If your penchant is for all things wildlife, including birdwatching and walking around the Exe Estuary then you may prefer idyllic Topsham as a holiday base, conveniently close to Exeter. Topsham has a real community atmosphere, you can get a feel for it on the little Topsham local community website (link to the right). Discover a host of Riverside walks, fascinating architecture consisting of a mish mash of Dutch traders houses, and Georgian and Edwardian homes. At the heart of Topsham's history, unsurprisingly, is shipbuilding and you can explore this and maritime history in the superb Topsham Museum.
Topsham is the perfect base for exploring the Exe Estuary. Start with the picturesque Topsham Circular Walk. Take a break in one of the many country character pubs and restaurants. There's a Georgian Tearoom in Topsham too! Check out the award winning Gallery Restaurant in Topsham (see link to the right), and what about those many boutique, antique and all things chic specialist shops.
Topsham Museum is one of many smaller museums scattered across Devon, well worth taking time to explore. This museum's fascinating collection focusing on local natural history and the wildlife of the Exe Estuary, as well as fishing, seafaring and maritime history of the local area is in no small way due to the work of Dorothy Holman (1888-1983). She left an array of artefacts belonging to her great grandfather who happened to own three sailing shipyards in Topsham at one time. Incidentally, her brother Leigh Holman was Vivian Leigh's first husband and there is a section of this fascinating museum dedicated to Leigh with a nightgown she wore in 'Gone with the Wind' on display!
Topsham Museum is split into three main exhibit areas, starting with the superb Sail Loft displays which explore the history of Topsham from Prehistoric times. In this area find out much about shipbuilding, fishing and maritime trade, with a good dose of ship models, shipwrights' tools, maps, photographs, paintings, and documents. You can also take a trip back in time and view a model of Topsham in 1900. There are also collections of lace and decorative items.
The museum itself is a house dating from the late 17th century and 3 of the rooms are furnished in that period. One room recreats Dorothy Holman's kitchen, with many of her donated artefacts from the 1930s, and there is a small room containing memorabilia of Vivien Leigh, who was married to Holman's brother Leigh Holman before she shot to fame! Move on to the The Underloft displays where the exhibition changes annually.
Topsham Museum, 25 The Strand, Topsham, Exeter, Devon. EX3 0AX. Tel: 01392 873244
The Exe Estuary is an area of supreme natural beauty, inhabited by an array of wildlife including migrating birds. Why is the Exe estuary such a haven and habitat for birds. Well, the Exe has extensive salt marshes, reedbeds and enormous mudflats and sandbanks which provide an essential feeding ground and habitat for both birds and plant life. The mudflats are crammed with tasty microscopic worms and marine worms, lots of lovely food to over 20,000 birds. Estuaries are also essential protection against floods and serve as buffers. The Exe is also an important source for mussels, oysters and rich in fish such as bass.
At the mouth of the Exe Estuary is the Dawlish Warren Sand spit, very popular particularly during the summer months with holiday makers to Devon. There's a scattering of Devon holiday entertainment in this area, including holiday parks, go-karts, arcades and shops. In winter, many migratory birds stop here, on route from the Arctic and Northern Europe. The Topsham Circular Walk is well worth doing (only 2 miles, 3kms, taking about 1 hour). This walk takes you through various little villages, one of which is beautiful Starcross on the Western side of the estuary. Charming narrow village streets and quaint cottages greet you here, and you can catch a ferry to Exmouth across the Exe Estuary if you've had enough of the walking. Check out the Brunel Tower in Starcross, an old pumphouse still standing which once served this section of the Great Western Railway designed by none other than Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Powderham Castle is also within easy reach off the Topsham Circular Walk, as is Lympstone on the eastern side of the Estuary. Lympstone is a former fishing hamlet, nowa quiet village of cottages and narrow streets. Some of the best panoramic views of the Exe Estuary are to be had from Lympstone - good news for birdwatchers. You can also hook into the East Devon Way from Lympstone. The East Devon Way stretches all the way along the coast to Lyme Regis.
Devon holiday jewel in the crown at the mouth of the Exe Estuary is of course Exmouth. Exmouth is one of the UK's oldest seaside resorts, so has an interesting seaside holiday history, aided by it's superb two miles of picture postcard sandy beach.
Topsham is celebrated for it's large collection of pubs, and 'doing the Topsham 10' pubs amongst Exeter University students, so it goes, is rather a popular pursuit. Lovers of real ale, and here in Topsham pubs prime Devon Real Ale will not be disappointed by Topsham's CAMRA listed pub offerings.
Topsham and East Devon surrounds are prime Devon Real Ale Country. Check out the link to the Exeter and East Devon CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) web link to the right if you don't believe me. This site offers comprehensive recommendations to prime pubs in the area serving exquisite Devon real ale. East Devon has 8 small breweries currently operation, including the Exeter Brewery Limited producing renowned Topsham Ferryman beer - nectar! Or how about Exe Valley Brewery, formally Barron's Brewery. Beers on their list include Exe Valley Bitter (3.7%), Barron's Hopsit (4.1%) and Devon Glory (4.7%).
Topsham's top ten pubs are tightly packed together, and include the historic Bridge Inn on Elm Grove Street. Branscombe Vale Brewery beers are served here, along with great entertainment nights and superb pub grub. It's CAMRA recommended this one. Another great CAMRA recommended pub is the Globe, a hotel and old coaching inn as well down from Fore Street. Serves excellent food this one, with vegetarians getting lots of choice, and lovely westcountry crab sandwiches!
Topsham restaurants and cafes are a delight. Choose from the Georgian Tea Room which is part of Broadway House with lots of Devon specials such as fish pie, roast dinners and cream scones.
Dawlish Tourist Information Centre, The Lawn, Dawlish, EX7 9PW. Tel: 01626 215665. For mobility assistance, including loans of powered scotters in Dawlish contact Dawlish Shopmobility, The Old Post Office, Brunswick Street, Dawlish. Tel: 01626 888890.
Exmouth Tourist Information Centre, Alexandra Terrace, Exmouth, EX8 1NZ. Tel: 01395 222299