Exe Estuary Trail

P1150948Gentle summer walks don’t come more scenic than the Exe Estuary Trail, from Exeter to Cockwood, with the option of several places to stop for a drink along the way.

From home it’s a 20 minute walk to the beginning of the historic Exeter Ship canal (1560s) where the trail begins, hugging the glittering waterside throughout its length. I enjoy a reviving cup of tea at the quirky, quaint Topsham Lock Cottage, which opens as a café between 28 June and 25 August, Mondays and Tuesdays excepted.

At Turf Locks the canal joins the wild, sprawling estuary and The Turf, one of the few pubs in the country not accessible by road, sits imposingly on the water’s edge, busy with summer trade. From here you can take a ferry across to the maritime village of Topsham.

At Cockwood (pronounced Cock’ood) by the locals!) I dive into the picturesque Anchor Inn on the harbour front and sink a well deserved pint of Otter ale after my ten mile walk. The Anchor Inn is over 450 years old and was originally opened as a Seamen’s Mission. It was a haven for smugglers and is said to be haunted by a friendly ghost and his dog. The interior is certainly dark and a little gloomy.

From Starcross I take the hourly ferry across to Exmouth and wander to the opening of the Exe Estuary, where conditions are perfect for kite and wind surfing, before hopping on a train back to Exeter.

Buoy 3430, a Class II gas buoy, built in 1922, situated on  a narrow spit of land between the River Exe and Exeter Ship Canal at the entrance to Exeter's Riverside Valley Park.

Buoy 3430, a Class II gas buoy, built in 1922, situated on a narrow spit of land between the River Exe and Exeter Ship Canal at the entrance to Exeter’s Riverside Valley Park.

Double Locks Pub, Exeter

Double Locks Pub, Exeter

Exe Estuary Trail, with Topsham Lock Cottage in the background

Exe Estuary Trail, with Topsham Lock Cottage in the background

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Topsham Lock Cottage

Topsham Lock Cottage

Ahhhh! Nice cuppa tea at Topsham Lock Cottage Café

Ahhhh! Nice cuppa tea at Topsham Lock Cottage Café

Hissing swans!

Hissing swans!

Turf Hotel

Turf Hotel

The remains of Brunel's Atmospheric Railway pumping house at Starcross

The remains of Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway pumping house at Starcross

Cockwood Harbour

Cockwood Harbour

The Anchor Inn at Cockwood

The Anchor Inn at Cockwood

Ferry jetty, Starcross

Ferry jetty, Starcross

Starcross to Exmouth Ferry

Starcross to Exmouth Ferry

Sea wall at Exmouth

Sea wall at Exmouth

Kite and wind surfing, Exmouth

Kite and wind surfing, Exmouth

Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve

P1150798Avoid the tacky resort of Dawlish Warren, and head for the Local Nature Reserve, a spectacular and peaceful area of dunes, grasslands and mudflats.

Thousands of birds come to feed or to spend the winter here and over 600 types of flowering plants have been identified. The surrounding area is plagued by camping and caravan sites but very few people seem to venture on to the dunes and beaches away from the resort; I spied just a few nature lovers (and a nudist sunbather).

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P1150791Reserve

Welcome back Dawlish!

Langstone Rock, Devon.

Langstone Rock, Devon.

The sea wall of the coast-hugging railway line at Dawlish was breached during February of this year following ferocious storms, leaving tracks dangling in mid-air. A 300-strong Network Rail team rebuilt the track at a cost of £35 million and only a section of the sea wall still remains closed due to construction works.

I walk along the sea wall from Dawlish to Dawlish Warren, adjacent to the historic Great Western railway line, venturing on to the beach to admire Langstone Rock, a headland of Permian red sandstone. At the end of Langstone Rock is a large, granite breakwater or groyne where seagulls and cormorants perch.

