There are any number of things that will make a great day out in South Devon, but in my opinion, one of the best has to be the ‘Round Robin’. It comprises different modes of transport linking Paignton, Dartmouth, and Totnes.
The Round Robin includes a steam train from Paignton to Kingswear, a ferry across the River Dart to Dartmouth, a boat trip up the river to Totnes, and an open-top bus back to Paignton. It can be done the other way round and you can start from Paignton, Dartmouth or Totnes.
Part of the attraction is to be able to explore the towns of Dartmouth and Totnes and so you would need to factor in the tide times of the Dart if you intend to do the whole journey in one day.
For expediency, in this post, I’m just going to describe the train journey between Paignton and Kingswear.
The journey from Paignton to Kingswear is almost 7 miles long and starts from Queen’s Park station, which is right next door to the mainline station, and even though it’s clearly marked, people come to the wrong one all day, every day. I don’t know where the Great Western Railway staff get their patience from!
Assuming you’ve got on the train to Kingswear and not Manchester, the first stop is at Goodrington Sands, and then the train travels above Broadsands to Churston station and then Greenway Halt, where you need to alight if you want to visit Agatha Christie’s House. The journey then continues down to, and alongside, the River Dart to Kingswear.
The eagle-eyed among you would have noticed that the owners of the line market it as the Dartmouth Steam Railway, and that’s because there’s a station at Dartmouth – or at least there was. The purpose of the line was to enable people to travel to Dartmouth via the ferry that runs between the two towns. You could buy tickets at Dartmouth station, but it was unique in being the only railway station in the country that didn’t actually have a railway line. The building is still there and is used as a restaurant.
The reason that that this situation developed was basically due to the fact that the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway Company ran out of funds to build a bridge across the river. In fact, the history of the line is less than straightforward.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel brought his broad-gauge railway down to this part of the West Country with the help of the South Devon Railway, but the line was halted at Torre, and it was the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway who took over and extended it to Torquay, Paignton, Brixham Road (now Churston), and Kingswear, where it opened on 10th August 1864. Brixham Road incidentally, was the junction for the short branch line to Brixham which ran from 1868 to 1963. From 1st Feb 1876 everything came under the ownership of the Great Western Railway.
With the onslaught of time, not to mention the Beeching Cuts, the line between Paignton and Kingswear was closed on 28th Oct 1972, but was then bought a couple of months later by the Dart Valley Railway Ltd. This company still owns the line, as well as the South Devon (Heritage) Railway that runs between Totnes and Buckfastleigh.
Just in case you’re not confused yet, how about this? – the Paignton to Kingswear line under the new ownership was called the Torbay Steam Railway, then the Torbay and Dartmouth Railway, and then another change of mind with the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway – and now it’s called the Dartmouth Steam Railway which comes under the Dartmouth Steam Railway and Riverboat Company, which if you’re still with me is also responsible for the running of the ferry, boat cruises, and buses of the Round Robin. Now you know why I choose to call it the Paignton to Kingswear Steam Railway.
For more information it’s worth visiting the railway’s visitor centre which is located in an old railway carriage at Kingswear station, and is free to enter.
ORIGINAL POST – JUNE 2018
LATEST UPDATE – SEPT 2020