Unsurprisingly, the harbour area is the main attraction in Torquay, and comprises of an Inner and Outer Harbour.
The Inner Harbour is the main focal point and is surrounded on three sides by shops, bars and restaurants of varying degrees of quality. Thanks to the pedestrian Millennium Footbridge that connects the South Pier with the Old Fish Quay, it’s possible to complete a circuit 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 when I would be joining them, but these days, like Aunt Maud, I find myself going home around the same time as I used to be going out.
Although the Inner Harbour has the most to offer both visitors and locals alike, the Outer Harbour isn’t without interest either.
Protected by two piers, the Outer Harbour can accommodate larger boats than the Inner Harbour’s small inshore craft, and the Princess Pier is the embarkation point for some of the coastal pleasure cruises.
More rewarding from an interest point of view though is a walk along Beacon Quay to Haldon Pier.
If you stand looking over the Inner Harbour from The Strand, turn left and walk around the harbour along Victoria Parade. Where Beacon Hill branches off up left continue onto Beacon Quay.
Just before the entrance to The Harvester restaurant is a memorial to the 4th U.S. Infantry Division who departed here for Utah Beach in Normandy on 6th June 1944 – D-Day. The Embarkation Ramps are still here and each year American veterans came over on the anniversary of D-Day to pay their respects to those who didn’t return, but I don’t think any of the veterans even return now.
Although most people won’t realise it, there’s an artwork along the quayside which starts with lights in the shape of a cross that lead towards a semi-circular ring, which I’ve come to call the ‘Quay Ring’. These lights run along the boardwalk and incorporate a message in Morse Code, but what it says I’ve no idea. Even if I was an expert in telegraphy, I’m still not sure that I would understand it because half the lights aren’t working most of the time anyway, which seems to defeat the object somewhat.
Walking on past the Harbour Master’s office to the end of the quay brings you to Living Coasts, the popular coastal arm of Paignton Zoo.
It’s easy to find because as you walk around the harbour you can’t fail to notice the large outdoor aviary, which some locals refer to as the ‘Hairnet’.
I’m not a great lover of seeing animals in captivity, but I recognize that conservation and education is an important part of their programme these days. I’ve never been able to find the courage to visit Paignton Zoo, but I have been in Living Coasts, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching the inmates here. They even had some of my favourite marine species – Seahorses. Torbay has a healthy population of these creatures thanks to the conservation of the sea grass beds, especially around the Goodrington area of Paignton.
Living Coasts is where Beacon Quay meets Haldon Pier, but if you intend walking along here just bear in mind that unlike the Inner Harbour, you’ll need to re-trace your steps.
Princess Pier is tantalizingly close, and it’s a shame that there isn’t a bridge to complete the circuit, but that’s how it is for many harbours.
It’s still worth walking back around the harbour to Princess Gardens and the pier, and if you could do with a pit stop along the way, I can recommend the Hole in the Wall just off the harbour in Park Lane.
Pubs may come and go but Torquay’s oldest pub has been here since around 1540 and not in danger of closing down anytime soon.
This is still a traditional pub with low beams, cobblestone floors and an array of hand pumps selling real ale on the bar.
The convivial landlord makes it the most welcoming of places and if you’re hungry the separate dining room certainly won’t disappoint either.
If you like live music from the 60s and 70s, you’ll also be pleased to know that there’s live music every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday throughout the year. Without doubt, this is one of my favourite pubs in Torquay.
Walking around to the other side of the Inner Harbour will bring you to the Pavilion and Cary Green, which, as I’m writing this, just happens to be one of the most contentious areas of town (and there are plenty of candidates). It has become a battleground between developers and conservationists with the council somewhere in the middle.
Without going into all the details, it basically centres around developers wanting to build a new hotel on the harbourside using the Pavilion as part of the project and Cary Green as the car park. The hotel that is planned has seen many objections for aesthetic reasons and as the years roll by the Pavilion has become more and more run down. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the development, it’s an absolute crying shame to see such a lovely building fall into disrepair.
Princess gardens are named after Princess Louise, the 4th daughter of Queen Victoria, who laid the foundation stone for the gardens in 1890. Don’t feel guilty if you haven’t heard of her because I hadn’t either.
Amongst the manicured gardens is a lovely ornate fountain, which is usually taken over by students in the summer months. Sometimes it’s all laid back and sometimes it’s not – it all depends on when you’re here.
As it happens it doesn’t really matter too much because walking along the prom from the Pavilion, via the Riviera Wheel, to the Princess Theatre is always an antidote to life’s problems and I never tire of it.
The Princess Theatre is still going strong, but the same can’t be said for the Princess Pier, and is in serious need of repair.
I don’t think it’s about to collapse or anything but it’s a place where a lot of pleasure boats depart from and could do with some TLC.
The Harbour and Princess Gardens are the Queen of the Riviera’s crown, and it has to be said that there are a few gems missing at the moment, but it also has to be said that there are still quite a few left as well.