While I love long hikes in the countryside, sometimes a short walk can be just as thrilling. The little town of Topsham, just four miles from the city of Exeter, is one of my favourite places to wander around, with its unique architecture and maritime history.
With the first stirrings of Spring in the air, and the debris from the recent floods almost all cleared, I set out to explore just a small straight stretch of less than a mile, from Follett Lodge on Ferry Road, to the start of the curiously-named Goat Walk at the end of the Strand.
Ferry Road and The Strand run alongside the Exe Estuary, now dotted with sailing and fishing boats, and home to a huge population of wading birds, ducks, geese and swans. It’s hard to imagine that this peaceful and picturesque spot was once a bustling port, the second busiest in the UK by the end of the seventeenth century.
It is in the architecture of the houses that line this thoroughfare that we get a glimpse into Topsham’s more cosmopolitan past. Trade with Holland brought with it bricks and tiles as ballast, and new ways of building that transformed Georgian houses by adding rounded gables, turrets and porthole windows. The rich merchants that built their homes along the Strand embraced the new style, so much so that walking along today you could easily think you were in Holland and not the UK.
Each building has its own little quirks, and I found lots of little mouldings or statues that made me smile. From the aptly-named ‘Shell’ house with its charming porch to the curious beruffled figures that adorn another, there is something unusual to be seen on almost every building if you keep your eyes peeled.
Everywhere old and new combines as architectural alterations over the years have made the buildings into the eclectic treasures we see today. It is nice to see that the current inhabitants are staying true to this tradition, and adding their own personal touches, such as a bicycle plant pot, still standing between two sandbags that tell of the recent floods that filled this road just a matter of weeks ago.
With eyes thoroughly feasted on architectural gems, it’s nice to sit down on one of the many benches along the route, and watch the birds on the water and bathe in the beautiful light over the estuary and the Exminster Marshes and Haldon Hills beyond. That this has been a much-loved spot for many years is shown by the plaques on the benches. Just like Bill Ware, this is my favorite place too, and perhaps that of whoever tucked this festive floral arrangement into the wall behind Bill’s bench.
Fancy a wander around the buldings and streets of Topsham? Book a lovely little cottage in south Devon to stay in.
By Mary Costello (of Molly and the Princess blog)
All image credits to Mary