A charming corner of Dawlish

A charming corner of Dawlish

Looking across to rail tunnels linking Dawlish to Teignmouth

Looking across to rail tunnels linking Dawlish to Teignmouth

Section of sea wall still closed to the public after the February storms

Section of sea wall still closed to the public after the February storms

Imposing Victorian railway architecture

Imposing Victorian railway architecture

Red sandstone cliffs of Dawlish adjacent to the railway line

Red sandstone cliffs of Dawlish adjacent to the railway line

Great Western railway line at Dawlish

Great Western railway line at Dawlish

Langstone Rock, Dawlish

Langstone Rock, Dawlish

Breakwater at Langstone Rock

Breakwater at Langstone Rock

Langstone rock from the breakwater

Langstone rock from the breakwater

Mythical Dartmoor

Dartmeet,  a popular tourist spot in the centre of Dartmoor, Devon.

Dartmeet, a popular tourist spot in the centre of Dartmoor, Devon.

Dartmoor is a vast expanse of moorland in South Devon known for its myths and legends. Watch out for pixies, a headless horseman and a mysterious pack of “spectral hounds”, among other fabled creatures.

You are far more likely though to see sheep, cattle and the famous semi-feral Dartmoor ponies, which graze all year round in this beautiful wilderness. My brother Martyn and I drive to the isolated and remote Warren House Inn for lunch, possibly Dartmoor’s best known pub. Originally built to serve the busy, but now defunct, local tin mining community, the Inn now survives on passing trade and tourism. The fire in the hearth, they say, has been burning continuously since 1845, and is part of the folklore of this unpretentious, no-frills hostelry.

Highland cattle, Dartmoor

Highland cattle, Dartmoor

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The name Warren relates to the surrounding rabbit warrens which were extensive in the area, so I feel obliged to order their Warrener’s pie, a good, old-fashioned way to enjoy rabbit. The meat’s leaness can be its downfall, but this was moist and tasty, with good pastry. Why don’t we eat more rabbit I wonder? I suppose for the same reason folk are averse to eating cuy (guinea pigs) – the cute factor.

The Warren House Inn, Dartmoor

The Warren House Inn, Dartmoor

A distant view of the Warren House Inn giving an idea of its isolation

A distant view of the Warren House Inn giving an idea of its isolation

Martyn enjoys a pint of local ale in front of the fire that has been burning since 1845

Martyn enjoys a pint of local ale in front of the fire that has been burning since 1845

My rabbit pie and pint of local Otter ale.

My rabbit pie and pint of local Otter ale.

The Clapper Bridge at Postbridge, dating from the 13th Century.

The Clapper Bridge at Postbridge, dating from the 13th Century.

Iconic, semi-feral Dartmoor ponies in the rain

Iconic, semi-feral Dartmoor ponies in the rain

Ponies investigating the car for treats!

Ponies investigating the car for treats!

Dartmeet, Dartmoor

Dartmeet, Dartmoor

Brixham – The English Riviera

A pesky seagull, Brixham!

A pesky seagull, Brixham!

Beware of the pesky seagulls in Brixham. They will dive bomb your fish and chips, and poop on you. I speak from experience.

Brixham is a thriving fishing town on the English Riviera, and the Crown and Anchor pub has been there since 1623 serving the local community and tourists. That’s over 390 years. The pub claims William of Orange (later William III of England) enjoyed a drink there when he invaded in 1688.

I wash down their justly famous fresh Devon crab sandwiches with a pint of Topsail bitter from a local brewery before exploring the pretty quay and sloping cobbled streets. And keep an eye out for marauding seagulls.

The Crown and Anchor, Brixham

The Crown and Anchor, Brixham

Flossie, the Crown and Anchor's cheery barmaid.

Flossie, the Crown and Anchor’s cheery barmaid.

Cheers! Enjoying a pint of Topsail bitter at the Crow and  Anchor, Brixham

Cheers! Enjoying a pint of Topsail bitter at the Crow and Anchor, Brixham

A replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind

A replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind

Keep calm and sail on!

Keep calm and sail on!

Brixham quay

Brixham quay

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Searching for a missing diver

Searching for a missing diver

A great lawyer in Quito!

Angelo Lettere

Angelo Lettere

There are a number of ways to become an Ecuadorian resident and the process is fairly straightforward, though the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana Ecuadorian (Ministry of Foreign Relations) has a nasty habit of changing the goalposts every so often!

