Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

South West Coast Path - Starcross to Paignton

Dawlish Sea Wall Railway

A lengthy section along the South West Coast Path taking in the the English Riviera between Starcross and Paignton

From the Exe estuary where the ferry links Exmouth and Starcross, the South West Coast Path heads southwards through the English Riviera Towns of Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torquay and Paignton. This section is a mixture of level walking through towns interspersed with hill walking through Maidencombe, Watcombe and Babbacombe and out to Hope's Nose. There are excellent transport links throughout including the iconic railway that runs along the sea wall from Teignmouth up to Starcross and is as inspiring as the walk itself.

Starcross to Paignton Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Starcross View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Paignton View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
22.5 miles
Walk difficulty
Mix of road walking and cliff top paths
An arduous walk. The total ascent is some 4000ft and one needs to be a fit and experienced walker to undertake this as a single walk. If in doubt cut this into smaller sections.


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. The links include published hard copy as well as online plots and downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map
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Online Ordnance Survey Route
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Online OpenStreetMap Route
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Online Google Route
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ViewRanger App Route
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GPX data for route (download)


Upton Manor Farm Campsite, BrixhamView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Upton Manor Farm Campsite, Brixham - a friendly site on the southern edge of Brixham, a mile from the town centre.


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Bus Service
Service Details
Bus service from Brixham to Paignton. At the time of walking this route this was the 12 service operated by Stagecoach. Use Traveline website for the latest services and operators
First Great Western - Train Service
Service Details
Paignton to Exeter - First Great Western Trains Paignton to Starcross
Ferry Service
Service Details
Teignmouth to Shaldon Ferry - Teignmouth to Shaldon Ferry

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
09:00 to 21:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
A mixture of sunny spells and sharp showers in a light south-west breeze.

Walk Notes

This walk was part of an 8-day expedition to walk the South West Coast Path from Exmouth to Plymouth. This section was a big challenge to undertake with a total distance in excess of 20 miles over terrain that included some arduous climbs with a total ascent of some 4000ft. Walking close to midsummers day provided ample hours of light although there was late public transport services along the route as a backup in case the schedule was not kept. The complete distance, starting out from Upton Farm at Brixham and and including transport to Starcross plus stops along the way was completed in 21 hours starting out at 6am and returning back to camp by 9pm on the bus from Paignton. Buses were used to link Brixham and Paignton and the train connected Paignton and Starcross. The train is well worth travelling on with the iconic route along the coastal section at Dawlish that has been used in so many films, photos and paraphernalia. It is worth noting that the footpath along this coastal railway section is restricted by tide times therefore the train ride enables one to view this section in its full glory.

It would be easy to cut this walk into smaller sections for those so wishing with key transport links at Dawlish, Teignmouth and Torquay. There are ample places for rest and refreshment along the route which is very much tourist orientated and is commonly described as the English Riviera.

After alighting the train at Starcross station the Coast Path follows the road alongside the estuary and the ferry across to Exmouth runs from a jetty just south of the station. The waymarked route uses the road through to Dawlish Warren at the head of the estuary where there is access across to the sea wall that runs alongside the railway. Care must be taken here as substantial waves can and do crash across the wall given a high tide. If this is the case, as it was on this occasion, use the alternative road route which runs along the clifftop down to Dawlish. Remember that the sea has no mercy and those waves may have some large pebbles within them. There is a footbridge over to the sea defences close to Dawlish which provides some good views when the seafront path is inaccessible. Full access can be obtained at Dawlish station where the Coast Path route runs along the seafront to Lea Mount then climbs across the hill, leading out onto the road.

South of Holcombe, once again there is a choice of alternative routes depending upon tides. By the time this was reached the tide had receded sufficiently to allow access onto the sea wall. The path leads under the railway and then along the sea wall. This certainly made up for the previous inaccessible section with trains frequently thundering past making some excellent photographic opportunities that mix locomotion and the coast. The path continues along the seafront at Teignmouth crossing over to the river side at the spit of land that juts out into the river mouth. There is a ferry across to the town of Shaldon on the opposite bank where the Ferry Inn pub makes a convenient place to take a break and a spot of lunch.

Lunch breaks on the SWCP always provide the opportunity to look ahead to what one may expect along the route. Determine the severity of the next section; sights and features to explore. Both the OS map and the SWCP Guide Book provide plenty of useful information and are a constant companion throughout the treks conducted around the South West of England. This was just such an occasion at the Ferry Inn. The first section of the path had been easy. The next section through to Babbacombe looked more challenging as the path negotiated cliff paths with some steep ascents. What was of particular concern was a reference in the Guide Book to a section known as The Goat Path that navigated around the Valley of Rocks just south of Maidencombe which it described as a ledge hacked out of the cliff. The book quite clearly stated that anyone lacking a head for heights may have problems. Such warnings spark feelings of nervous fear in those who suffer from vertigo including myself. The South West Coast Path is a challenge in itself for such sufferers and on reading this it automatically provided the impetus to study the OS map for alternative routes. The Goat Path was some way off and the decision would not need to be made until Maidencombe was reached. Until then any verbal reference to the Goat Path in conversation would be designated as The Scary Section.

There is a steep climb out of Shaldon as the path heads to the top of the cliff at The Ness but the reward is some magnificent views of the coast which one has walked. The path then follows the contours of the cliffs with continuing descents and ascents all the way through to Maidenhead, although nothing that would be considered severe in the effort required. It was not long before a group of walkers passed in the opposite direction which provided the opportunity to quiz them about The Scary Section. The term The Scary Section was not understood. An adjustment to the usual name of the Goat Path still lacked any response other than curious returned questions until one of the men cottoned on the the location. The Goat Path. Yes, the path out of the Valley of The Rocks. A woman responded Didn't notice it and after much mutterings there was a unanimous acceptance that as it was not noticed then it could not have been scary. We thanke them for their information and adjusted the reference to the Not So Scary Section although there was still some dubious thoughts that it may be scary.

