The Sea Wall Route and Photographic Viewpoints
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Exeter St Davids station, built by the Great Western Railway and now operated by Network Rail and served by First Great Western, CrossCountry Trains, and South West Trains, has six platforms, five of which are through lines. Adjacent to the station is an FGW operated depot, where Classes 143, 150, and 153 units can be found.
Of the main station, platform 1 is a bay facing east and seldom used except for stabling, all other through platforms are bi-directional. Platform 2, technically the principal platform of the station, is mainly used for Waterloo line and Exmouth services, platform 3 is also used for some Waterloo line arriving trains as well as Paignton/Plymouth line stopping trains and the Barnstaple service. Platform 4 is the main westbound platform, while platform 5 is the main eastbound platform. Platform 6 is used for terminating services and occasional stopping trains.
After departure from Exeter St Davids, the line heads away on an elevation towards Exeter St Thomas, this section offers little in the way of photography viewpoints. Exeter St Thomas station is of a two platform layout and gives a reasonable view, up trains viewed from the down platform are better in the morning and down trains from the up platform better in the afternoon.
The first road bridge to cross the line west of Exeter is at Marsh Barton, adjacent to a council disposal site. The bridge is narrow and leads down to the Exeter Canal. Lineside vegetation in this area restricts the photographic potential but a picture can be obtained both ways. Going westward, the line is next crossed by what is part of the Exeter ring road at Matford, this very busy bridge offers views both ways but again bush and tree growth has limited the number of angles. Walking around the roads in this area can be very difficult, but if you want to visit you are best advised to park in a layby just off Matford roundabout on the Plymouth carriage-way. Up views are quite pleasant here in the late afternoon/evening.
To follow the line towards Powderham and the west, the A379 runs adjacent to the railway, the first crossing after Matford is a private farm bridge just a few hundred yards west, this is closed off to the public. The next crossing of the line is the M5 motorway, which for obvious reasons cannot be used for photography.
A farm bridge, known as Gissons, offers some good views of the line just slightly west of the motorway, this is accessed from the village of Exminster, with a narrow road leading off from near the church. Ample parking is available next to the bridge and views are possible throughout the day, the best time is probably during the afternoon, when up trains are seen coming away from the site of the long closed Exminster station. At the west end of the village of Exminster (and the end of Exminster by-pass), is a road leading down to an industrial estate and crossing the line at the site of the closed Exminster station. The old station buildings are now in industrial use, but views of the line are good in both directions, pictures can be taken here at virtually any time of the day depending on light.
West from here the line starts to skirt through the Powderham estate and can best be accessed from a footpath from the village church of Powderham, this can be found by following the A379 west and diverging left for Powderham on an angled junction. Parking is possible adjacent to the walkway at Powderham or by parking in the church yard, but please give a little donation if you do, it all goes to help the upkeep of this old and historic building.
The footpath from Powderham runs alongside the line a few hundred yards back towards Exeter before a gated crossing goes over the line. Photography is good along this path of both up and down trains in the afternoon, which can be framed by trees or if you are lucky animals in the fields. The crossing of the line here can be very dangerous so please be careful. This is a stop, look and listen crossing and please do just that, trains approach fast and often cannot be heard until very close. In the morning, with the light on the east side of the line, a footpath running along the bank of the River Exe towards Turf and Exeter gives some excellent views of down trains passing through the countryside, pictures of up trains are a little more difficult.
Pictures around the Powderham Church area can be very pleasant, with parts of the grounds of Powderham Castle (the home of the Earl and Countess of Devon) able to be included, together with the church. The road which skirts the railway towards Starcross offers some superb views of the line, lighting being at its best during the afternoon. Parking along this road is possible but please exercise care. In addition to viewing trains, some excellent views of Powderham Castle and its surrounding deer park can be obtained.
