Devon, all things considered, is one of the most scenic and pleasant counties in the UK and, whether or not that influenced your decision to study at Exeter, it’s a huge bonus to have the place as our backyard for three years. It’s certainly not difficult to feel more than a bit smug when you compare the temporary surroundings of your school friends – the underpasses of Birmingham, perhaps, or the south coast sprawl of Southampton and Portsmouth – with the beaches, moors and picture perfect villages of Devon.
There’s a slight problem, though, in that this beautiful, lovely backyard isn’t accessible for the car-less majority of us. Exeter’s a nice city, sure, but its postwar High Street isn’t quite as charmingly Devon as we’d perhaps like it to be. And whilst there’s a high speed rail-link to London, it can seem pretty difficult to actually explore our university county itself if you don’t have four wheels, the time, or the money.
Fret no more, would-be day-trippers. There are plenty of fantastic places right on our doorstop that will cost you under £10 (usually quite a bit under) to visit, made accessible by our tiny little local train service; below are five easily accessible destinations that give you plenty of “Devon” for your buck. And for all you stressed-out dissertation students that “don’t have the time”, give yourself a day off – you need it.
Note: all prices off-peak day return, without railcard.
(£4.30, 29 mins from EXD)
Now, chances are you’ve probably been to Exmouth, whether you’re a first year or a finalist. It’s the go-to student day-trip location, and with good reason – it’s got a massive beach and promenade, ice-cream and chips, waterside pubs and, pretty often, actual sunshine. In the summer, you’ll find droves of students clogging up the tiny Avocet line trains that trundle along the waterside tracks down to Exeter’s own Venice Beach, returning sunburnt, sandy/wet, and probably a little bit drunk. But as much as the excellent beach dominates Exmouth, which attracts surfers, SUPers, and swimmers, it’s not all the town has to offer.
Take a walk right to the end of the beach towards the cliffs, for instance, and you’ll find yourself on the South West Coast Path, which snakes its way up the red cliff-face to stunning Orcombe Point, marking the beginning of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Keep walking just a little bit further and you’ll come to the unique Geoneedle, a 2002 sculpture indebted to the area’s renowned geology. And if walking isn’t your bag, or you just like yourself some decent drinks and food, give Spoken, in the main square, a go – it has rotating craft beer on draught, as well as Cajun chicken burgers and Mac’n’Cheese. If you, like the HSM cliques, want to stick to the stuff you know, Exmouth’s even got an Oddfellows.
(£3.00, 12 mins from St. James’ Park)
If you don’t make it to Topsham in three years, you’re a lost cause. At only 12 minutes away from St. James’ Park, you could probably even make it between seminars. But don’t mistake it for being part of Exeter – Topsham is one of a number of delightful waterside villages perched on the edge of the River Exe that are well worth a visit. It might already be on your radar because of the Topsham Ten, a bucket-list worthy pub crawl, and for such a small place, the existence of ten public houses is nothing short of astounding. But this tiny town fits a lot more in besides pints – take a stroll down the pretty high street with its handful of independent shops, and continue on to the waterfront and the Strand, lined with the kind of maritime property you’d sell an arm and a leg for. The “Goat Walk” continues on along the river to an RSPB reserve, too, if oystercatchers and avocets are your thing.
Maybe you’re not 75 like me, but I reckon the cute Quay Antique Center is well worth a browse, and make sure to stop by Pig and Pallet, tucked away in the Boatyard. It’s a hidden gem clad inside with, well, pallets, and it serves the best BBQ, burgers and chilli-coated fries this side of South Carolina. Owned by local Devon butchers Good Game, you can get a taste at their deli-counter which often comes to the Forum Plaza. From April, too, the Topsham to Turf ferry will take you across the water (£5 return) to the Turf Pub, a cracking riverside spot that isn’t even accessible by car. Pimms by the water, anyone?
(£6.70, 33 mins from EXD)
A little bit further away and a little bit more pricey, but without a doubt worth the outlay, Totnes is, like, totally the new-age gemstone in the crown of South Devon. A far cry from the distinctly un-edgy, Barboured masses of Exetah, Totnes is Devon’s most bohemian location. Whilst we bathed on the Costa terrace with our vanilla lattes, the town of Totnes were riotously opposing a proposal for their own Costa – since they’ve got 42 independent coffee shops, they didn’t exactly need one in the first place.
Home to New Age emporiums, organic/health food stores, vintage clothing and the spectacularly cool Drift Records, this little town is the Guardian to Exeter’s Daily Telegraph. Besides all that (brilliant) hippy-dippy stuff, it’s got a really cute circular castle, sits astride the meandering River Dart, and the town tumbles down the steep hillside: real postcard material. If you’re planning to stay for food, check out the Curator Kitchen (you might want to book, it’s tiny) and if you like your beer micro, there’s the cosy Totnes Brewing Company conveniently located for that last train you definitely, definitely can’t miss.
Dawlish and Teignmouth
(£4.30, between 12 and 30 mins from EXD)
Who doesn’t love a bit of faded seaside glory? Dawlish has got buckets of it, and whilst it’s most well known for its sea wall, which supports the railway, collapsing dramatically in 2014, things aren’t all bad in Exmouth’s western cousin. Sporting quintessential Victorian seaside architecture and a cute little park in the centre of town, Dawlish is all a bit nostalgic; on the left bank of Dawlish Water, for instance, which runs through the park, there are three tea rooms within 50 yards of each other.
If the cutesy British seaside doesn’t do it for you, it’s a good thing that the coast on which Dawlish sits is particularly dramatic – high cliffs rise above the white spray, and you can walk directly along the sea wall itself, which (a bit frighteningly) rubs shoulders with the railway line. It’s a scenic 1.5 miles to Dawlish Warren, for instance, and you can catch the train at the end – there’s a National Nature Reserve at Dawlish Warren, too, replete with sand dunes, Groynes, and great views up the river / out to sea.
If you walk the other way along the Coast Path (3 miles) or stay on the train, you’ll reach Teignmouth, unlikely hometown of anti-capitalist Rock naysayers Muse, and quite how this quaint town inspired their visions of subliminal governmental control I can’t guess. Teignmouth is Dawlish’s slightly larger neighbour, complete with pier, two beaches (one by the harbor, one on the seafront) and pretty lanes. Slightly depressing high street aside, “Back Beach” offers some great views up the river Teign on a sunny afternoon, and the much-lauded Crab Shack is close by – a little pricey for a student, but hey, they own their own fishing boats. The fun Bronx Bar has an extensive beer list.
(£6.70 + bus fare, 1 hour 10 mins from EXD)
Okay, so this last one is for you dedicated day-trippers out there. It isn’t close, and there’s no train station, which means a bus from Paignton. But just take a look at the place – if you can spend two hours on Yik Yak in the library, then surely you can commit to travelling just over an hour for this view, cold beer in hand.
Brixham is definitely a contender for Devon’s loveliest town with its glimmering harbour, steep hillsides, and pastel houses but, as a working fishing village, it’s more than just a pretty spot. Spend your time exploring the narrow lanes in the Old Town and of course around the harbour, and head up the hill to Bistro 46, especially if you like ciabatta bread. Berry Head, a nature reseve which sticks out into the Channel, is expansive, and makes for a beautiful walk.