Torquay Outer Harbour
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 come over on the anniversary of D-Day to pay their respects to those who didn’t return. It has to be said though that fewer and fewer veterans are returning now as the years march on.
Although most people won’t realise it there’s an artwork along the quayside which incorporates a message in Morse Code. The lighting along the boardwalk is made out of dots and dashes, but the last time I looked half the lights weren’t working, which defeats the object somewhat. The start of the artwork is in the shape of a cross which points towards a semi-circular ring, which I’ve come to call the ‘Quay Ring’. By the way, don’t ask me what the message is all about because even though I’ve read it I still don’t understand it - but that probably says more about me than the artist.
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 which has seabirds, penguins, otters and seahorses etc. but as I’ve never been in there I can’t really comment on it.
This is where Beacon Quay meets Haldon Pier and it’s worth walking along here just to get a different view of Torquay, and if you get up onto the wall, there is a good view of London Bridge (an arched rock formation) and views out across the Bay.
Unlike the Inner Harbour, I’m afraid you’ll need to re-trace your steps but there is no shortage of places to stop for a drink or bite to eat along the way.
Torquay Inner Harbour
Most first time visitors to Torquay will probably want to head straight for the harbour because it’s Torquay’s focal point.
There are actually 2 harbours - but it’s the Inner Harbour that will hold the most interest for the casual visitor.
Surrounded on three sides by shops, bars and restaurants of varying degrees of quality, it’s possible to complete a circuit without re-tracing your steps thanks to the pedestrian Millennium Footbridge that connects the South Pier and Old Fish Quay. Underneath the bridge is a cill which allows water to remain inside the harbour regardless of the state of the tide.
If you’ve only just arrived you may wish to visit the award winning Tourist Information Office in Vaughan Parade, which is on the pedestrianised North Quay side of the harbour. Boat trips can also be booked from several kiosks that are dotted around here, although the boats themselves actually depart from other locations.
A few years ago the harbour area had a reputation for being quite boisterous, especially at weekends when ‘Hen’ and ‘Stag’ parties were common. These days, evenings around the harbour are somewhat more civilized, but I still can‘t imagine Miss Marple enjoying a stroll around the harbour on a Saturday night when the clubs turn out somehow.
- Sailing and Boating
The main Tourist Information Centre for the whole of Torbay is situated in Vaughan Parade on Torquay’s harbourside.
It stocks a large amount of literature which covers everything from what to see and do, to events, travel and accommodation.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for the staff are more than happy to help including booking your accommodation for you free of charge.
It’s easy to find and as it’s conveniently situated on the harbour should really be your first port of call !
Agatha Christie Literary Trail
Without doubt the most famous person associated with Torquay is Agatha Christie.
Born in Torquay in September 1890, the famous crime writer has sold around 4 billion books making her the best selling novelist of all time. Her books have been translated into over a hundred different languages and are the most widely published after The Bible and William Shakespeare.
Her life began at ‘Ashfield’ in Barton Road on 15th Sept 1890. Having been born into a comfortably well off middle class family she always admitted that she had a “ happy childhood” whilst growing up in Torquay.
Throughout her life (which is a separate story) she travelled extensively as her books will testify, but Torquay and South Devon were never far from her mind. In fact of the 85 books that she wrote some 20 of them feature locations in the area.
To help visitors find these locations the local Tourist Information Centre has produced a leaflet called ‘The Agatha Christie Literary Trail’ and features many of the landmarks associated with the author in the South Devon area. You can pick it up free of charge from the visitor centre or download it from their website (see link below)
The leaflet also includes a trail around Torquay known as the ‘Agatha Christie Mile’ which includes locations associated with her personal life as well as those mentioned in her books.
One place that isn’t included though is Ashfield - because it no longer exists, although there is a blue plaque marking the spot. What does exist though is her beloved holiday home at Greenway situated over on the Brixham side of the bay on the River Dart (I intend writing a tip on this under Brixham later). There are several ways to get there from Torquay including boat and vintage bus.
I highly recommend a visit to Greenway and I would also urge you to visit Torquay Museum which has a dedicated gallery to Agatha Christie (see my Torquay museum tip).
One final thing to mention is that if you’re a real Agatha Christie fan try to visit in September when each year there is an Agatha Christie Festival set around her birthday which features a packed programme of ‘Murder, Mystery and Mayhem’.
One word of warning though! Just be careful where you stay because if you’ve ever read her biggest selling book - ‘And Then There Were None’ - you’ll know what I mean.
