Ithaka: A Bit of Fun From the Seacoast Authors


An Adventure by Abbie Titcomb and Megan Otto


20 February 2016

Megan: I guess this wants us to take a bus towards Teignmouth/Newton Abbott and then get off around Exminster? At the Swans Nest stop?

Abbie: That sounds good! We can do that!

Megan: Okay! Bus schedules are confusing but I’m pretty sure there are pretty frequent buses from 10 on. So do you think we should leave at 10 and then catch the first bus we can?

Abbie: Yes! That sounds good!

Megan: Actually it looks like if we want to get a bus from St. Davids, there’s one at 10:08 and the next isn’t until almost 10:40--so would you want to leave a little before 10 to catch the first one or?

Abbie: Yeah we should probably try to catch the 10:08 one! Should we meet at like 9:45?


And so the odyssey begins.


21 February 2016


We depart Birks Grange, innocent in the fresh light of the day, ignorant and unprepared. Full of hope, we make our way down the hill, towards the street, tracing the familiar route to the Exeter St. David’s train station.


Suddenly, a realization: “Are you sure St. David’s is where the bus stop is?”


“The stop to get the first bus. Do you know where it is?”

“… No.”

“I think it might be behind us, at the Birks stop?”

“Oh. Yes.”


A quick turn around, a panicked race back up the hill (punctuated by the discovery of a fallen soldier, Megan’s sandwich, lying on pavement, which was promptly rescued and secured back in Megan’s pack), and a breathless dash back across the street brings us to the Birks bus stop.



We wait at the Birks stop.



A bus arrives. We think the bus will take us to the correct station.


A question:

“Will this take us to the Exeter Central bus station?”

“Sure. I’ll drop you off in back of the prison—is that okay?”

With a quick turn towards Megan: “Sure? Why not.”



We do, in fact, make it to the Exeter Central bus station.

“When does the next bus get here?”

“In, um, 20 minutes.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“We could have just walked here. I’m sorry.”



A new bus arrives. Hesitantly, we board.

“Hi, um, we’re trying to get to the Swan’s Nest stop? On Station Road?”

The bus driver, to our relief, looks like he has heard someone ask for this before and knows what we mean. “Do you want return tickets?”

We do. We buy them. We sit down and wait.



The bus leaves the station. Expected arrival time (according to google maps): 11:23am.




We absorb the Devon countryside, in all of its green vibrancy. The sun filters through the clouds and through the windows, and we are warm. On our right, we pass a country house with ponies grazing in the fields, tucked into checkered blankets, their fuzzy noses brushing past the blades of grass. On our left, we catch glimpses of the elusive estuary – flashes of light on water, sailboats beached on mudflats, flocks of birds.



Relative bliss. The beginnings of panic.

“How far away do you think we are?”

“Probably not too far now.

“What’s the name of the place we’re supposed to get off at again?”

“Swan’s Nest. On Station Road.”



A sign for the Swan’s Nest passes out of sight through the left window. We notice this sign. We don’t do anything about it.

“We must be going the long way around.”

“I bet.”



Panic has set in. We have gotten cell reception long enough to check our location on the map. The situation is dire.

“Where are we?”


“… Where are we supposed to be?”

“Way back there.”

A brief silence.

“We passed it like twenty minutes ago.”

“Should we get off?”

We don’t get off.



We are still on the bus. We are far past where we were supposed to be. We’re not sure what we should do about this.



A flash of blue out the right window. A signpost. We think it is directing us towards the Exe Estuary path.


A decision -

We slam the stop button.



The bus rounds a corner and stops. We thank our driver and disembark the mighty metal beast.


A frantic dash back to where we saw the sign, a blue beacon on the side of the road. We make our approach and read it carefully. Our stomachs sink. The sign does indeed provide directions to the Exe Estuary path. The path is four miles away.


Looking back at this time in our lives, we feel as though it is important to take a moment to remember that, against all odds, we made it home safely.


What we knew then:

  1. We were not at the Swan’s Nest Inn.

  2. We were miles away from where we had planned to be.

  3. The Estuary trail, specifically, was four miles away.

  4. We were in a town called Starcross.

  5. There was a train leaving from the Starcross train station that would depart for Exeter St. David’s station at 12:28pm


What we know now:

  1. You don’t have to be on a trail to see the Exe Estuary.

  2. The Exe Estuary is really, really big.

  3. We were already at the Estuary.

  4. Our failure wasn’t that big.



We look to our left.



