnificent Cathedral. Although Exeter was heavily bombed during WW2 there is still a lot to see with a mixture of ancient and modern buildings. On returning up the hill to the University Campus, many earmarked the local pubs (including Wetherspoons) to visit during the evenings. The dining room was nicely laid out with large round tables and a glass frontage to the west to give us lovely sunny sunsets. Even better, the food was plentiful and varied.
After a very filling breakfast the coach picked us up at 9.15am and took us to Crediton for a walk back to Exeter in the Creedy and Exe Valleys. After a short stop at Morrisons for provisions, Malcolm led us in an easterly direction along the Devonshire Heartland Way. This is a very rural part of Devon passing through little places like Shobrooke with its Holy Well and narrow lanes giving access to dairy farms. When we got to Newton St Cyres railway station a small group dropped off for lunch at the Beer Engine pub, while the rest continued to the village for own lunch on the Green and a drink at the Crown and Sceptre. People preferring a short morning walk decided to take the regular bus back to Exeter, while the rest met up at the old bridge over the river Creedy to continue along the riverside path to a railway crossing at Langford. Paths carried on east to Upton Pyne where we stopped at the church for a break, then passed Cox’s Hill Farm to meet the road at Bramford Speke and the Exe Valley Way going south. There was another railway crossing at Stafford bridge which also crossed the broad river Exe. To avoid walking on the main road back to the University, Malcolm found a shorter ‘back door’ route through steep woods to a road and paths to Holland Hall, which also gave us good high level views of the area we had walked through. In the evening Holland Hall allowed us to use a ‘common room’ (previously occupied by a children’s group) for socialising with our own drinks and of course quizzes and games organised as usual by Pauline.
The coach driver warned us about a ban on coach access down one particular hill into Teignmouth, so we took a diversionary route to the railway station to drop off the short walkers first, to be led by Sue. Driving back up the ‘one way hill’ we started our slightly delayed long walk at Colley Lane Cross. Viv and Andrew led us down the narrow lane to the attractive village of Luton with its very popular pub. Rough and undulating tracks took us to Haldon Park and a drinks break where we all sat on a conveniently placed long log. The quiet downhill road to Bishopsteignton gave us occasional glimpses across the Teign river and the road bridge to Shaldon on the otherside. On entering Teignmouth we followed back streets to the seafront and had lunch on the park benches near the small lighthouse. We also made use of the pubs and beach cafes. Continuing along the promenade and mixing with holidaymakers we saw some intriguing sculptures made up mostly from detritus collected on the sea shore. Most impressive though was the bronze coastal path hiker walking on an empty stomach! Soon the path ran alongside Brunel’s famous coastal railway, with the occasional train passing. Before the rail tunnel through Hole Head, the coastal path goes over the hill to eventually give excellent views down into Dawish. Dawlish was also busy with holidaymakers and we had to follow a short diversion into the town and a road as the coastal path sea defences had not quite been finished. There remained an easy path via the red Langstone rock into Dawlish Warren where the coach was waiting for us.
For the previous 3 days we had walked in sunny conditions but now weather warnings were coming in with prospects of mist, heavy rain and even thunderstorms! Understandably around 20 of our group decided to revisit Exeter, some taking in one of the free guided tours. The rest decided to carry on with the planned walk, so we took the coach over to Sticklepath not far from Okehampton. It was raining at the start but our Leader Chris followed the Tarka Trail along the river Taw through Belstone Cleave. It proved a real delight and very reminiscent of rocky riverside paths found in Yorkshire. We stopped for a drinks break at Belstone village. Although the rain had stopped we noticed the mist covering the higher ground of Dartmoor. It was decided to abandon the longer walk to High Willhays as nothing was visible. Instead we took tracks around the edge of the moor to Cullever steps (now a bridge crossing for Army vehicles) and a route north and west down through farms tracks to meet the road into Okehampton. It was now clear enough to see the Army camp and tents of the local agricultural show that was being held. An extended lunch was taken in Okehampton before we called the coach driver to pick us up at 3pm.
With drizzly rain again we set off to Exton where Geoff lead the long walk. The short walk led by Judy started at Exmouth railway station. The aim was for all to meet up at Budleigh Salterton at the end of the day. From Exton railway station the long boardwalk path follows the Exe estuary and we soon passed the famous Commando training camp at Lympstone, which has its own railway halt. Going on past Lympstone village the views toward Exmouth and the estuary widened. We could see across to Dawlish Warren and with the tide out, there were plenty of wading birds. Lunch was had in a rain shelter on the Exmouth seafront and in a local popular cafe and pub. In the afternoon the rain eased off and we continued along the promenade to the red cliffs that mark the western end of the Jurassic Coast. This is officially marked by a stone ‘geoneedle’ at the top of Orcombe Point. The coastal scenery all along was very picturesque, but at Sandy Bay the Devon Cliffs Holiday Park is an unfortunate blot on the landscape! Following the ups and downs of the cliff path there were obvious signs of erosion and landslides. Budleigh Salterton was very quiet as we descended to sea level. There was time for tea and ice creams before we all met up at the car park.
After loading the coach with luggage, the last morning walk was in bright sunny conditions. We were dropped off at Bicton Park for the walk to Sidmouth, except for a small group who stayed on the coach to spend more time in Sidmouth. Graham led us from Bicton Church along a pretty path into Otterton where the Mill is an obvious tourist attraction. Following narrow tracks and byways we found the coastal path again. As we approached Ladram Bay the view of the beach, high cliffs and sea stacks was breathtaking. The secluded cove and beach was busy with holidaymakers, many of whom were launching boats and canoes to explore the coastline. After a drink stop we could see our last main climb ahead - Peak Hill with an Iron Age hill fort on top. We took our time to get up which was not too difficult, then onto Windgate where the views on both sides were extensive. The coastal path goes through a wooded area and eventually opens out to a grand downhill view of Sidmouth. The local authority has thoughtfully laid out a stack of park benches for people to enjoy this view. Sidmouth was bustling with people in the midday sunshine. We stopped for a group photo before dispersing for lunch in the town. At 2.30pm we boarded the coach for the last time and headed back to Essex.
I would like to thank the Walk Leaders and other C&B members for their contributions towards making the holiday so enjoyable. The Catering staff at Holland Hall were very pleasant and helpful. The Redwoods coach drivers were also great and made good use of their local knowledge to get us around congested traffic.