Stoke Gabriel is one of those places that visitors tend to overlook when coming to the area, and that’s what makes it such a pleasant place to visit.
It’s only about 4 miles from the centre of Paignton to this lovely village on a creek of the River Dart. The no.25 bus runs every hour and a half or so, but if you have your own transport it makes life somewhat easier.
The main focal point of the village is the Mill Pool, so for first time visitors I would recommend that you follow the signs that take you down to the riverside. A word of warning here. This area is privately owned and as such parking fees are charged on entry to the car park. Many people aren’t happy about it because a) it doesn’t look as though it’s a place that should be charging and b) it’s a flat rate of £3.30 no matter whether you’re here for 5 minutes or all day (July 2014). The first time I came here I felt the same but nowadays I see it a bit differently. Firstly, when I come I make sure that I’m going to be here long enough to justify the expense, and secondly I have to confess that the area is well kept up together and a lovely place to sit and have a picnic or whatever.
The tidal inlet of the river where Stoke Gabriel sits has been dammed to form the Mill Pool. It’s a tranquil spot where ducks and swans have made their home alongside the kids who are in their element crabbing. According to the Guardian newspaper, this is a crabbing hotspot, which I can vouch for. Nets, lines, buckets and baits are available in the adjacent River Shack café for a reasonable charge.
The River Shack is a licensed establishment which means that you can have a leisurely hour or two with a glass of Devon cider or two. This isn’t a pub though, and there’s a couple in the village if you prefer. There’s The Castle and my favourite, the Church House Inn. As you would expect, not far away is the parish church of St. Mary and St. Gabriel with a yew tree supposedly approaching a thousand years old.
Also going back in time, the nearby Sandridge Barton was the birthplace of Captain John Davis. This navigator and explorer set sail from here in 1585 and made it his mission to chart the world’s trade routes. He was responsible for the invention of the Quadrant, attempting to find the North-West Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific (the Davis Strait is named after him), he fought against the Spanish Armada and discovered the Falkland Islands. 56 years after he was born he was murdered by a pirate near Singapore.
While John Davis was learning his trade here on the Dart, most normal people were in the business of salmon fishing and growing cider apples. These days those activities have declined, but not entirely finished. The river has always played an important role for the villages on the Dart, which is why most of them face the river and not inland.
The village has got an upmarket feel to it, but not excessively so, and if you fancy a short drive down through the lanes from Paignton and spend a couple of leisurely , peaceful hours in the sun down on the creek, then the £3.30 to park the car next to the Mill Pool won’t seem so bad after all.
- Family Travel
Elberry Cove is situated on the Paignton and Brixham boundary and the only practical way of getting there is by walking the coastal footpath from either town - unless you have a boat of course.
The best option is to take the footpath from Broadsands where there’s a large car park. It’s an easy 15-20 minute stroll along the coastline and if you have reduced mobility there are plenty of seats scattered along the way. At Elberry Cove however bear in mind that there are steps that have to be negotiated down to the beach.
The cove is in a picturesque setting surrounded by trees and lapped by crystal clear water, but before you start getting your walking shoes on you need to know that the cove is also used by jet skis.
Torbay council appear to have a policy that allows different beaches to be used for different reasons, which I think makes perfect sense, but I’m not sure why they thought that Elberry Cove was a good spot for jet skis. Not only should it be a peaceful location, there are sensitive seagrass beds here as well which harbour some important marine life such as seahorses. Admittedly theses areas are restricted so that no damage should be inflicted upon them - or at least that’s the theory.
The sheltered beach is made up of shingle and has no facilities, so you’ll need to come prepared if you want to spend a fair bit of time here.
At the far end of the beach is the romantic ruin of Lord Churston’s bath house. This 18th cent building had 3 floors and at high tide the ground floor flooded enabling his Lordship to enter into the sea without any prying eyes compromising his dignity.
Elberry Cove was also one of Agatha Christie’s favourite bathing spots and it features in her novel ‘The ABC Murders’. If you manage to come here when there aren’t any jet skiers around you’ll see why she found it such an attractive place to come.
- Water Sports
Lots of places still have a ‘Clink’ and Paignton is no exception but this Grade 2 listed building started life back in the 1500s.
It’s tucked away in the back streets of old Paignton not far from Kirkham House.
Originally built next to the local constable’s cottage (long disappeared), it was last used as a lock-up back in 1867. It comprises of 2 single cells about 8ft x 6ft with 1 narrow window in each.
A tale goes that a prisoner by the name of Tom Maxlow prised up a flagstone in one of the cells and dropped through into a culvert that apparently still runs underneath the prison and emerged down on the shore marshland.
Today The Clink is owned by Torbay Council and volunteers from the local civic society help to look after it.
Because it's not near the beach or main family attractions many people overlook Oldway Mansion. It's easy to get to and easy to find - once you know where to look.
It's situated at Preston which used to be a village in its own right before being swallowed up by Paignton. Preston is situated on the Torquay Rd and can be reached by catching the No.12 bus that runs between Brixham, Paignton, Torquay and Newton Abbot. The buses run frequently and Oldway Mansion is a stones throw from the Preston bus stop. You can easily walk there from Paignton town centre or the beach if you prefer.
Oldway Mansion is the former home of the Singer family, whose sewing machines were a household name and modelled on the Palace of Versailles.
