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Thursday, 30 June 2011

South West Coast Path - Starcross to Paignton

Dawlish Sea Wall Railway

A 22.5 mile walk along 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 railway which runs along the sea wall from Teignmouth up to Starcross and is as inspiring as the walk itself. This iconic stretch of the coastline is probably Britain's most photographed railway.

Starcross to Paignton Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
StarcrossView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
PaigntonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
22.5 miles
Walk difficulty


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.


StageCoach - Bus Service
Service Number
12 - StageCoach Service 12 from Brixham to Paignton
First Great Western - train Service
Service Number
Paignton to Exeter - First Great Western Trains Paignton to Starcross

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 was completed as the second days walk of an 8-day holiday to walk the South West Coast Path between Exmouth and Plymouth. It was a big task to complete such a distance over such terrain in one day but, with ample hours of light with it being so close to midsummer, and with plenty of late buses back to camp, this distance was achievable. Including having to walk from our camp into Brixham at the start and return at the end of the day, it is estimated we actually covered approximately 24-25 miles. Of course, there was always the possibility to pick a bus up at any stage if time was getting short so there was no urgency to complete the distance and in the end the full length was completed by 9pm after setting out at 6am from camp. This time included a breakfast at the Wetherspoons in Paignton before continuing the journey on the train to Starcross. The train journey was as much part of the days walk as the walk itself. I would strongly recommend this short excursion along the Dawlish coast line as walking this coastal section is only achievable when the tide is right.

After alighting at Starcross, it is a little road-walking through to Dawlish Warren but from here there is a choice of route either along the coast by the railway line or alternatively across the cliff tops. We were forced to take to the cliffs as the tide pretty much high. At one point we descended down to a bridge over the railway line and witnessed the waves topping the seafront to confirm that our decision was correct. On the stretch of seafront between Holcombe to Teignmouth the tide had receded enough for us to walk along the seawall which gave plenty of photo opportunities of the trains that came roaring by.

At Shaldon, as we took lunch at the Ferry Inn, I consulted the National Trail Guide Book and found that ahead of us was a section it referred to as The Goat Path which went round the Valley of Rocks and was described as 'a ledge hacked out of the cliff' with only railings on the inside for security. It quite clearly stated that 'Anyone lacking a head for heights may have problems". Now, I am nervous of heights at the best of times and some sections of the coast path both between Brixham and Kingswear and those we had experienced during the previous years hike between Poole and Exmouth were nerve racking enough and the Guide Book had made no remarks of these sections. I read the advice again and again and was fearful enough to plan an alternative route from Maidencombe to Babbacombe so as to avoid the infamous Goat Path. However, soon after we started walking again, we met another group of walkers heading in the opposite direction, they assured us that the section was not as bad as the book made out. We decided to brave it, and indeed, it was not bad at all; the cliff was covered in trees presenting a sort of barrier on the cliff side of the path and the sense of height was minimal. There were most certainly a whole lot scarier parts along the Coast Path other than this.



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

Starcross to Teignmouth

This section has two routes, one along the seawall in front of the railway and one along the cliff tops with connections between the two at Dawlish and Holcombe. It is worth checking the tide times as this can result in having to retrace ones steps if the seawall becomes impassable. This is especially true at Holcombe if you are walking the path northwards as the path under the railway at the end of the seawall is completely impassable at high tide.

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 London Inn, Torquay

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 any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery


Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-16

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