We look to our right.



We start walking aimlessly. After a few minutes, when we get to a seemingly abandoned gas station, we decide to cut our losses and turn around.



Back by the train station, we see an asphalt pathway. It’s no Estuary trail, but we decide it is good enough. We walk.



“Is that a way to get down to the mudflats?”

“... I think it is. I think those are stairs.”




We descend.



Hope is returning to our hearts. We are beginning to believe in the possibility of salvaging this day.




There are birds here! And mud! There is so much mud! Look at those boats! What an estuary!


Two dots on the horizon, we see them: the abandoned carcasses of two ships. Stuck in the mud, empty but persistent in the face of the elements, they speak to us on a deep and personal level. We are encountering poetry, here in the estuary - as these ships deteriorate, we live on.

“We have to get to those shipwrecks.”

“We have to.”

“It will all be worth it.”

“None of our mistakes will matter if we can get to those shipwrecks.”



Only mud stands in our way.


What we knew then:

  1. We had 32 minutes until our train would depart.

  2. There was so much mud.


What we know now:

  1. The caloric energy in one cubic meter of mudflat mud is equivalent to the caloric energy in either four, nine, or fourteen Mars bars. According to multiple published sources, this is a subject of much debate. The math, we suppose, is much too complex.




Notes and observations on mud:

  1. It is “silky soft and squelchy.”

  2. It’s really easy to get stuck in.

  3. There is, like, so much of it.



We begin the footslog through the mud, squelching our way towards the shipwrecks. Crustaceans, shells, and invertebrates litter our path. Desperately, determinately, we persist towards the hope of rectifying all our mistakes. The metaphor of the shipwreck strengthens in our hearts with every slurping step. It calls to us, like Ithaka beckons to Odysseus. This is our Odyssey.





Megan almost loses her shoes several times, and Abbie’s leggings are splattered with mud. Ithaka still awaits us.



Minor detour: we find a strange gutter. We must explore.





We explore. A sad orange ball floats among the detritus of the brackish water.  



We get out of there fast.



Our odyssey resumes, and we soon forget about our detour.





The ships loom before us, stretching up towards the sky. Exposed, naked in the light of day, they lie abandoned. It is a scene from a dream: empty masts reach up to the clouds, old radios float in the water, kelp and seaweed still cling to railings and the rods. The side of one ship - a broken structure, like a broken ribcage - is tilted upwards.




“What time is it?”



“It’s 12:08.”

“Oh no.”





The race back to the station begins. So soon after we had begun to explore, we have to leave. Was it worth it, to see the shipwrecks? To catch a glimpse of history? To connect our failures of today with the failures of yesteryear? To experience in person the transience and mortality of man? Absolutely.


Clouds roll in and a storm is a-brewing, if only in our minds. The mud is as deep and thick as it ever was.



We begin to notice the mud getting deeper. We need to get back on course - we’ve strayed. Mud sucks at our ankles and we grasp at each other’s arms. As Megan slowly sinks into the mud, Abbie extends her hand.

“Megan, take my hand! I’ll never let you go!”



Abbie lets Megan go. The trek towards the stairs continues.



Arrival, at long last, back at the train station. We feel as though we have been gone for days.


We glance at the marquee announcing the next train arrivals.

“I think it’s on the other platform.”

“Yeah, okay.”

A hurried dash up the stairs, over the bridge. A moment to pause for a photo. Down the stairs.




“This marquee says it’s leaving at 2:30?”

“... Are we on the wrong platform?”



A hurried dash up the stairs, over the bridge. We have two minutes. Down the stairs.



“Excuse me!” Abbie’s voice rings with desperation. “Is this train going to Exeter St. David’s?”

An affirmation.

“Megan. We are saved.”



The yellow metal stallion slides into the station, its wheels screeching as it slows. The train stops. We board.


After approximately 15 minutes - time, dear readers, has ceased to matter - we arrive safely back at Exeter St. David’s.


What did we learn on this day, this excursion, this journey, this odyssey? More than we can express. The haunted skeletons of the wrecks brought perspective to our day, and as we spent the half-hour by the remains of a life long gone, we breathed in the fresh air and found a wonderful sense of peace as we reflected on Digital Devon.


Text © Abbie Titcomb and Megan Otto

Photos © Megan Otto