The Romans first put Topsham on the map, establishing a port here, on the glorious Exe Estuary in Devon, to serve the nearby city of Exeter. Over the centuries, it grew to become an important centre for shipping and a prosperous town. Today, Topsham is still a thriving community, rich in culture and cuisine and with a wealth of beautiful buildings and wonderful wildlife.
After spending the first years of our married life here, my wife and I will always be in love with this special place, but even during a short stay, you’ll soon find yourself falling for it, too. This is my idea of the perfect day here…
10am Gifts galore
Follow Fore Street as it weaves through the town towards the quayside, exploring the eclectic range of shops where quirky independent outlets mix with traditional family-run institutions such as Arthur’s, a long established deli and butchers. If you haven’t yet bought that special gift for Valentine’s Day, there’s a plethora of jewellers, florists and boutiques to peruse.
11am European influence
The Strand runs parallel with the riverside, starting from the quay, where fishing boats and sailing yachts jostle for position on the water. Along this street, Topsham’s golden age is reflected in its stunning architecture. The late 17th and early 18th centuries saw the height of the town’s trading boom, particularly in the export of wool and cotton to Holland. Grand merchant’s houses were built in the Dutch style, with characteristic curved gable ends.
Star of the silver screen, Vivien Leigh – Scarlett O’Hara herself – was a regular visitor to the town and to The Strand especially. Her first marriage was to Leigh Holman, from a Topsham shipbuilding family, and she often stayed with relatives at Number 25. This is now Topsham Museum, which has a room full of Vivien Leigh memorabilia, including the silk nightgown she wore in Gone with the Wind.
2pm River stroll
For a romantic riverside walk, take the tiny Topsham Ferry across the Exe. You can then follow the towpath of the historic Exeter Ship Canal to the popular pub at Turf Locks or continue on to Powderham Castle, currently home to the 18th Earl and Countess of Devon.
Another well trodden option is the Goat Walk. Opened in 1908, this pretty path has long been a favourite with local lovers despite its rather unromantic name. Stroll along the narrow wall that frames a perfect picture of the estuary backed by the deep green of the Haldon Hills. The footpath joins a Devon country lane with high banks on one side, spotted yellow in spring with primroses and lesser celandines.
4pm Wildlife spectacles
Further along lies Bowling Green Marsh – one of the south-west’s best birdwatching spots. Enjoy the spectacle of thousands of overwintering wildfowl and waders from the hide. Visit just before or after high tide and look out for clouds of black and white avocets swirling above the water.
5pm Golden moments
The Exe Estuary is well known for its wonderful sunsets, so grab some fish and chips from the award-winning Galley restaurant, cuddle up in one of Topsham’s many quiet corners and watch the water gradually turn from silver to gold.
HOW TO GET THERE
Topsham is just four miles from Exeter. Leave the M5 at J30 and follow the A376. Trains to Topsham depart every half hour from Exeter Central Station on the Avocet Line
to Exmouth. The new Exe Estuary Trail is a circular route by bike (and boat) that encompasses Topsham.
FIND OUT MORE
RSPB avocet cruises
Mini cruises (lasting 1½ hours and costing £11 for adults) depart from Trout’s boatyard near the quay. They are hugely popular so advanced booking is essential.
The crossing takes two minutes and costs £1 for adults and 20p per dog. Weekends only in winter, 10am until dusk.
Pebblebed Wine Cellar
Ferry Road, Topsham EX3 0JJ
Enjoy tasting platters of local meats, cheeses and fish to share and wine from the nearby Pebblebed vineyard. Open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Look out for Valentine’s Day specials.
Fore Street, Topsham
This 16th-century coaching inn has open fires and Topsham’s own microbrewery at the rear.
For a romantic stroll along the sands, hop on the train to this popular seaside resort.