Tag Archives: Torquay

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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