Located on the Exe estuary 4 miles south of Exeter, Devon, Topsham is a small and popular town with a maritime feel. Access by road, rail, foot or bicycle is easy with walking routes to enjoy the local bird and wild life. A walk around the town will provide an interesting selection of independent shops to browse, eating establishments to discover and a range of architectural styles to appreciate.
A Brief History
Topsham was first documented as a Roman settlement which was chosen as the land was fertile. Then came the port which was created to serve the Roman city of Exeter and was connected to Topsham by a typically Roman road, now called Topsham Road. In 1300’s Topsham was granted a town Charter by Edward I. From the medieval period onwards the port at Topsham became more important as weirs were constructed across the River Exe which meant that ships could not travel upstream to Exeter and so goods were deposited at Topsham. The town grew into a major shipbuilding centre, which at that time rivalled London, as well as being a major British port. The wealth that this provided the town meant that the architecture became more varied and extravagant and merchant’s houses and coaching inns were built. To this day Georgian, Edwardian and Dutch style houses can be seen whilst walking through Topsham.
Points of Interest
The Topsham Museum is housed in an elegant 17th century Dutch style merchant house overlooking the estuary. It includes local memorabilia including items on Vivien Leigh who is connected to Topsham through her first marriage to a local barrister when she was 19. The museum was founded by Vivien’s sister in law Miss Dorothy Holman and is now in its 50th year. There are also displays of local history especially in relation to the maritime background of Topsham. There is also a café in the museum where a cream tea can be purchased along with the shop offering gifts and memorabilia.
Bowling Green Marsh is an RSPB reserve and one of the best places to view water birds in the south west of England. Parking is at Holman Way car park a short walk away. During the winter months you can take a cruise up the Exe estuary to view avocets, Brent geese, red breasted mergansers and black-tailed godwits feeding on the mud flats. There is also an RSPB shop at Darts Farm.
The Exe Estuary Trail is a 16 mile route that runs all the way around the Exe estuary from Dawlish to Exmouth passing through Topsham, Starcross and Lympstone as well as other scenic riverside towns that are steeped in maritime history. The views across the estuary are stunning and the abundant wildlife on show at the RSPB reserves exceptional. The route provides worry free cycling and walking and ties up with train stations and ferry companies to help people across the river or to short cut the route.
Topsham shops are varied and worth visiting. There are art galleries, jewellers, florists, designer clothing, second hand books and home furnishings as well as a wine merchant, delicatessens offering locally sourced produce, from cheese and meat through to wine, ales and ciders and gift stores for the essential holiday presents. The Antique Centre on the Quayside houses seventy dealers covering three floors and contains array of antiques and collectables. Darts Farm is just outside the town and billed as the ‘best farm shop in the UK’ and has a huge range to offer with West Country food and drink as well as clothes, luxury gifts plus home and lifestyle products. Finally the towns market on a Saturday morning in Matthews Hall on Fore Street sells fresh produce, antiques and curios, toys and garden plants.
Where to Eat
Topsham has a diverse range of restaurants from French, Italian, Indian and Mediterranean but the fish restaurants are a must due to the locality to the sea the produce is as fresh as can be. The majority of restaurants and pubs offer good quality locally sourced ingredients and drink including Topsham Ales and Green Valley Cider. The traditional cream tea is a most and there are a number of coffee shops, tea rooms and cafes where this can be enjoyed. .
Topsham has a few annual events as well as regular live music at the local pubs and clubs, weekly markets, a carnival and guided walks. The main attraction is the Topsham food festival which lasts the whole weekend and is a celebration of local food and includes ‘Nello’s Longest Table ‘ which is an amazing communal feast. Saturday morning there is a market in Matthews Hall on Fore Street which includes local produce, antiques, paintings, toys etc. There are also events on offer at Darts Farm including a chocolate lover’s weekend, photography course, cupcake workshop and floristry masterclass.
The largest car park in Topsham can be found on Holman Way with 68 spaces. There are also smaller car parks to be found on the Quay, Tappers Close and Matthews Hall on Fore Street.
ATM’s & Banks
There is a Lloyds Bank on Fore Street with an ATM plus a post office on the High Street.
There are public conveniences on Fore Street and also at the Quayside.