Less than a mile away from the tor is Kitty Jay’s Grave which has a tale of its own, and although it has been embellished by some over the years, this is not a fictional story, but one that still evokes the spirit of Dartmoor in a way that is every bit as mysterious as Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous book.
The National Trust owns several properties in South Devon and they all have something to commend them, but I think my favourite has to be Coleton Fishacre.
It’s a bit out of the way, but that’s one of the attractions of this estate that includes a magnificent garden that sweeps down to the sea and a house that evokes the bygone jazz age of the 1920s.
The man behind the creation of Coleton Fishacre was Rupert D’Oyly Carte, whose father, Richard, was the producer of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas. Rupert, who incidentally was also the inspiration for P.G Wodehouse’s Rupert Psmith, inherited the family business including the Savoy Hotel and Claridge’s in London.
It was on a sailing trip between Brixham and Dartmouth with his wife Dorothy, that he saw the potential of the valley above Pudcombe Cove for building a home on the coast. It’s not difficult to see why they chose this spot, and in 1923 he set about building Coleton Fishacre which took three years to finish.
At Totnes the river is still tidal, and until the area around Totnes Bridge was drained, it was wet, marshy ground; and I suppose it must have been around here where Brutus, the first king of Britain landed – that’s if you believe the story of course – but I’ll be covering more about the history of Totnes in a separate post.
Totnes Bridge was built between 1826-28 and is the latest in a long line of bridges that has spanned the river here over many centuries. Today a modern road bridge just upstream, called Brutus Bridge, has taken the brunt of the traffic, not just away from this bridge, but from the town centre as well.
Thanks largely to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century account Historia Regum Britanniae, Brutus was regarded as the founder of the Britons and therefore the first King of Britain. If you subscribe to this part of our island’s history, and want to embrace it even more, then there’s a granite slab in Fore Street called the Brutus Stone, which is supposed to be the spot where he came ashore. Seeing that it lies several hundred yards uphill from the river, either the stone or the river has moved since then, but I suppose that wouldn’t bother anyone who has magic mushrooms on toast for breakfast.
The town has been described as ‘New Age’, ‘Alternative’ and even ‘eccentric’ but however you like to describe it, Totnes is different to any other town in the South Hams, or even Devon for that matter.
The alternative lifestyle that many people in and around Totnes have adopted originally stems from the Dartington Hall Estate, and in particular the ideas of Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst who came here in 1925. Dartington is just a couple of miles outside of Totnes and I’ve given it a separate page, but for now I’ll just say that it’s somewhere that specializes in the ‘arts, social justice and sustainability’.
This limestone plateau is the southern protective arm of Torbay (Hope’s Nose is the northern one) and has the sea on three sides, affording wonderful views across Torbay, down the South Devon Coastline towards the mouth of the River Dart, and of course, out to sea.
If you feel cheated in not being able to wander around and watch all the activity, then there is a viewing platform where you can see most of the harbour and the boats that are in port. For a better idea at what happens on the other side of the gates, I can highly recommend one of the early morning tours of the market, although during this year of Covid, I don’t believe they’ve been running them. You may also like to read my post, Brixham and Fishing for a better understanding of what the industry means to the town.
Up until then, deep sea fishing had largely been done by long lining which, as its name suggests was a technique that used hundreds, if not thousands, of baited hooks. Although trawls had already been invented, a much better system was developed by Brixham boat builders and fishermen that allowed trawls to be towed from beams that not only caught more fish but could also do so in all kinds of weather.
These boats with their tall gaff rig had sails which were treated with a local red ochre dye to make them more durable, and a design that made them both fast and strong. Only a small number of these boats have survived, but six of them have been restored and at least two or three can usually be seen alongside the pontoon next to the Prince William pub on the far side of the harbour.
There were in excess of 200 of these boats that sailed from the harbour to places as far away as the North Sea, where demersal fish such as plaice, haddock, and cod were much more plentiful. To begin with they returned to Brixham with their catch but as time went on, they started to put down roots in places like Hull, Grimsby, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, and it wasn’t long before these ports became much bigger than Brixham itself.
There is a connection with the Scottish hotel however, because the first owner of the hotel in Asheldon Road named it after her favourite part of Scotland. Beatrice Sinclair bought it in 1964 when it was a private house and converted it into holiday apartments, and then, along with her husband Donald, gradually converted it into a 41-bedroom hotel.
In this context ‘park’ means Country Park, which in the UK refers to a recreational area which I think of as a half-way house between an urban park and the open countryside.
The idea was conceived in the 1960s to encourage people in urban areas to get up off the sofa and out into the fresh air without having to head off into the sticks and trample all over farmers’ fields.
The Country Park at Cockington, like others throughout the country, was initially set up with central government funding through the Countryside Commission, but surprise surprise, the baton has since been passed over to the local council to foot the bill for the upkeep and provide free access to all.