At Starcross the main A379 road joins back in and a village car park is available, the area around here, including the station with a footbridge offers some good views of the line and trains. The grass park area adjacent to the carpark is good in the afternoon, while a small jetty protruding into the River Exe provides a viewpoint for morning down trains, but a fence now gets in the way. The station gives a reasonable view of the line but please be careful of fast moving trains. From Starcross, the A379 hugs the railway westward to Cockwood Harbour, probably the most photographed location on the entire route. From the Exeter side of Cockwood Harbour, a slightly raised embankment offers some excellent views of up trains passing over the harbour, the view is better if the water is in, but the presence of small boats in the harbour area makes for a good picture with or without water. In terms of light the best time for a picture is during the late afternoon. By walking around the harbour area a wide and varied selection of views can be obtained, including broadside views of trains above the boats in the harbour. Sadly a low fence has been erected over the harbour which has restricted some views, but this is still an excellent viewpoint of the line.
Views from the Dawlish side of Cockwood Harbour are also good, with, from the right position, the original Starcross atmospheric pumping house chimney visible. Lighting at this point is good from early afternoon. At this location it is possible to see across the River Exe to Lympstone and observe trains operating over the Exeter-Exmouth line, if one is very lucky a picture can be obtained of a train traversing both lines at the same time.
Just to the Dawlish Warren side of Cockwood Harbour a gated crossing goes over the line to the river shore, pictures can be obtained from this crossing but you are very close to the line and special care should be exercised.
On towards Dawlish Warren, the line skirts the River Exe and passes through some farm land with views possible from the road, but closer to Dawlish Warren the line skirts the massive holiday camp grounds in this area and photography is not easily possible. The next point at which to gain access to the line is at Dawlish Warren station. A large car park exists here, but for those who do not wish to pay, limited free parking is technically available for rail passengers at the station.
The station at Dawlish Warren still retains loop lines on both up and down sides, most main line services use the two middle through lines, while stopping trains use the loop tracks. Sometimes the loops are used to sideline slow trains while expresses overtake. The original platform buildings have now all gone and very limited platform facilities exist on both platforms. Photography is possible from both platforms; the down platform is better for light in the morning, while the up platform is better for afternoon pictures.
From Dawlish Warren station a footpath and narrow roadway pass under the line, and by turning right the start of the sea wall footpath is soon reached, this extends through to Dawlish. A few yards west of Dawlish Warren station, just after the loop tracks finish, a footbridge (part of the original Warren Holt) crosses the line and gives another good photographic viewpoint of the route. Adjacent to this footbridge are some camping coaches, former BR Mk 1 and Inspection Saloons which are operated by a private company offering summer accommodation.
By continuing west (on foot), the famous Langstone Rock is soon reached and this is the source of a virtually endless selection of viewpoints from which to see the line. In terms of light, morning views are best (if the sun is out), with good light to around noon. Many ground level views are possible as well as elevated ones reached by climbing up the side of the rock. Some very rough steps do exist to the top, which does provide an amazing view of the entire area. But be warned these steps are tricky and can be very dangerous in damp or wet conditions. From Langstone Rock looking west a superb view of the line towards Dawlish can be obtained and with various lenses a large selection of different views can be taken. Looking back towards Dawlish Warren, again different lenses give endless view changes, all of which will be pleasing. During the summer months, if one becomes in need of a drink or something light to eat, the Red Rock café is located at the base of the rock. The owners are very railway friendly and will welcome your company.
Progressing on towards Dawlish, the sea wall provides limitless views of the line, up train views are especially good in this area, while down trains tend to be a little too close. About mid-way between Dawlish Warren and Dawlish is a footbridge known as Rockstone (Black) Bridge, this obtained its name from a large public house which once stood adjacent to the bridge where some luxury flats now stand. The Rockstone Bridge is a favourite with local photographers and gives one of the best views of an up train on the entire sea wall. Down views are also good, but perhaps a little cramped.
The sea wall walkway continues to Dawlish, with a lower section that often gets flooded at high tide. From the Rockstone Bridge, access to the main road is possible and by turning left one can walk into the town. By continuing along the sea wall another footbridge is found just before the station area, which provides excellent views of Dawlish station, however, some lineside clutter does spoil this view. For photography of a down train from this location a larger lens is needed to get past a lineside building.
Dawlish station, with its main entrance and buildings on the up side, provides a good vantage point for watching trains, but please be very careful, fast trains do pass through with little warning. Photography from the down platform of trains approaching the station are good in the morning. After the sun has moved around, the up platform provides a good vantage point for afternoon views.