- Arts and Culture
Fairmile Boat Trip to Dartmouth
With an array of boat trips on offer from Torquay which one should you choose?
Obviously it depends on your own personal preferences but if you have enough time available I would suggest a day cruise to Dartmouth.
Two companies offer similar trips and I’ve been on the Greenway Ferry Cruises ‘Fairmile’ and can highly recommend it. The company offers three different options but if you’ve not been to Dartmouth before I recommend the Bronze option which allows you 3 hours ashore.
The price for the trip is just £7.50 (2013) and is amazing value for money.
The trip starts from Princess Pier normally at 11.00 and takes half an hour to sail across to Brixham where it picks up more passengers.
The Fairmile is a registered historic ship and was used in the Second World War as a Rescue Motor Launch (RML 497). Its main role was that of rescuing crew from aircraft shot down at sea and saw service in various locations including Dartmouth. It’s recently been re-painted in its original wartime colours and onboard it follows the theme of its original role. There is undercover seating and a bar to enhance your experience should you be unable to wait until you get to Dartmouth.
The journey from Brixham takes you out around Berry Head with its colony of Guillemots and along the beautiful unspoilt South Devon coastline towards Dartmouth. It takes about an hour to reach the mouth of the River Dart and then another quarter of an hour to reach the town’s pontoon at around 12.45.
Your 3 hours ashore will go quicker than you think because Dartmouth is a super destination (Look out for my Dartmouth pages as and when I put them together).
Your return journey leaves at 15.45 and if you’re lucky with the weather you’ll be sorry to see it end. It’s quite common to see dolphins and porpoises along here so keep your eyes peeled.
If you don’t enjoy this trip I’d be very surprised. The crew are passionate about their boat and they go out of their way to make sure everyone on board shares their enthusiasm, not just for the Fairmile, but for the whole experience.
- Sailing and Boating
- Historical Travel
Take a Boat Trip
Nobody should leave Torquay without going on a boat trip and there are several to choose from.
There are 2 main companies that operate out of Torquay - The Greenway Ferry Cruises and the Dartmouth Steam Railway and Riverboat Company. The latter are also responsible for the Western Lady ferry service to Brixham.
Recently there’s been a price war between the pair of them to the advantage of the customer and some real bargain trips can be had.
The half hour ferry trip to Brixham for example costs just £1 but all the trips on offer are exceptional value for money.
You can take a wildlife cruise, visit Dartmouth and the River Dart or just go fishing. Some of these trips I hope to cover in more detail when I get round to it, but suffice it to say that a boat trip, any boat trip, should be an integral part of your visit to Torquay.
- Sailing and Boating
A Short Walk around Babbacombe
Babbacombe is just a couple of miles from Torquay Harbour but has a completely different feel to it, and in some ways could justify a separate entry into the VT data base.
For now though I’m going to describe a short walk to give a general feel of the place rather than anything specific.
My experience tells me that the best thing to do if you’re a first time visitor here is to either catch the bus, or if you’re driving, park up at the Walls Hill car park behind the Old Coach House pub.
Babbacombe has a reputation for accommodating the more mature visitor, and it’s true to say that there is a more sedate feel to this part of town. However, there’s plenty to see and do for most age groups except perhaps teenagers. That said there are plenty of bars up around here catering for most tastes.
Walking from the car park will bring you out onto Babbacombe Downs 300 ft. above the sea below. The first building you will notice is the Babbacombe Theatre which has been running since the 1930s. A host of famous names have appeared here over the years, some of whom like Bruce Forsythe and Roy Hudd, were only just starting out when they did seasons here.
Continue to walk along The Downs with views stretching all the way around the South and East Devon coasts to Dorset. On really clear days it’s even possible to see as far as Portland Bill. A popular pastime along here is to nip down to the award winning Hanbury’s fish’n chip shop in Princes St and bring them up here where you can enjoy both the food and the view.
If you can tear yourself away head for the far end of the Downs where the Cliff Railway will whisk you down to Oddicombe Beach. You can walk down if you wish, but a return ticket is only £1.95 (Oct 2013).
You couldn’t have failed to notice Oddicombe Beach from the Downs because right next to it is an enormous landslide that has already taken one property with it.
You may want to spend some time down here but when you’re ready I suggest that you walk along the footpath on the right to Babbacombe Harbour. It’s not far and at the end is the well respected Cary Arms with its sun terrace overlooking the coastline. Where the car park is now situated was the spot of an infamous murder back in 1884. John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee was sentenced to hanging for killing his wealthy female employer. Three times they tried to hang him and three times they failed. Consequently he was given a life sentence instead and eventually walked free. Ever since he’s been known as the man they couldn’t hang.
