The first question most visitors ask is how to pronounce its name, and the answer they usually get is Tops-ham. The name is an Anglo-Saxon one, and means Toppa’s village, Toppa having been the local landowner.
Topsham is one of those hidden gems of the English countryside; it was the port of Exeter until the 17th century, when it retired gracefully. As a result, Topsham retains much of its 17th-century character, with narrow streets and interesting buildings including Dutch-style houses and Georgian and Edwardian buildings. Its residents have cleverly created a comfortable lifestyle for themselves, encouraging small independent shopkeepers and businesses to thrive, and there’s an extraordinary diversity of associations – from the Amateur Dramatic Society via the Rugby Club to the Exeter Electronic Organ Club. And they’re got it sorted when it comes to eating out, as well, there are excellent and award-winning tearooms, cafés and restaurants, such as The Georgian, the Galley and La Petite Maison.
If you’re moving to the Exeter area but don’t want to be in the city centre, it’s worth trying to find somewhere to live in Topsham – but if you can’t, then visit it from time to time. Just to refresh your spirit.
On the face of it, Starcross, 8 miles south of Exeter, is a pleasant and unassuming waterside village – but look a bit further and find out about one of the most advanced inventions ever dreamed up.
The great Victorian engineer Brunel, having successfully designed railways, ships, bridges, tunnels and docks, had plenty more ideas to try out. One of these was the Atmospheric Railway, a system in which a long tube lying along the railway line and containing a supply of compressed air would propel a train. The system was installed in 1847 on the main line between Exeter and Newton Abbot.
So why aren’t we all travelling by compressed-air power now? There are two main answers, one of which involves rats, and the other the third-class passengers. To find out more, visit Starcross, see the Victorian pumping house there and carry out some in-depth research over a pint or two in the Atmospheric Railway Inn, just across the road from Starcross railway station.
What if you have other interests? Starcross makes an excellent base for seeing the wading birds – including the rare and elegant avocets – that gather in the Exe estuary in the winter months. For summer visitors, there’s a ferry service from Easter to October across the Exe estuary to Exmouth, and boat trips around the area – a great day out from Exeter!
And for dinghy sailors, the Starcross Yacht Club provides plenty of facilities – though note that it is now based at Powderham.
Perhaps the nicest way to arrive at this pleasant seaside town is by branch-line train, the Avocet Line. A journey of 25 minutes takes you out of Exeter and alongside the Exe estuary, stopping at villages en route. But if you want to arrive by car, Exmouth is just 10 miles from the M5 and A30 – and it’s a similar distance from Exeter airport (though it’s well away from the flight paths).
Exmouth developed as a town in the 18th century as a result of visitors appreciating its views and healthy sea water. It’s Devon’s original (and some would say best) seaside resort! It’s a quiet town, popular with children who like its golden sands – a beach two miles long, no less. It’s also good for walkers, as it provides an ideal base for bird-watching in the Exe estuary and fossil-hunting along the coast – the Jurassic Coast starts here.
It has a comprehensive pedestrianised shopping centre, complete with indoor market, and in 2005 Exmouth in Bloom won first prize for large towns in the South West Region – so it’s clear that the people who live and work in Exmouth take good care of their town. It’s a great example of the way that people in the south west of England place a high value on quality of life.
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