Passage 41, Dartmouth to Topsham

The wind howled and the rain poured during my night in Dittisham, up river from Dartmouth. Didn’t bode well for my trip to the river Exe the next day, but the forecast was promising better conditions. And so they were. Considerably better. Turned out I got a nice sunny sail with the wind on my back. Very nice.

I can’t complain because this was the third consecutive passage where I’ve had winds from behind. And the last two have been proper strong winds. The sea had subsided considerably since the day before with just 1-2 meter waves and the wind was a healthy force 5, give or take. I’d come out of the Dart double reefed but after an hour, while getting only a force 4, I decided to put up full sail. I just managed with a full main sail for the rest of the trip which blasted me down the coast to Exemouth often maintaining a solid 7+ knots. Only downside is that the conditions are too tough for my autopilot and so I had to helm all the way, constantly. No time for extra-curricular activities.

Best of all, I got to sail all the way up the river Exe to Topsham which was fun as it involved weaving from one buoy to another to keep within the narrow channel to maintain depth. I’d planned to arrive at the mouth of the river by 3pm which gave me 1 hour of flood tide to help me up the river. I arrived at 2:55pm. I do so love it when a plan comes together.

Topsham is dead nice. It’s so worth taking the extra effort to go up rivers to find these places. Most people just stop at the first marina that presents itself. Topsham is quite secluded and very nicely presented. Not crowded but clearly an attractive place to come for the local pubs and restaurants.

I’d arrived at 4:30pm (having left Dittisham at 10:30am) and it didn’t take me long to get the bike out and go for a quick explore. I cycled up to Exeter just for the exercise more than anything else and took a picture of the cathedral and then beetled back again. This place is very bike friendly. And walk friendly. The pathways along the river Exe are excellent and fitness seems to be at the top of most local’s agenda as there are loads of cyclists, runners and walkers. I felt I was amongst friends. So I was not too disappointed to have an elongated return journey on account of having taken the path down the wrong side of the river and ending up opposite my boat but with no access without reversing 2 miles and coming back down the other side! Silly me.

Exploration day

Oh, this was a good’un. On my train journey down to pick the boat up from Plymouth the line takes you past the river Exe estuary and then along the coast through Dawlish and Teignmouth. This is the line that got bust in last year’s winter storms approaching Dawlish. It is also the line that is famous for it’s classic English coastal scenery and is the most picturesque journey you can imagine. As I looked out the window I wondered how much of this I might see from different vantage points - sail and bike. Well, the answer turned out to be a lot. On the boat I past both the aforementioned towns and I traversed the whole estuary witnessing several trains on that same line. From the bike I saw much more.

First, it is worthy of note that the cycle routes in these parts surpass all expectations. Financed, apparently, by the Europeans. But no doubt lobbied for by, erm, lobbyists. Whoever they were they did a damn fine job. So I could experience both sides of the Exe estuary (and it’s very pretty - lots of bird life too, not that I noticed much) with great ease and convenience. And hiking the 12 miles or so down to Teignmouth was lovely with very little exposure to busy roads.

So, first off, Dawlish. A very charming and no-nonsense coastal town with a nice beach front and, thankfully, a limited and unassuming amusement arcade - just right in fact. Top marks. On to Teignmouth with appears to be bigger and slightly more mature. A bit more up market perhaps. Both had museums which I attended to in some detail. I was going to award 1st and 2nd place but decided this was unfair as they were sufficiently different to have complemented each other perfectly. I learned a lot. It’s tempting to regurgitate all the fascinating stuff I pick up in such places, but that’s a slippery slope for these blogs and you’ll just have to go there for yourselves. You won’t be disappointed.

On my return journey I diverted to inspect Powderham Castle, the country pile of the Earl of Devon. I didn’t go inside but it’s a fine pile with lovely grounds and I can only complement His Earlship on his outstanding stock of fallow deer.

I got back just in time for a final pleasant natter with Mark, the owner of Trouts boatyard where my boat is (and he donated half his fee to Honeypot, the fine fellow). I needed to briefly refuel (myself) in order to take one final evening ride down the East coast of the estuary. I didn’t go far but witnessed the rather overzealous boarding up of the cycle path such that you were denied the views of the delightful bird sanctuaries unless you stopped and peered through the occasional peep-hole. Mark tells me that the RSPB stop at nothing to prevent humans disturbing the birds, though quite how a few cyclists and walkers could achieve that beyond the frequent screech of trains passing through the area is a question that springs to my mind.

35 cycle miles later I was back on the boat by 8:30pm and enjoyed my standard supper. I did, incidentally, reward myself with a ham and cheese toasty in Teignmouth as my morning porridge had run its course by that time.

So, 2 lovely towns, lots of pretty coast, 1 castle, 2 museums and pleasant chats with various attendants, boat neighbours and boatyard keepers made an exploration day of which to be proud. It only spat rain at me twice during an otherwise fine sunny day. And Topsham, by the way,  is definitely nice; very nice. A warren of little streets with well kept houses, fine pubs and lovely looking restaurants. I’ve learned to appreciate these from outside as going into any of them on my own seems awkward. 


6 hour sail covering 30 miles with a good strong following wind in sunny conditions. Lovely place, Topsham as is Exeter and neighbouring towns and country. Nice place South Devon, it appears.

Passage 42, Topsham to Weymouth