The village centre harks back to a bygone era when it was part of the Cockington Manor Estate: It has all the quintessential ingredients of what every visitor’s idea of an old Devon village should look like; a place where thatched cottages with hanging baskets entice people into their gift shop or garden for the obligatory Devon ‘Cream Tea’, but there’s more to Cockington than that, and in a separate article I will be describing the estate that surrounds the village which is now a 420-acre Country Park. In this blog though, I’m going to give a short introduction as to how the ancient manor became what it is today and what the village has to offer.
The focal point is Babbacombe Downs, which at 300 ft. above the sea below, offers commanding views around Lyme Bay towards Dorset.
On a clear day it’s possible to see as far as Portland Bill, so where better to just lounge around and enjoy the view, perhaps with some fish and chips from Hanbury’s in nearby Princes Street. As tempting as that might be, it’s probably better to work up an appetite first, and a short walk around Babbacombe will not only do just that, but will also provide you with quite a few things to see and do along the way.
Explaining the planet’s history is really best left to the experts, but as one of the geological time periods is named after the county of Devon, I think it’s worth knowing how this occurred and how it all fits into the grand scheme of things.
To put it into some sort of perspective, geologists tell us that the earth was formed some 4,600 million years ago, with the oldest rocks in Britain being about 3,000 million years old (and found in North-Western Scotland). From this we can see that Devon’s beginnings don’t go back quite as far back as they might first appear, so why was the Devonian Period so named?
We only need to go back to the 1830s to find the answer. Up until that point, scientists from the early 18th century onwards were trying to map and categorize different geological time periods, and Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick, two eminent members of the Geographical Society in London, had identified two separate eras which they called the Silurian and Carboniferous Periods.
This neat classification was thrown into some disarray when a colleague, Henry De la Beche, who was categorizing rocks himself in Devon, suggested there was also likely to be an intermediate period: The disagreement between the two parties led to the debate becoming known as the ‘Great Devonian Controversy’.
Paradoxically, it was Murchison who made the discoveries to prove that De la Beche was right all along. This intermediate era was determined to be between 359 and 419 million years ago, and was subsequently called the Devonian Period.
In the chart below, the Devonian Period is half-way down the Paleozoic column coloured brown.
This area of Torbay is as good as anywhere to understand why the English Riviera was given status as a UNESCO Global Geopark, one of only seven locations in the UK. Kent’s Cavern is the best place to begin discovering what all this means, and if you want to find out how the area gave its name to the Devonian Period, check out my post, Kent’s Cavern and the English Riviera Geopark.
The footpath between Peaked Tor Cove and Daddyhole Plain is about a mile long and known locally as Rock End Walk, but to make it easier to find I’ve decided to start the walk from the Victoria Parade side of the harbour where it meets Beacon Hill.
As you start to walk up the hill, you’ll see a brown tourist sign that leads down to Beacon Cove. Unlike the red sandstone beaches that this part of Devon is well known for, this is a small rocky limestone bay, which until 1903, was a ladies-only beach and a favourite spot for the young Agatha Christie. Next to it is the now empty ‘hairnet’, which before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, was the home of seabirds and other marine life that made up Paignton Zoo’s Living Coasts. There’s no access onto the coast path from Beacon Cove, so you’ll need to walk back up onto the road if you venture down here.
The Inner Harbour is the main focal point and, just as you might expect, includes a variety of shops, bars and restaurants, as well as boats. Thanks to the pedestrian Millennium Footbridge that connects the Old Fish Quay with the South Pier, it’s possible to complete a circuit of the inner harbour without re-tracing your steps; and underneath the bridge is a cill which allows water to remain inside the harbour regardless of the state of the tide.
During the day, seagulls permitting, wandering around the harbour makes for a pleasant pastime, and there is also the opportunity to catch the ferry over to Brixham if you fancy a different harbour to wander around.
If you’ve brought Aunt Maud with you, it’s probably best to pack her off back to the hotel before the clubbing crowd turn up, especially on weekend nights during the summer. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I would have been joining them, but these days, like Aunt Maud, I find myself going home around the same time as I used to be going out.
Abbey Park lies in front of the Riviera Centre and has some low-key sporting facilities such as tennis and crazy golf if you like that sort of thing, but the gardens, with their sub-tropical plants and water features are what I like, and in particular, the Italian Garden which is a riot of colour during the summer (see featured image at top of page).
If you’re not in any rush to get the sand between your toes, you might also want to check out the One World Café and Bistro which is the ideal place for doing absolutely nothing for an hour or so.
Not only does a visit offer an insight into how Torquay developed from the time Torre Abbey was founded in 1196, you can also impress your friends by telling them it was occupied by the Canons of the Premonstratensian order. These wealthy landlords were responsible for adding the ‘quay’ to Torre, and were here for over 300 years until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
Devon has a long history of cider making, and although there are no large commercial businesses down here these days, there are still a fair number of smaller producers dotted about – including Paignton. Hunts, of Higher Yalberton Farm is a good example, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to have a look around and see how their cider is made.