There are a few alternative ways to get back to where you started from. The shortest is up the road from The Cary Arms but there’s a more interesting route up through the woods. If, on the other hand you’re like me and you don’t want anything too strenuous you can always walk back to the Cliff Railway. Whichever option you choose just bear in mind that the road may be the shortest, but very steep.
- Theater Travel
Torquay is well known as a holiday resort but that doesn’t mean to say that it doesn’t have any history, as Torre Abbey will testify.
It’s undoubtedly the single most important medieval building in Torbay, and although its appearance has changed over the years, you should make every effort to visit it before you leave.
Founded in 1196 by Canons of the Premonstratensian (!) order they became wealthy landlords adding the ‘quay’ to Torre.
They carried on their business for over 300 years until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
During the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I, one of the Spanish Armada’s galleons, the Nuestra Senora del Rosario, was captured by Sir Francis Drake and its crew of 397 were imprisoned in the abbey barn - known ever since as the Spanish Barn.
The remains and ruins of the medieval abbey are still here to be seen, but successive owners started to change the abbey into a comfortable home, and in 1662 it fell into the hands of the Cary family.
The Cary family are one of Torquay’s most notable families with a long history and they stayed here right up until 1930 when they sold it to the Borough of Torquay for £40,000.
Unfortunately as the years progressed the ex-Cary home was in danger of becoming another part of the Abbey ruins and started to look very forlorn, but a restoration project, helped by the Heritage Lottery Fund, started to breathe new life into the most important building in Torquay.
Phase 1 took place from 2005 - 2008 and now that phase 2 (probably the most important) has been completed (2013), the place is looking as good as it’s been for a very long time.
Tickets are available for the House & Gardens or the Gardens only and to help make sense of what you think you may prefer I’ll try to help.
Firstly, I’ll just mention that the gardens include the abbey ruins, and between them they are a big part of the experience of visiting Torre Abbey. I would advise you not to miss them.
The interior, of what I would call a Georgian House, is worth visiting if you want to know about the history of the abbey and see some of the art collections. The 2nd floor however, has a modern high tech approach to its 800 year old history and quite entertaining.
To enjoy the full experience I would allow a couple of hours, and more if you visit the tea rooms,
As a local, I’m so pleased to see this building restored. The funds that have been needed has really been a drop in the ocean compared to some other major projects around the country, but it means so much to a community like ours - and the good news is there’s likely to be a 3rd and final phase to complete the job - for locals and visitors alike.
Don’t miss it!
For opening times and prices check out the website (link below)
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
If you like to be beside the sea but the idea of getting sand between your toes doesn’t appeal why not take a look at Abbey Park.
Situated on the opposite side of the road to Torre Abbey Sands and next to the large expanse of open space known as Torre Abbey Meadows, Abbey Park is a peaceful alternative to the sea front.
There are a few low key sporting options such as Bowls, Tennis or Crazy Golf if you like that sort of thing but it’s nice just to stroll around and admire the sub-tropical plants that are set amidst the paths that meander around the park.
The highlight though has to be The Italian Gardens which take centre stage and are a riot of colour in summer.
Hidden away, but not hard to find, is the One World Café and Bistro should you fancy doing absolutely nothing for another hour or so.
Abbey Park is not a large park by any means but there’s more than enough space to get away from the madding crowd if you feel the need to get some well-earned peace and quiet - and all within a short distance from Torquay sea front.
The village of Cockington has a separate page on VT but for now I’m just going to include it under Torquay as it’s only about a mile from the seafront.
It might only be a mile from the hustle and bustle of a major seaside town but it’s light years away from the bars and nightclubs of Torquay.
Its history goes back a thousand years and it’s as near as you’ll get to the image of an old Devon village that you’ll find in this part of the county.
A picturesque setting so close to Torquay is bound to attract many visitors - and it does - but don’t let that put you off because although the village centre is tiny there’s plenty more to see.
The village is just one part of the Cockington Estate which includes woodland, lakes, Arboretum, church and Cockington Court, as well as many footpaths and cycle trails.
All this is made freely available thanks to the Torbay Coast & Countryside Trust which is a registered charity.
Cockington Court and the Sea Change Studios behind it are a commercial enterprise run by the Torbay Development Agency and incorporate local artisan’s studios.
No matter how many visitors come to Cockington there is plenty of room for everyone with plenty to interest people of all ages.