A brief break was taken at The Thatched Tavern, the picture postcard pub just off route at Maidencombe before embarking on the Not So Scary Section. A pint to pluck up courage. Just in case. Then embarkation to meet the challenge. The path follows the cliff edge for nearly a mile before it enters some woodland and the path turns inland. This is the Valley of the rocks although one encounters a lot of trees and few rocks at this point. A narrow path then descends into the valley, a hand rail on the right next to a vertical cliff that towers above. This is The Goat Path. It is a path hacked out of the cliff but on the left instead of a vertical drop all one witnesses is a mass of foliage. The vegetation is so thick that any sense of one being next to a large drop is masked. This is why the folk or we spoke to failed to comprehend where the Scary Section was. It really is not scary even for someone who detests heights. As the path continues, the foliage gives way to more independent trees and a steep slope is seen but it is not intimidating. It is a slope not a vertical drop. Steps lead down to the floor of the valley. It has to be said that all this vegetation masking the drop was not always there as photos from many decades ago depict (see Watcombe Woods and The Valley Of Rocks webpage).

There are more ascents and descents through to Babbacombe where a funicular railway links Babbacombe Down with Oddicombe Beach below. Beyond this the coast starts to turn towards Torquay. Despite its urbanization there are still cliff top paths that lead around Black Head, Hopes Nose and Thatchers point. The path eventually descends down to the harbour where one can to take a minute to stop, take in the scene, survey the panorama and quietly muse about the lack of views of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the total absence of herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain. All one can see from a Torquay harbour-side is the sea which is neatly placed between the land and the sky. What else would one expect.

The last section of this walk is totally urban. Roads and proms. All the way around to Paignton. This would make an easy ramble for any seaside tourist. For the happy wanderer who was just walked from Starcross it is a lengthy section of hard surfaces. Having said this, there are plenty of places for refreshments.



Follow the route as detailed in the The South West Coast Path: Falmouth to Exmouth National Trail Guide.

The route is well waymarked throughout with the distinctive NAtional Trail acorn markers

Goat Path around the Valley of Rocks, a ledge hacked out of the cliffBabbacombe Cliff Railway
On the left Goat Path around the Valley of Rocks, a ledge hacked out of the cliff; On the right Babbacombe Cliff Railway


The Ferry Inn, Shaldon View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
The Ferry Inn, Shaldon

This pub on the Strand, in front of the river was named the Crown Hotel when it was originally built in the 19th century, though this was probably remodelled on an earlier building.


Had an excellent Ploughmans Lunch together with a very complimentary pint of Teignworthy's Old Moggie.

The Thatched Tavern, Maidencombe View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
The Thatched Tavern, Maidencombe

The original part of building 'the cottage' dates back to the 15th Century. This thatched building has since been extended and the pub is orientated around its restaurant business. Oak floors, granite walls and furnished with sofas and old photos in a modern minimalist way.


Very quiet when we visited but it was mid-afternoon. Had to go for a pint of Firkin Fox just for the name. The barmaid, who was not English, did question me as to my drink request so I had to say a Firkin Fox twice which made me snigger!

The London Inn, Torquay View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub

The Royal Hotel, two doors along from this Wetherspoons pub, is now only a third of its original size. The pub stands on part of the site of the original hotel, which replaced the London Inn in the early 1800s. It changed its name to the Royal Hotel, following a visit made by Princess (later Queen) Victoria in 1833.


Usual Wetherspoons selection of ales. Have to compliment them on having Meadow Ale from Gidleys which is a local microbrewery based on Dartmoor. Most agreeable amber hoppy pint.

The Parson and Clerk rock formation
The Parson and Clerk rock formation


Dawlish Sea Wall RailwayView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The railway between Exeter and Plymouth was constructed in 1844 under the guidance of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The original line used an atmospheric propulsion system. This employed a pipe with a leather flap on top central to the broad gauge track. The pipe was connected to a steam powered 'exhauster' which expelled air from the pipe. These were housed in eight pumping houses located along the line of which only Starcross survives. On the bottom of special propulsion vehicles attached to trains a piston slotted into this pipe and with differences in air pressure either side of the piston trains would be 'sucked' along the line. Initially this system was very successful with trains reaching 60mph but within days serious problems started to occur with air leakage and water ingress in the leather seals together with rats that feasted on the leather. Eventually the project was abandoned and conventional locomotives replaced the atmospheric trains.

The sea wall that the railway runs along has always been prone to damage from stormy seas. In December 1852 a large landslip from the cliffs east of Teignmouth caused the railway to close for four days and in 1855 and 1859 the sea broke through the line at Teignmouth. There have been many more closures since, caused both by landslips from the cliffs and breaches by the sea, especially in winter. Despite the expense in retaining the wall, and although there have been parliamentary debates about an alternative route, the coastal route is considered to be such an iconic tourist attraction that it will be kept for the foreseeable future.


Babbacombe Cliff RailwayView in OS Map | View in Google Map

This cliff face funicular railway links Babbacombe Downs with Oddicombe Beach. It was originally commissioned in 1923 and opened in 1926. WWII brought an end to its operations until 1951 when it was modernized and bought back into service. It is currently operated by a community interest group.

Rainbow looking out to Hopes Nose
Rainbow looking out to Hopes Nose


Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on an image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2018-12-12

2011-06-30 : Initial publication
2018-12-12 : Major updates to the notes + general website updates

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