90 The Boardwalk

On the Exe Estuary Trail, between Topsham and Exmouth, there are five trestle bridges, altogether nearly a mile long. Like Brunel’s wooden viaducts, it was known that they would have a limited life.

They take the trail over marshland or across curves in the shoreline which were cut off by the construction of the railway embankment. The timber trestles rest upon concrete pile caps, cast onto the reinforced concrete piles driven down to firm ground.

Courtlands, between Exmouth and Lympstone, was completed in 2007 and much of the timber is now so rotten that the bridge is beyond economic repair. Work to replace all the timber components with ones made from glass reinforced polymer is to start on 18th September, 2023.

There was a loss of confidence in the construction industry when Copper Chrome Arsenic-treated timber became unavailable and the substitute did not seem as effective. Sixteen years is a very short life for a bridge with no timbers in contact with the ground.

The scout understood that it was not possible to build an embankment, either because it would disturb the wildlife habitat or because the track authority would not allow any construction which might affect its own adjacent earthworks.

Notice is given of the intention to close the path. The diversion will be through Halsdon Farm at right.
A gallery of pictures showing the unseen damage, taken from the Devon County Council engineer’s report. +
Nutwell, roughly 400 yards long, looking towards Topsham. Courtlands is about 335 yards long; Belvidere, c. 390 yds.; Exton, c. 167 yds.; and Goosemoor, c. 412 yds.

On the Friday before work started, at around half past five, the scout traversed the trestle at Nutwell and then thought he would film it. So he went back, started the camera rolling and pedalled off again. The gear was too low and so he about-turned and started again. The scout continued to mess about like this until he got the “take” he wanted, during which time about three cyclists passed him.

As he filmed, the scout was put in mind of the characteristic sound trains make on Tavy Viaduct.

When the work is finished, the cost will do doubt be revealed. Whatever the cost is, it will have to be multiplied by more than four, because one by one the other trestles will become due for replacement. With much of the road network in a worse state than the scout has ever seen it, the county has burdened itself, quite unnecessarily, with a large new mileage of routes whose main value is to those seeking mere recreation.

December, 2023: The scout went as far as Sowden Lane to photograph the piles of timber recovered from Courtlands, much of it sound.

February, 2024: The route was open for the scout’s first ride to Exmouth. The recovered timber was being taken away in skips. From an exchange that the scout overheard, he gathered that some of it at least was saved by locals.

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