To navigate the visa process I hired a wonderful immigration lawyer, Angelo Lettere, whom I now consider a friend. Angelo’s office is very conveniently located just opposite the “Dirección General de Extranjería” on Avenida 6 de Diciembre, where immigrant visas are issued. He’s fluent in German (his native language), English and Spanish, and has Italian and Russsian knowledge too. As an Ecuadorian resident of many years he has a profound understanding of the country and its quirks!

Angelo is not only efficient and conscientious (he replies to emails with alacrity) but has a great sense of humour too. He really takes the stress and hard work out of the business of acquiring a residency visa, which was a huge relief for me. I can’t recommend him highly enough!

Here’s some blurb about his company:

SELEGTRAL is based in Quito, capital of the Republic of Ecuador (South America). We provide integral and thorough solutions for our national and international clients in the areas of migration law (visas), corporate law (company set-ups), Intellectual Property, real estate purchase and other fields. Member of the Quito Bar Association.

Contact details:

Selegtral
Av. 6 de Diciembre N26-32, Edif. Becerra, Piso 4, Of. 402
y San Ignacio
Quito
Ecuador

Phone+593-9-98767052

alettere@hotmail.com

Angelo’s website

A tale of two bridges

The River Taw with the old bridge in the background.

The River Taw with the old bridge in the background.

I seem to recall eating a Knickerbocker Glory in Barnstaple as a kid. A rare treat. But otherwise I have no memory of North Devon’s ancient capital.

I arrive in the city after an hour’s train journey from Exeter, following the timeless gentle river valleys of the Yeo and Taw. I pass charming rural train stations sporting tubs of petunias and aubretia, and spot pheasant in the rolling green fields. Barnstable’s centre is approached via a bridge that goes back to the early 13th century. It has 16 stone arches, 13 of them medieval and the other three, at the town end, replaced in 1589.

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I take the riverside path toward the new bridge downstream. The old quay area along the way was filled in during the early 19th century when ships got bigger and the river silted up. It was from here that five ships sailed to join Sir Francis Drake’s fleet to fight the Spanish Armada in 1588. I pause awhile to imagine the scene.

A little way on is the imposing façade of Queen Anne’s Walk, built as a mercantile exchange in the very early 1700′s, and topped with a statue of the eponymous queen (poor Queen Anne, with her 17 pregnancies but no surviving children; and morbidly obese to boot).

Queen Anne's Walk, Barnstaple, c. 1708

Queen Anne’s Walk, Barnstaple, c. 1708

Next I pass the old Barnstaple Town railway station, which operated between 1898 and 1935. The station has since become a school. I arrive at the new bridge, opened since 2007, designed to bypass the town centre. It affords glorious views of the Taw Estuary, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a habitat for otters, badgers, bats and barn owls.

The bridge gives a great viewpoint of the marshes and wetlands framing the estuary as is curves toward the sea. The sandbanks that spelled the end of Barnstaple as a port are clearly seen.

The new bridge, 2007

The new bridge, 2007

The Taw estuary from the new bridge

The Taw estuary from the new bridge

Before taking the train back to Exeter I do a quick recce of the centre. The Penrose Almhouses, completed in 1627, are delightful, a remarkably attractive collection of dwelling places. Also notable is the 19th C. Pannier Market, with its high glass and timber roof on iron columns.

The Guildhall and Pannier's market

The Guildhall and Pannier’s market

Tour guide and town crier Tom Evans in Pannier Market

Tour guide and town crier Tom Evans in Pannier Market

Clock tower, Barnstaple

Clock tower, Barnstaple

Detail of the clock tower, Barnstaple

Detail of the clock tower, Barnstaple

Park, Barnstaple

Park, Barnstaple

Penrose Almhouses, 1627

Penrose Almhouses, 1627

I plan to go back, to continue the walk from Barnstaple along the Tarka Trail to Braunton, a village which boasts the largest sand dune system in England and Saunton Sands beach, glorious and often deserted…