Until recently it was used by Torbay Council as offices and the interior, grounds and sporting facilities were all freely accessible to the general public.
The main entrance brings you to the Grand Staircase where in the Gallery above a huge painting dominates the main wall. It's a replica of the original that Paris Singer bought in 1898. The original by Jaques-Louis David is entitled Le Sacre de Napoleon (Coronation of Napoleon) and was here until 1946. It was sold to the French government who passed it on to the Palace of Versailles. It now hangs in the Salle du Sacre which is where it was always intended to be. The painting depicts Napoleon crowning Empress Josephine in Notre Dame in 1804.
On the first floor Gallery you can see a mini 'Hall of Mirrors' with its parquet floor and marble walls and balustrades.
Outside, the gardens and grounds are a sheer delight and a lovely place to escape the hustle and bustle of the town.
Oldway may not even come close to matching the grandeur and history of Versailles but while its free to wander in and around it should be on everyone's list who comes to Paignton.
Latest News on the future of Oldway Mansion :- (July 6th 2013)
The council has now sold the property to the Akkeron Hotel group with a view to restoring the building for use as a 4*+ hotel. There will be other development within the grounds but the gardens, grounds and sports facilities will be improved for the general public to enjoy.
The building has been vacated by the council and building work is yet to commence. In the meantime the public can still access the interior through the café, and the gardens and grounds are freely accessible. I'll try to keep updating this page as things develop.
Occombe Farm belongs to the local conservation group known as the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust.
The TCCT also manages Berry Head Nature Reserve at Brixham, Cockington Country Park in Torquay and the Seashore Centre at Goodrington.
These environmentally sensitive areas are farmed organically with livestock based at Occombe and the aim of the trust’s farm is to combine “a balance of food production, animal welfare and environmental stewardship”
From a visitor’s perspective at Occombe Farm the trust’s aim is to try and re-connect people with where their food comes from.
The first port of call should be the visitor centre to find out what goes on here and pick up a map of the nature trail which is an easy 2km walk. If you’re lucky you may even spot the rare cirl bunting which is almost exclusively confined to Devon.
There’s also an organic vegetable garden as well as livestock including the Ruby Red Devon cattle.
After your visit you may well want to use the café which uses produce from the farm shop. The farm shop sells not only food produced on the farm, but from other local suppliers as well.
If all this gives you an appetite to start cooking yourself you can enrol in a cookery class. It’s one of the events that are regularly held here, and if you’ve enjoyed the local drinks as well why not come to the Occombe Beer Festival, held each year in June.
- Family Travel
Kirkham House is one of the oldest town houses in Devon and dates from the late 14th cent.
It would have gone the same way as most other examples of this period if it hadn't been for the foresight and generosity of a local woman named Ada Jennings.
The original house would have belonged to someone of some standing but by 1840 the house had been converted into three dwellings and stayed like that until the whole lot was condemned in the 1930s. Mrs Jennings realised the importance of the derelict cottages and managed to buy them for £600, which was a lot of money then. She then set about getting this 'medieval hall house with cross passage' restored but never lived long enough to see it completed, but she left the property and £9,000 'to the nation' for its restoration which was completed in 1960.
This is not a grand place by any means but when you consider that it has probably the oldest domestic fireplace still existing in the country and it costs nothing to come here why would you come to Paignton and not visit Kirkham House?
There is one reason perhaps and that is due to the opening times. The property is owned by English Heritage and helped run by volunteers of the Paignton Heritage Society. It's normally open from Easter to mid-September and then only on a Sunday.. It's not ever going to be a major attraction but if ever you are here when it's open it'll give you a taste of what life used to be like here all those years ago. Oh! and by the way the volunteers are smashing people.
- Historical Travel
The Coastal Path Between Paignton And Brixham
The SouthWest Coastal Path is Britain's longest footpath; following the coastline for 630 miles from Minehead in North Somerset, round the point at Lands End and then onwards to Poole in South Dorset (or of course vice-versa, depending on your start point). Devon is doubly-blessed in having two distinct sections by virtue of its twin coasts.
The section here from Paignton to Brixham (heading east) is a delight and just strenuous enough for you to feel that you deserve that beer when you get to your destination.
If you start just after the harbour it's about five miles to Brixham's centre and should take two to two and a half hours (depending on how many pics you take en route). To begin you get the ascent from the red sandstone cliffs up to the park at Roundham Head where the path follows the clifftops round to the descent through the gardens at Goodrington.
Here the beach fronts the line of the Paignton Steam Railway and the trains provide a great pictorial backdrop during their season but with my visit being in winter these weren't running. After the beach at Goodrington the path crosses the railway line and then rises quite steeply to the headland above Saltern Cove before continuing slightly inland under the railway viaduct to Broadsands and another level stretch as you skirt the beach here.
From Broadsands the path continues round the rocky coastline of Churston Point and the shingle beach of Elberry Cove before rising into the woods after the castle-like ruins of the former Elberry Bathouse. The woodland path offers glimpses of the sea until it suddenly opens out on the stunning vista of Churston Cove with Brixham Harbour's Breakwater jutting out to sea.
Then the path gently undulates until arriving in Brixham proper at the western side of the harbour.
- Beer Tasting
- Budget Travel
- Hiking and Walking
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