As any of my regular readers will know, I very much favour going car free and have found some amazing car free family adventures in Exeter. So if you fancy leaving the car behind and having an adventure by ferry, train, bike or bus, read on.
Family Cycle Ride to Topsham
This is one of our favourite cycle routes and the first “long” ride our elder daughter completed under her own steam. If you don’t have bikes of your own, or need a trailer, you can hire everything you need at Saddles and Paddles on the Quay.
Follow the Exe Estuary Trail through Riverside Park and onto the cycle route to the Double Locks and then along the river to Bridge Road. This is a beautiful and peaceful route. You would be forgiven for forgetting that Marsh Barton and Matford industrial parks are only a few meters away on the other side of the water. The land to your left is a RSPB Nature Reserve and there are several wooden fences where you can stop and peer through for a bit of bird twitching.
Depending on road works (as I write the Bridge Road works are still underway), turn left when you get to Bridge Road and cross the main road at the traffic lights. Follow the cycle route signs down Glasshouse Lane and through Countess Wear. This part is on road but it’s very quiet and we’ve always found car drivers to be very friendly around here.
If you need a short stop, there is a sweet play park at Wear Barton. It’s lovely and grassy with some interesting play equipment and a good place to stretch legs and have a drink.
Carry on following the Cycle Route until you get to Topsham and turn right into Retreat Road and down to Topsham Recreation Ground. This is one of our most favourite parks around Exeter. It’s a beautiful place for adults to sit and there is amazing play equipment for all ages, including adult hurdles.
We usually stop here for a picnic lunch before cycling onto Topsham Quay were there are public loos and a lot of pubs. There are a few bike racks in the car park next to the Antiques Centre and you can spend a good hour watching the boats and birds around the Quay. The buildings and yards show evidence of the historical importance of Topsham Quay. It was once the UK’s biggest European trading port outside London and this wealth can be seen in the beautiful buildings.
If you want more adventures, you can follow the cycle route up past Route 2 Cafe, and over the stunning wooden cycling bridge and up to Dart’s Farm. There’s shopping and food galore (the fish and chips are fab) plus an outdoor play area and a few animals to admire.
Then retrace your wheels back to Exeter, perhaps stopping at the Quay for an ice cream from Lutzy’s.
This trip takes us a good 5 or 6 hours but actual cycling time is around 2 hours going at a child’s pace (less than an hour for an adult). If you don’t fancy cycling, you can get the train to Topsham instead. It’s a 10 minute walk from the train station to the Recreation Ground and a 15/20 minute walk in the opposite direction to Dart’s Farm.
Train and Ferry to Ness Cove Beach
There is something quite magical about taking the train to the beach. Add in a black and white ferry and smugglers’ tunnel and it’s a true adventure.
Take the Riviera Line train to Teignmouth along one of the most spectacular train lines in UK. The 30 minute route takes you through industrial Exeter, into farm land, passed the deer park, though tunnels and along the coast with amazing views of the seaside towns and wildlife.
From the station in Teignmouth, head through town, turning right at the Den to get to River Beach. Head towards the Lifeboat House if you get lost. Less commercial than the main beach, there are pretty beach huts, fishermen mending nets or catching eels and lots of boats to admire.
Hop on the black and white ferry for the 5 minute river crossing to Shaldon. It’s believed to be the oldest passenger ferry in England and operates all year round, every day. DO check for the last ferry home though – it’s a long walk back over the bridge if you miss it!
Turn left and walk along the beach and up the hill along Marine Parade, stopping to admire the view. At the top, turn left in front of the car park and and stop to admire the huge fish in the pond under Shaldon Zoo.
Take the Smugglers’ Tunnel (it’s well lit now but a great opportunity to imagine life as a pirate) and burst out into the sun above a pretty little cove. It’s a sandy beach with a few rock pools and generally flatter waves than on the main beach. There are gloriously uninterrupted views out to sea and the lack of on beach facilities makes me feel all nostalgic for 1970’s Cornish beaches.
Never fear though, for a minute walk back through the tunnel will bring you to the public loos, small shop selling ice creams, buckets and spades and also to Cafe Ode for fab coffee and cake.
If you get bored of the beach (really??!) you can visit Shaldon Zoo or head back down to the main beach and into Shaldon proper where there are a few shops and lots of cafes. We’ve been known to buy fish and chips from the chippy on Fore Street and eat them on the beach watching the paddle boarders and boats going up and down the river.
This is another whole day out for us, taking around 6 – 7 hours but there is plenty of time to chill and rest at each stage. Dogs are welcome on the train, ferry and beach all year round. There are steps down to the beach so it’s not the easiest with a pram so you may be better staying on Shaldon Beach which is very lovely too.
Sculpture Park Walk at Streatham Campus
This is another of our favourite adventures, a little more low key perhaps but still a lovely walk with lots to keep both adults and children happy.
Download the pdf map or app and take a D or H bus (check the route with the driver as they do vary) and hop off at the Streatham Campus. There is a stunning collection of art works, both inside and outside, all within a short walk of each other. There are pieces by Barbara Hepworth, Paul Mount and Geoffrey Clark.
This is no stuffy art gallery. Children will love the opportunity to explore the beautiful gardens with trees, ponds, ornate steps, fountains and wildlife while hunting for the next installation.
The outdoor sculptures are positioned so they are part of the walk and are very accessible. Sometimes we engage with the art, other times we simply admire and walk on. I think either is fine, the beauty of this walk is that it is so free and easy. There are no rules to say you must see this or do this or feel this. It’s perfect for those who normally feel afraid of “Art and Culture” or who want to expose children to beauty without formality.
There are loos and cafes on the University campus – we’ve always been welcomed into them.
If you just do the outside parts, you could get round the walk in less than an hour. Or you could take a picnic, explore and chill and spend a good 2-3 hours up here.
The walk is lovely at any time of year – you can read all about our Autumn Walk in Exeter University Grounds. The outdoor walk is open all day, every day. Access to the indoor areas varies.
I hope you have some fab adventures of your own – please do pop a comment below as I love hearing about your family days too.