West from Dawlish station towards the first of the tunnels it is possible to walk on either side of the railway, both sides offer good views and at the right time of the day photography is easy. Just before the first of the tunnels named Kennaway, which is 209 yards long, is a footbridge, this provides excellent views of the sea wall towards Dawlish Warren from early morning until early afternoon.
On the right hand side of the tunnel, a footpath climbs up the side of Lea Mount, and several footpaths that criss-cross this hill provide a wide and varied selection of views of down trains. By selecting different lenses and changing the photographic position one could spend several days in this area alone. From the top of this hill views of the line from both sides are possible as the light moves around. Views of up trains in this area are difficult, the best one can do is to either follow the track level footpath west past the tunnel on the sea side, at the end of this walkway a view of trains is possible emerging from Coryton Tunnel. If one feels energetic and climbs Lea Mount, from the far end of the park area at the top, views of trains skirting the sandstone hills are possible and with a big lens the local landmark of The Parson and Clerk can be included.
Going further west towards Teignmouth, the next point where access can be made to the line is from Holcombe, where Smugglers Lane diverges left and provides entry to the coastal footpath by the western portal of Parsons Tunnel. The footpath proceeds from here through to Teignmouth and again provides some uninterrupted views of the line. Where the footpath starts, views of trains emerging from the 512 yard long Parsons Tunnel are easily possible, while a look the other way gives a nice panoramic view of the bay. Mid-way between Parsons Tunnel and Teignmouth a small landmass sticking out into the sea and known as Sprey Point gives an improved angle to views of both up and down trains, this is especially good early in the morning, when up trains are well lit and can include the local St Michael's church in the picture.
Just before the line curves away from the sea and into Teignmouth station, some small rocks provide a good viewpoint on which to stand to capture down trains, while a view standing on the sea wall gives an excellent aspect of trains rounding the tight curve and passing under skew bridge. The view from the top of Skew Bridge is excellent of down trains and the footpath bridge over the east end of Teignmouth station provides an excellent view of up trains.
Teignmouth station is not very photogenic, but is worth a look. The main buildings are on the down side and much of the station fabric is of GW origin. Due to considerable town development some bridges which cross the line just west of Teignmouth station are now of little use to see trains.
West from Teignmouth the line passes under several bridges as it approaches Teignmouth Docks, these do not offer much of a photographic view due to lineside growth and buildings. The first point at which any reasonable pictures can be obtained is Shaldon Bridge. A footpath exists on this busy structure and enables views of trains in both directions. Up trains provide for a better picture. Parking in this area is a little difficult and the best is to park on the Teignmouth side of the bridge in one of the sideroads approaching the bridge. Both up and down views from Shaldon Bridge are spoilt by the erection of tube fencing.
Lighting from Shaldon Bridge is best in the morning for both up or down trains, with perfect lighting for up services from around 10.00 through to early afternoon.
The main road to Newton Abbot continues to skirt the River Teign and railway through to almost Newton Abbot. One or two views of the line can be obtained along this stretch of road, but photographic views are very limited. Mid-way along this road is the village of Bishopsteignton, a footpath over fields from here gives access to a small wooden footbridge over the line, but lineside growth has almost ruled this view out.
Further on towards Newton Abbot, some excellent panoramic views of the line skirting the River Teign can be obtained from near Wear Farm, a powerful telephoto lens is recommended and the best time is early evening on a long summer day. The camping grounds around Wear Farm also offer some good photographic views from foot/farm bridges which pass over the line, but permission from the camp site owners should be obtained first.
On the approaches to Newton Abbot are Hackney Marshes where a private bridge leading to the Passage House public house offering some limited views of the line, however a footpath heading back towards Teignmouth provides some quite good views of down trains.
Newton Abbot station area is but a shadow of its former size and importance. Just three platform lines now exist and offer very limited views for photography. A road bridge crosses the Plymouth end of the station which allows a good view of a down train departing from the station. If you are in this area look a little to your right when facing the station and one of the old semaphore signal gantries has been preserved. The once large workshops and depot site at Newton Abbot is now industrial units.