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Travel & Holidays in later life

DAWLISH - Devon's pioneer  railway-age resort  

Dawlish railway station forms part of the seafront promenadeEvery Devon resort has its own personality. Dawlish is shaped by the railway line that runs right beside the beach, where most resorts have a wide promenade. 

Instead, the Victorian-age place for a stroll is the central park called "The Lawn", which doubles as the focal point of seasonal entertainment.

The railway line arrived in 1846, when Dawlish was already well established as a health and leisure resort. From late 18th century, people with dodgy lungs from polluted cities came to breathe the clean sea air.


Then came fashionable visitors who introduced a society lifestyle. Jane Austen stayed for a long holiday in 1802, though she didn't think much of the local library. But she used Dawlish as a honeymoon setting in her novel "Sense and Sensibility". 


Travel Facts

Travel Insurance for over 50s

Visit our  holidays, breaks and travel options pages


How to get there

:By car: M5 to Exit 30, then A379.

By railway: train to Dawlish Station on the Exeter to Plymouth line.

Teignmouth Folk Festival


Teignmouth Golf Festival


Teignmouth Carnival Week


Teignmouth Regatta 


Widecombe Fair

Tourist Information Centre

The Lawn, Dawlish


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Today, health and fitness is part of the local tourism scene. The Dawlish Leisure Centre in Sandy Lane features a wide variety of fitness sessions for all ages and abilities. 

The pool offers regular water aerobic classes, facilities for disabled swimmers and special sessions for the over-50s. Among the other keep-fit routines, the Sports Hall is used for badminton and table-tennis classes, and the chance of football, basketball and skater hockey.

At Dawlish Warren, the health of the sea itself gets a Blue Flag, so that visiting families are assured of good sea-water quality. All along this sandy coastline, from Dawlish Warren to Teignmouth, the beaches qualify for Tidy Britain Seaside Awards. 

Along the seafront at Dawlish, where the railway line backs onto the promenade.The original South Devon railway line boosted Dawlish into a leading Victorian resort. The branch came down from Exeter, running beside the River Exe and then directly along the coast as far as Teignmouth. 

In and out of cliff tunnels, it's one of Britain's most scenic lines. Today it seems baffling why the locals agreed to let the railway take that easy route along the waterfront.

But an advantage is that the railway embankment wall doubles as a sun-trap, and kids can't stray from the beach into motor traffic. Day-trip visitors can arrive at Dawlish station, strip off and be dunking in the sea within a minute or two.

The line itself has great interest for rail-fans. The original scheme of the great engineer, Brunel, was to run the broad gauge trains on atmospheric pressure.

It sounds rather improbable, but the idea was to suck the train along by the vacuum in a pneumatic iron tube between the tracks, with propulsion by atmospheric pressure behind it. 


Initially it worked, in total silence. But then came teething problems. In the top of the pipe was a slot with a leather valve which opened and shut as the train passed along.

The leather flaps were lubricated with cod liver oil. Rats were partial to leather with cod liver flavour. The rats gnawed through, the vacuum leaked, and it was back to steam engines. One of the ten pumping stations - a red sandstone building - is preserved at Starcross, where ferries cross to Exmouth.

But with Dawlish as the first West Country seaside resort to be served by rail, the town soon became a Victorian family-holiday favourite. "The Lawn" was originally a marsh, drained and laid out in Jane Austen's time as a pleasant riverside walk with flower displays and exotic plants. Among today's wildfowl is a thriving colony of black swans, descended from those given by Australia a century ago. They have become the emblem of Dawlish.

Flower displays are a feature of The Lawn Most of the traditional guest-houses are located along the sea front or in the streets nearest to The Lawn. Some of the early Victorian houses used cob - made from a mixture of clay and straw - for building material. Stone was not ready to hand, so was used only for cornerstones. 

On a budget basis, many families choose the very long beach area of Dawlish Warren which stretches several miles to the mouth of River Exe. Accommodation ranges from camp sites and holiday parks, to self-catering flats and guest-houses.

The beaches have all the standard amenities for bucket-and-spade customers, including ice-cream kiosks, beach huts, entertainments, donkey rides and trained lifeguards. But pet dogs are banned from May till the end of September. 

The sand dunes and small lakes are ideal for wildlife and small kids, with a Visitor Centre to explain things about the internationally famed Nature Reserve. 

The Reserve boasts of 450 species of plant life including orchids and a unique crocus. The Warren and the adjoining estuary of the Exe River support a wide range of bird species, which are also enjoyed by Sparrowhawks and Peregrine Falcons. 

Bird-watchers find year-round interest, thanks to migrant birds like Avocets and Brent Geese which drop by for the winter, to join the resident Oystercatchers and Terns. It's worth remembering for an off-season break.

Check out these alternative West Country destinations:

BATH - weekend in Jane Austen terri

CORNWALL - choosing low season

CORNWALL - NORTH for beaches, cliffs & legends

DARTMOOR - Freedom to roam and explore

EXETER/EXMOUTH - Tour base for South Devon

ILFRACOMBE & NORTH DEVON - The Heritage coast

LYNTON & LYNMOUTH - Devon's Siamese-twin resorts

SIDMOUTH - Devon's Regency gem

SOMERSET - Choosing a farm cottage for a walking holiday

UP THE OTTER IN DEVON - A winter cottage haven


Books to read - click on cover pictures or click on the links below

The Hidden Places of Devon - David Gerrard, Sarah Bird (Illustrator) - This book focuses on the more off-trail areas of Devon.

The Rough Guide to Devon and Cornwall - Robert Andrews - Packed with accommodation recommendations, especially in the lower-cost sector.

Walks in South Devon and Dartmoor  - Brian Conduit - Explores the hills and valleys of South Devon.

AA 50 Walks in Devon - Sue Viccars - An AA guide in a handy pocket format.



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