Days out in Devon

For one of the best days out in Devon, you really should head to Dawlish!

Dawlish is a traditional south Devon seaside resort with a lovely sandy beach and red sandstone cliffs. Though what attracted Steve to the place was neither beach nor cliff, but the photographs of trains passing along the seafront and through the cliffs whilst turbulent seas crashed over them. This part of the English railway network runs right along the seafront. The line is a feat of engineering that has to contend constantly with the ravages of the sea and weather - while carrying the mainline service between London and Penzance in Cornwall!

If you're looking for days out in Devon, Dawlish is a great bet. We visited in mid-March as we were travelling into Devon for a holiday, and Dawlish made for a scenic lunchtime stop on our journey. At the heart of the town lies the pretty Dawlish Lawn with Dawlish Water offering a home to ducks and some rarely seen black swans. There were palm trees, little bridges, and plenty of benches to sit and enjoy the scenery.

Dawlish struck us as a very peaceful spot.

Intercity Train Leaving Dawlish During a Storm © Moorefam | Getty Images canva.comIntercity Train Leaving Dawlish During a Storm © Moorefam | Getty Images

However, go back to around 1800, and what is now the centre of town would have been all marsh and reeds. Back then, Dawlish was a small fishing village located about a mile from the coast because what looks like a beautiful peaceful stream now had a habit of flooding.

It was between 1800 and 1810 that Dawlish Water was straightened, and small waterfalls added so that the surrounding land could be landscaped with a wide long lawn and new buildings either side of the new avenue. Many of the buildings are still original and there is a lovely old water mill to look out for!

Around this time, it was becoming popular for the wealthy and carefree to visit seaside locations along the south coast of England to take the sea air and water. Travelling to and from Dawlish would have been slow and difficult until a railway line came along in 1846.

Dawlish Water and Dawlish Lawn © essentially-england.comDawlish Water and Dawlish Lawn ©

The South Devon Railway ran between Exeter and Newton Abbot and the first passenger train arrived in Dawlish in September 1847. The railway line was designed and built by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who powered the broad-gauge trains using a vacuum system. Power stations along the line created a vacuum in a tube that ran between the tracks to which the train was connected by a leather valve. The system was very problematic and within a year the locomotives were back to traditional steam power.

Watermill in Dawlish © essentially-england.comWatermill in Dawlish ©

After wandering around town and getting some provisions (we found a lovely pasty shop) we headed to the beach and railway for a quick picnic. If you’re a trainspotter and enjoy a beautiful sea view, then you need to try this spot in Dawlish.

Some of the trains didn’t stop in Dawlish and so came hurtling past our little picnic spot!

Trainspotter's Delight with a Relaxing Sea View © essentially-england.comTrainspotter's Delight with a Relaxing Sea View ©

Next on our must-see list were the beautiful red sandstone cliffs. We followed the sea defences beside the railway until the tracks disappeared into a tunnel. Skirting around the headland we got our first glimpse of the red cliffs. We continued past the colourful beach huts and down on to the beach at Coryton Cove where the railway re-appeared. The sandstone cliffs were sea- and weather-worn with lots of small caves to explore. As the tide was low, we got the chance to walk between some of the sea defences and found an excellent area to go rock-pooling.

Dawlish Beach Huts near Coryton Cove © essentially-england.comDawlish Beach Huts near Coryton Cove ©

We really enjoyed our stop in Dawlish and travelling on a train along this scenic railway line is definitely on my bucket list. It was in our plans for days out in Devon if we'd had a wet day, but our week's stay had fine sunny weather... so we've got to come back!

Rock Pools and Red Sandstone Cliffs © essentially-england.comRock Pools and Red Sandstone Cliffs ©

Where to Stay in Dawlish for Some Great Days Out in Devon

There is plenty to see and do in this beautiful area of Devon including coastal, historical, and Dartmoor days out. We’ve selected a range of comfortable holiday cottages in Dawlish that would make and ideal base from which to start each day of your holiday. And if the weather turns stormy, you’ll be in the right place to capture that stunning train photo. You never know, but you make also be lucky enough to get a day when a steam train passes through!

Exe View
Sleeps 2

Corfu Cottage
Sleeps 6

8 Coastguard Cottages
Sleeps 5

Or you could use our search box.


Dawlish isn’t all about the railway, but it’s railway history and the engineering behind it certainly made me want to visit. There is a wonderful beach in Dawlish and some quiet, more private, coves just a few minutes’ walk away, and there are the typical seaside resort attractions. If you would like to know more about the history of Dawlish, then there is a heritage trail with information boards.

And, as the railway is right on your doorstep, you may fancy a day out without having to drive. It’ll be a very picturesque journey!

Walking Along Dawlish Sea Defences © essentially-england.comWalking Along Dawlish Sea Defences ©

For more things to do in Devon return to the Devon page here.