Tag Archives: Torbay

Top 10 Places to see in Torbay

Top 10 Places to see in Torbay

This post is a list of my recommended places to go in Torbay. Like any Top 10 list, it’s subjective, and everybody’s list will be different. Having lived here for more than twenty-five years, I’ve covered all these places in my blogs on Torbay, and have provided links to them for a more in-depth look at what’s on offer at each place.

If there are any places that you think I should have included, and maybe some that you think I shouldn’t have, please let me know. Places are constantly changing for one reason or another, and it’s not easy to keep abreast of everything.

The list that I’ve compiled runs in a descending order that coincides with my preferences, but I wouldn’t take too much notice of that, as everyone’s opinion will vary. Having said that, the places on this list should find favour with most people. I hope you agree, and don’t forget to send me a comment on what you think.

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Berry Head

Berry Head

The Harbour is the obvious first port of call for most visitors to Brixham, but if you want to escape the hustle and bustle for a while, it’s worth taking a walk out to Berry Head.

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.

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A Stroll Around Brixham Harbour

A Stroll Around Brixham Harbour

When arriving in Brixham, the first thing to remember is that it is primarily a working fishing port. The Fishmarket used to lie alongside the inner harbour, but in more recent health & safety conscious times, a modern purpose-built market has been constructed which now separates the general public from the fishing harbour.

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.

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Brixham and Fishing

Brixham and Fishing

Fishing has always been the most important part of Brixham life, and even as far back as the Middle Ages it was the largest fishing port in South-West England, but by the 19th century the port was so influential that it became a victim of its own success.

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.

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Fawlty Towers and the Gleneagles Hotel

Fawlty Towers and the Gleneagles Hotel

When people talk about the Gleneagles Hotel it’s only natural to think they’re talking about the 5* hotel in Scotland which is set in 850 acres and offers distinguished guests everything from luxury accommodation and fine dining to three championship golf courses and country pursuits; but I’m not talking about that Gleneagles, I’m talking about the one in Torquay – you know the one – the one where you expect to see “the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and herds of Wildebeest” from the bedroom window.

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.

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Cockington – A Walk in the Park

Cockington - A Walk in the Park

Anyone who has read my previous blog about Cockington Village will already be aware that there’s more to Cockington than just a few thatched cottages and a pub, and so today I want you to slip your trainers on, and come with me for a walk in the park.

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.

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Cockington Village

Cockington Village

Just a mile or so from Torquay sea front, a country lane leads to a small picturesque village that is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of Torquay Harbour.

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.

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Babbacombe

Babbacombe

Babbacombe, although part of Torquay, has a totally independent feel to it. There are similarities such as a prom, harbour, beach and even a theatre, but generally speaking, it’s a much more reserved and low-key location than its larger neighbour.

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.

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Kents Cavern and the English Riviera Geopark

Erosion of soft Red Sandstone in action at Babbacombe

Kents Cavern and the English Riviera Geopark

People who come to Torbay don’t think of it as somewhere with much history, and it’s true in some respects, but search a bit deeper and you’ll find that the area’s history goes back a long way – about 400 million years in fact – give or take a few million.

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.

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Thatcher Point to Anstey’s Cove

Thatcher Point to Anstey's Cove

Between Meadfoot Beach and Babbacombe is one of Torquay’s most exclusive areas. Centred on Thatcher Avenue, the area is known locally as Millionaire’s Row, but you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy what is arguably the most interesting part of the Torquay coastline.

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.

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From Torquay Harbour to Meadfoot Beach

From Torquay Harbour to Meadfoot Beach

Even though Torbay is generally thought of as an urban area next to the sea, it doesn’t mean to say that the South-West Coast Path isn’t worth following around the bay. I would agree that it wouldn’t make sense to follow it all the way around, but there are some lovely stretches of coastline between Torquay and Brixham, and I reckon this one from Torquay Harbour to Meadfoot Beach is one of them.

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.

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Torquay Harbour and Princess Gardens

Torquay Harbour and Princess Gardens

Not surprisingly, the harbour area is the main area of activity in Torquay, and has both an Inner and Outer Harbour.

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.

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Abbey Park, Torre Abbey Sands and Sandyman

Abbey Park, Torre Abbey Sands and Sandyman

Visitors to Torquay have probably come to enjoy the sea air as much as anything, and a short walk from Torre Abbey through Abbey Park will bring you to the seafront and Torre Abbey Sands.

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.

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Torre Abbey

Torre Abbey

Torre Abbey is without doubt the most important historical building in Torbay, and although its appearance has changed from what it was originally designed for, it should be on everyone’s list of places to see.

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.

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The Ghost Ships of Torbay

The Ghost Ships of Torbay

This pandemic has had a devastating effect on everyone, me included, but at least my days have been cheered up by looking out at the ghost ships that have been living in the bay for the last year or more.

Torbay doesn’t get many cruise ships normally – maybe a couple a year will drop in for a quick overnight stop and that’s about it, but it’s been different since the pandemic arrived.  People living in Fort Lauderdale or Piraeus might not get over-excited about seeing a cruise ship turn up, but here in Torbay it’s somewhat different. We’re more used to seeing fishing boats and cargo ships rather than luxury liners, and when the first cruise ship anchored in the bay last year, little did we know that more were to follow.

