Last year, I did the first half of a walk down the 1800s route of Woodwater Lane. I managed the western half as far as the Retail Park, before giving up due to the rain.
Exactly one year later, I completed the journey. Not quite in the same way; I cycled it instead of walking, and as a result was much less immersed in the journey and took far fewer photos. Call it more of a reconnaisance trip.
What I found was that the Lane continues to be erased, bit by bit.
When I compared old with new maps a year ago, I could see that the route still existed, despite the centre being obliterated by the Rydon Lane ring road and the Retail Park. To the east, the Lane is overlain by Digby Drive, then opposite the Park & Ride takes a right turn into a footpath. The path emerges on to Clyst Halt Avenue, becomes a contraflow on the one-way bridge over the A379 spur, and where the sliproad bends continues to the west of the railway line. All this section may not be along the exact route of the old Lane, but comes very close.
The whole path from the bridge over the A379 to Old Rydon Lane is named on Google Maps as Old Rydon Close, even though the first part is not passible by motor vehicles. Where the footpath widens out, the Google Satellite image shows, on the other side of the railway line, a hedge running parallel to Old Rydon Lane and joining the end of a farm lane. The 1800s route ends at the junction of the farm lane with Old Rydon Lane.*
The hedge appears on the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map too, but not on Google Maps or Open Street Map. What Open Street Map does show is a faint dotted red line across the railway line, which according to its key means a footway. So I thought it might be possible to cross the railway line, hug the hedge and nip down the farm lane. On the ground, however, I was confronted with a padlocked gate and a slightly cryptic Network Rail sign.
So I had to keep going down Old Rydon Close to Old Rydon Lane, which goes under the railway, and approach the end of the 1800s route from the other direction. But the farm lane wasn’t welcoming either.
That wasn’t quite that. Parallel to the lane, just the other side of the right-hand hedge, is the back entrance to the Exeter Chieftains’ rugby complex. So I cycled what I could and ogled what I couldn’t. What then of the hedge? Well, surprise surprise, it has been grubbed up, and the fields have been given over to growing turf, presumably for the rugby pitch. The hedge is no more, and Woodwater Lane is no more here, but it still possible to see where it used to run, given away by the different colours of the grass.
Nor is that quite that. It looks as though Exeter is going to get a new IKEA store, which it needs about as much as an alcoholic needs a bottle of gin. According to the “Have your say” (so long as it’s “Yes”) booklet, the site will be by the A379, half store, half housing. The housing will replace the one-way sliproad, which is no longer needed anyway. However, it looks as though the path over the A379 and along the railway will be retained.
Incidentally, IKEA’s aerial shot of the site was taken after the hedge was grubbed up, and in the spring before the field had greened, but the line of the hedge is as clear as the day.
* Update: Oops, no it doesn’t quite. As this fabulous map clearly shows, the 1800s route keeps going a bit further beyond the current farm before it turns right. I should have gone a little bit further down Old Rydon Lane.