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Devon Map

Old seaside resorts seem to fall into three categories: Some, such as Seaton seem to have turned their back on the sea and become quiet country towns; some have embraced the twentieth century with gusto and provide amusement arcades, bingo hall and all kinds of other entertainment, and some still retain there old world charm.

Dawlish falls firmly into this last category.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the central gardens, known as The Lawn, were laid out on either side of the Dawlish Water stream, and flanked by houses. This arrangement has survived almost unchanged to this day.

What has changed, since the gardens were built, is the seafront. But even that was back in 1830, when Isambard Kingdom Brunel built one of his many heroic failures, the South Devon Railway.

Not only was this built along the seashore, cutting Dawlish off from its beach and making it one of the most expensive lines in Britain to maintain, he also chose to use pneumatic power.

A long tube with a slot sealed with a leather strip was laid between the rails, and the train was supposed to be pushed along by a piston inside the tube. A combination of rats and sea water ensured that the system was totally unreliable, and it was abandoned after two years.

These days there are regular steam train excursions along the line operated by the Torbay Express, and it is a very popular location for video photographers.