I can’t remember which ship it was exactly, but it was a ‘Dam’. That I do know, because there were any number of ‘Dams’ that were first on the scene. They were here of course because they had no passengers, and although they would normally be tied up in a port somewhere, I can only hazard a guess as to why they chose Torbay as a resting place as it doesn’t have the facilities to cater for large ships in the same way. I assume one of the considerations must have been cost, and although it’s a safe haven for shipping during a south-westerly gale, dropping anchor here would not have been without its pitfalls, especially if being laid-up for a long spell.

I suppose this was why there seemed to be quite a large turnover of ships sailing in and out of the bay, but whatever ships were around, there always seemed to be a ‘Dam’. Westerdam, Volendam, Nieuw Statendam and Zaandam are all part of the Holland America Line and became a regular part of the scene. There were as many as six ships anchored in the bay at any one time and they were joined by two or three more around the other side of Hope’s Nose at Babbacombe.

During the time they’ve been here a rapport has been built up between the locals and the ships. The crews have been quarantined of course, but they’ve blown the ships’ horns to commemorate Armistice Day, New Year’s Eve and other occasions, and in return locals have sent Christmas parcels and made friends.

With the pandemic easing off (supposedly), the ships are now starting to leave the bay, and so I thought I would put together a gallery of some of the ships I’ve been able to capture on camera before they’ve all gone. Unfortunately, I’ve not got any pictures of those special moments like waking up to see the ships on a peaceful misty morning hovering above the sea like ghost ships or the moon shining down on them last thing at night. Those moments are priceless, and if nothing else it goes to prove that there can be some good things that happen in times of adversity.

This week, Oosterdam was the last ‘Dam’ to leave the bay: The night before it left, the ship was lit up in a way that spelt “We love you Torbay” and the following morning the ship’s captain was on local radio saying how he was leaving with a lump in his throat, but he would be back with his family sometime in the future to meet the people of Torbay.

He and his crew may miss Torbay, but many of us here will also miss the ships. Bon Voyage!

 

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Paignton Cider

Paignton Cider

The UK has the highest per capita consumption of cider in the world and although there are other areas of the UK such as East Anglia that have a tradition of producing fine cider it’s generally regarded that the counties of Herefordshire and Worcestershire in the West Midlands and the West Country in general are the areas with which it is most associated.

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.

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Paignton to Kingswear Steam Railway and the Round Robin

Paignton to Kingswear Steam Railway and the Round Robin

There are any number of things that will make a great day out in South Devon, but in my opinion, one of the best has to be the ‘Round Robin’. It comprises different modes of transport linking Paignton, Dartmouth, and Totnes.

The Round Robin includes a steam train from Paignton to Kingswear, a ferry across the River Dart to Dartmouth, a boat trip up the river to Totnes, and an open-top bus back to Paignton. It can be done the other way round and you can start from Paignton, Dartmouth or Totnes.

Part of the attraction is to be able to explore the towns of Dartmouth and Totnes and so you would need to factor in the tide times of the Dart if you intend to do the whole journey in one day.

For expediency, in this post, I’m just going to describe the train journey between Paignton and Kingswear.

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Broadsands to Elberry Cove and Churston

Broadsands to Elberry Cove and Churston

My final post about Paignton covers the area between Broadsands and Brixham, and includes the short walk from Broadsands to Elberry Cove and an extension to Churston for those who want it. The village of Churston Ferrers, technically speaking, comes within the boundary of Brixham, but I think it makes more sense to include it here.

You don’t need to belong to Mensa to work out where Broadsands gets its name from. It’s the last major Paignton beach before reaching Brixham (which doesn’t have any major beaches incidentally), and is another safe place for toddlers to paddle in. Unlike the beaches nearer to the town centre, there are very few amenities, and that’s the reason why some people enjoy coming here.

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Goodrington

Goodrington

Goodrington was another village, like Preston, that was swallowed up by Paignton, and covers the coastal area between Roundham Head and Broadsands, but just like its counterpart across the other side of town, it has grown inland as well.

It has to be said that there’s not much for the ardent historian to seek out here because Goodrington primarily attracts families who just want to enjoy the beach, park and water flumes. That said, it also manages to juggle the appeal of family fun with some important conservation as well.

As I pointed out in Old Paignton this used to be a wet, marshy area, and it’s not difficult to see why it was looked upon in years gone by as an area that needed to be tamed, but these days we treat nature with a bit more respect (sometimes) and work with nature rather than against it.

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From Paignton Harbour to Goodrington

From Paignton Harbour to Goodrington

I’ve recently started to update some of my local pages, and have just realised that I haven’t written anything about Paignton Harbour and Roundham Head, so I think it’s about time I rectified that anomaly.

This enjoyable, easy stroll between the harbour and Goodrington offers fine views from the wide-open public space of Roundham Head, and can be done in either direction, but for this blog I’m starting from Paignton.

The harbour lies at the southern end of Paignton Seafront and can be reached by walking under an archway that was made to allow access from the Esplanade to the harbour. The building was originally a fish cellar, but is now a pub/restaurant.

The fact that the harbour was enclosed until the archway opened it up may have something to do with why it has often been overlooked by visitors, but it also has to be said that it doesn’t have the same magnetic appeal as the harbours of Torquay or Brixham.

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