Thursday, 25 November 2021

Exceedingly Enigmatic Exeter Experiment (2)

Discovering the Settlements of Digby and Sowton

Committed and regular readers of this blog might expect fbb to reveal that Sowton Village is a large estate of "Georgian-style" detached and semi-detached villas with plenty of car parking and "not very good bus territory". In this case, however it is simply a small village to the west of Exeter.
It has a smattering of wonderful old cottages ...
... all well cared for.
It has a church ...
... and, courtesy of Wikipedia info, it has a phone box.
Various plots have been filled with newer housing. There really isn't much of Sowton.

But there is even less of the original Digby. Wikipedia tells us that it was a "small village" dominated by a former hospital, known originally, in a very unacceptable way today, as Exeter Lunatic Asylum!
Just when the country was requiring more food production in 1940, the City Mental Hospital, as it was then named, had a herd of 100 pigs on the farm. It also had a prodigious crop of potatoes, and was self sufficient in oats and barley as animal feed.

Digby Hospital was absorbed into the National Health Service when it was founded in July 1948. It became part of the Devon Mental Hospital Group, and eventually it became the Exe Vale Hospital with Exminster and Wonford House.

One hundred and one years after it opened, Digby was closed in 1987. The land attached to the hospital was divided into a section for residential housing, and the rest for a retail park that would include a large Tesco and PC World, among others. The building, which was Listed Grade II was converted into residential use, preserving the outer facade as much as possible.

It is still there, converted into "residential units" ...
... but apart from the name Digby there is nothing left of the "village"..

But look at the area today!
If we zoom in, we see how the names have been re-used, removed and repurposed for the modern age.
Presumably, Sandy Gate was the gate to the Sandy Park estate, now Exeter's rugby football stadium. These days the "gate" is a terrifying roundabout with access to the M5.
Up on the embankment by the rail bridge over the Sidmouth Road, was once a station.
It was called "Clyst St Mary and Digby Halt" and was built to serve the aforementioned Asylum. fbb has found no photographs and it closed in 1948.

The modern Digby and Sowton station opened in 1995. It is unstaffed and very basic!
The park and Ride site is also on the Sidmouth Road. But when do the buses run, and where?
It is operated by Stagecoach but you need to know the secret of how to find a timetable. The secret code to type in to the Stagecoach enquiry box is "GRN", although how you are supposed to know this is unclear.

The timetable that Stagecoach provides for you is not a Stagecoach timetable, it picks up the Traveline version.
As usual with Traveline, the place names are baffling. 
According to the old Stagecoach map and fbb's first draft of ditto the Park and Ride serves Sowton Industrial Estate at peak times on Mondays to Fridays.
But it doesn't serve the Environment Agency stop in the mornings ...
... only for going home in the evenings, which seems a poor show if you work there!
The stop is one of three on the "loop" road named Kelsey Way ...
The "Environment Agency" stop is at the southern end, apparently opposite Greggs (only Greggs isn't there!); the Bittern Road stop is not on Bittern Road (why would it be?) at the north.

Surely the buses serve all stops on the Industrial Estate?

Of course they do. But it is not easy, travelling by bus - especially if you are new to the game. But aren't we supposed to be promoting the bus as a means of travel, say, to and from work. It is not at all easy sorting our travel to Sowton Industrial Estate.

Which leaves another question. Is the Sowton Park and Ride a limited stop service? Traveline shows a full timetable with the service calling at every stop.
But there's more. How does this work out for ordinary intermediate fares?


But the publicity does tell us that OAP passes ARE valid! So when fbb goes to see Mike Watson, he could drive to Sowton Park and Ride and then travel FREE all the way to Matford ('cos the GRN runs cross city) for his meet at Stagecoach HQ.

Sounds a good deal, combining a usually quiet drive, but much quicker than the 9A, and avoiding the horrors of attacking a thought route via the centre of Exeter.

IF the above attempt at cartographic reality proves to be correct, then surely the GRN should appear as a "normal" route on the Exeter map?

Tomorrow, buses to Digby!


Chauffeur Driven

HS2 Curtailment
Quite right, Mr N!

Double Deck Buses, but where?
Answer tomorrow.

Decorations Part 2
Just LOVE the purple LEDs. The tree is tied on to the Freesat dish, so, hopefully it won't keep falling over this year?

 Next Exeter cartographic blog : Friday 26th November 


  1. Well, I've worked out what the buses are and on what route - but I won't tell! I should have been able to guess the country really. I did wonder if you'd pulled a fast one on us by including a picture of two demonstrators!

  2. The Green P&R route used to terminate in South Street and the section from Paris Street to Sowton was the BLU(e) route with blue liveried buses. It is now a through route to Matford P&R from Sowton - it also has to be operated by single deckers due to a very low railway bridge (and bus gate) on Tan Lane.

    Some ten years ago the P&R buses were shown on Devon CC's website rather than the Stagecoach website.

    There is another P&R operated by Dartline that serves the Royal Devon Hospital at Wonford, these timetables for PR3 and SPR3 are on the hospital website!

    The County Hall P&R from Sowton that I have used in the past is currently suspended.

  3. For a better quality image of the Swiss double decks see here:
    It's the operators own Flickr site

  4. Some notes on buses around Digby:
    Route letter H is only used for short workings between St David’s Station and the RD&E.
    Buses to and from Digby via Broadfields and Middlemoor are H1. Buses to and from Digby via Pynes Hill are H2. Both follow the same one-way terminal loop via Digby & Sowton Station.
    All buses leaving the stop opposite Tesco filling station travel via the Rydon Lane Retail Park to serve a stop opposite KFC. They rejoin Russell Way opposite the road to Digby & Sowton station.
    The Hospital P+R near Digby & Sowton station is now for hospital staff only. Patients now have to use the Sowton P+R site. Dartline’s PR3 serves both.
    The Green P+R route serves all stops. It needs to as there are precious few other services from High Street that run through Heavitree.
    Hope this helps.

  5. I always wondered why the road passing Digby & Sowton Station is called Clyst Halt Road - now I know!

    Until last year routes D and H both ran half-hourly to Digby, D via Heavitree and Pynes Hill and H via Broadfields and Middlemoor (I think; my memory may be faulty). The D was suspended during the pandemic and the H restructured in its present form but with the H1 and H2 each only operating hourly. The D has since been resurrected as UNI and operates between Exeter University main campus and St Luke's College.

  6. Much quicker to drive straight to Stagecoach HQ and park at Matford P&R next door, no need to drive through Ex city centre at all (but then you wouldn't get a bus ride, nor the delights of the bus squeezing through Tan Lane!).

  7. FBB asks about fares. Back in the days when Green P&R ran from Matford to the city centre and Blue P&R was a separate route, Green was unusual in that it stopped everywhere along the route. However, cheap P&R fares only applied from the P&R site to the city centre and back. Also, all the P&R routes, if you did a return trip from the city centre to the P&R site, you had to pay a higher fare, more like an "ordinary" bus fare. I presume something like this still applies on the Green now that it runs right across the city. But unlike in some other cities, senior passes used to be valid on P&R in Exeter and I presume they still are, especially as the P&Rs are becoming more and more like ordinary services.