Explore Devon by bus, boat and train to get closer (and save)

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Dart Estuary, England
Dart Estuary at Dartmouth in south Devon is accessible by public transportation. Photo © hidden europe

There was a moment on the train journey to Barnstaple when the valley of the River Taw opened out to reveal a scene of rare beauty. Two fishermen waved at the train, as we slowed to stop at King’s Nympton station. A heron, evidently quite untroubled by the train, waited on the railway platform at King’s Nympton.

Yes, Devon has a wonderful trawl of place names. Over the last year or two we’ve roamed from King’s Nympton to Eggbuckland, from Nymet Rowland to Weare Giffard.

Car-free Devon

If you really want to make the most of any stay in Devon, leave the car at home. The slow train on the Tarka Line to Barnstaple and the market day bus to Chagford tell more of the county than the nose-to-tail traffic on the Exeter bypass — which captured the public imagination in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s as a highway that each summer boasted fabulous traffic snarl-ups.

The bypass has been tamed, and these days the cars no longer splutter in a stop-and-go procession of exhaust fumes. But many of Devon’s roads are still crowded and, in a county that boasts a wonderful range of public transport options, it just makes sense to take the train… or the bus… or even a boat.

Barnstaple bus

The 319 Hartland to Barnstaple bus. Photo © hidden europe

Devon by rail

For rail travel, the Devon Day Ranger ticket affords unlimited travel by train around Devon for a day. It costs just £10. On some routes there are restrictions on its use on weekdays prior to 9 a.m., but elsewhere you can set off at the crack of dawn — even on the first train of the day from Exeter to Barnstaple. Early birds who take the 5.50 a.m. train on the Tarka Line stand a better chance of seeing the famously elusive otters that frequent the banks of the River Taw.

The Devon Day Ranger rail ticket is superb value. Roam from Axminster (on the Dorset border) to Gunnislake in Cornwall — one of two stations in Cornwall to which the ticket may be used. The other is Calstock.

For travelers who fancy a summer evening roaming Devon by train, there is a half-price version of the Devon Ranger ticket generally valid from 6 p.m. It’s predictably called the “Devon Evening Ranger” ticket.

Devon by bus

Devon is blessed with an excellent network of local bus routes. The Cartogold website has a bang-up-to-date network map, where you can use a simple menu (in the left sidebar) to reveal route details and call up the latest timetable for any bus service in the county (and for services from Devon into the three neighboring counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall).

Two of our favorite year-round Devon bus routes are:

1. The 93 from Plymouth via Kingsbridge to Dartmouth, a 2hr 15min journey that takes in some of south Devon’s finest scenery.

2. The 319 from Barnstaple via Clovelly to Hartland, a 80-minute roller coaster of a ride that runs out to the bleak and beautiful coast of northwest Devon.

Bus maps and timetables

Check timetables carefully, as some routes run only in the summer season or on certain days of the week. Among the seasonal routes that are really worth making time for are the 82 Transmoor Link service from Exeter to the granite wilds of Dartmoor and Service 300 which plies the coastal route from Ilfracombe to Lynton and beyond — taking in some fine Exmoor landscapes along the way.

If you are planning to spend a few days exploring Devon by bus, it is worth getting hold of the excellent printed timetables prepared by Devon County Council’s public transport team. The timetables and the accompanying map are free.

Boats, too

Devon’s wonderfully indented south coast, where great inlets cut well into the heart of the county, is tailor-made for exploring by boat. The little ferry that shuttles across the mouth of the Exe (from Starcross to Exmouth — connecting conveniently with rail services at both ends) is a delightful ride.

But make time too for the network of routes from Dittisham, Totnes and Dartmouth operated by Greenway Ferry. Last month we used the company’s service from Totnes to Dartmouth. It’s a relaxing 95-minute trip down the River Dart (and half an hour longer if you opt to travel upstream from Dartmouth to Totnes), and the one-way fare of just £3.75 will appeal to budget-minded travelers. The same company also operates services from Torquay to Brixham.

Slow Devon

Many of Devon’s coastal communities have been shaped by their maritime links — and that’s especially true of both Dartmouth and Brixham. The best way to arrive in either town is by boat. Devon is, in short, perfect for devotees of slow travel. Public transport links of the kind mentioned here give an insight into local communities. Take time for Devon. And take Hilary Bradt’s excellent Slow Devon book with you on your travels.

Travel writers Susanne Kries and Nicky Gardner have penned warm words about Devon twice this month here on EuroCheapo. See their comments on Devon’s serenity (13 November) and their article on Exeter cathedral (20 November).

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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One thought on “Explore Devon by bus, boat and train to get closer (and save)”

  1. Another trip along the Rivers Taw and Torridge and I always get them mixed up as to which one is which, is to take the bus from Barnstaple to Instow and catch the short river ferry to Appledore.

    A delightful fishing village with tiny cottages and loads of narrow lanes to explore, plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants. Where you can stroll along the harbourside which at low tide is many feet below you, as the tidal range in North Devon is pretty large.

    In fact at low tide it looks like you can almost walk from Appledore to Instow but I would certainly not recommend that you do, as its almost certain that the bright orange lifeboat based in Instow will have to be called out to rescue you, if you do!


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