If you’re in need of some sustenance after you’ve explored the estate you can chill out in one of the village tea shops or The Drum Inn - and if the temporary visitor centre is open drop in to find out more. You may even find me there as I help out as a volunteer. If you do I promise I’ll try my level best not to spoil the rest of your day.
- Historical Travel
- Hiking and Walking
Torre Abbey Sands
I haven’t done a scientific survey but Torre Abbey Sands has to be the most popular beach in Torquay and it would be easy to see why.
For starters, it’s the closest main beach for the town centre, harbour and hotels. This also means that there are plenty of facilities nearby should you need them.
The beach itself is sandy and safe for bathing. It caters for people of all ages and accessible to everyone.
One thing to be aware of though is that, like other beaches in Torbay, when the tide is in there’s not a lot of beach left to sit on, but it’s plenty big enough when the tide is out.
- School Holidays
Corbyn's Head and Sands
Following the road past Torre Abbey Meadows and Torre Abbey Sands towards Paignton brings you to Corbyn’s Head.
Nestling under the red sandstone headland opposite the Grand Hotel is the small beach of Corbyn’s Sands - made up of sand, shingle and rock pools at low tide.
From a historical point of view a small quay existed here to serve the monks of nearby Torre Abbey and the sandstone was quarried to help build their 12th cent abbey.
Today though, there are beach huts and a café here, and with its close proximity to the town centre there are plenty of facilities nearby.
Access is easy to - and onto - the beach. There are car parking spaces on the road and nearby car parks, as well as the ubiquitous No.12 bus stop.
The Headland was the site of a gun battery, both in the 19th cent, and WW2. In 1944 an anti-aircraft gun exploded killing 5 members of the Home Guard. Today the spot is marked by a memorial. Not just any memorial - but the ‘National Home Guard Memorial’. It’s not very big but at least ‘Dad’s Army’ hasn’t been completely forgotten.
Another word of warning is relevant here again about walking around the headland on the rocks. There are probably more rescues here than anywhere else in the bay. By all means enjoy it but please heed the warning signs about the incoming tide. The best time to walk around any of the headlands in Torbay is when the tide is on its way out - and preferably at low tide.
- School Holidays
- Family Travel
Much maligned, but I like it.
I suppose I really should begin this tip with an explanation and here it is. Residents of the UK will be very aware of the Wetherspoon group of pubs, and I have written many other tips in relation to their outlets of which there are well over 700 now. Let me briefly rehearse the arguments for readers from overseas who may not be aware of them.
Opinion is hugely divided about Whetherspoon's. Some people say that they are using the economies of scale and adding to the already horrendous decline in local pubs due, in great part, to the smoking ban, beer escalator tax, business rates etc. Others say that they are providing cheap food and drink, generally during fairly long opening hours, for people on limited income. This debate will run for a long time.
From purely personal experience (and what else should I reasonably write about?), I understand the argument about them taking over and I do lament the loss of so many traditional pubs but I have eaten and drank many times in such places and the food, whilst never going to be haute cuisine, is always perfectly acceptable with the breakfasts and curry night on Thursday particularly recommended. The reader probably does not want to hear all this but if anyeone cares to send me a personal message, I shall discuss the merits or otherwise of this group as pubs are a subject dear to my heart!
What the reader does want to hear is about the London Inn. Part of a much larger hotel in the 19th century, it got it's royal appellation from a visit by Queen Victoria in 1833 (she was merely a Princess at the time!). One other thing to mention is that Wetherspoons rarely buys over an existing licensed premises but rather acquires commercial buildings and refurbishes them. I have been on their establishments including postal sorting offices, hotel ballrooms. theatres and Heaven knows what else. They do try to re-furb them sympathetically and many other of my tips here on Virtual Tourist reflect this.
I had agreed to mee the wonderful Malcom aka EasyMalc, a wonderful VT memeber and good friend. He had a arranged a small VT meet that weekend and we had arranged to meet here before heading off elsewhere. I arrived a little early and had a drink in what was frankly, a very attractive old building. I have only found out whilst researching this tip that it was part of a hotel. I had been looking round and the grand sweeping staircase suggested nothing to me more than an old-fashioned cinema. I was quite sure the upper level was the balcony of days of yore.
Regardless of the provenance of the building, the place was very clean and tidy (including the toilets when I eventually visited) and an altogether delightful place to have an early morning pint. Which pint? Wel, there is a question. I am a cider drinker and was delighted to see that there was a cider festival going on with about 15 different brews, mostly local, on offer in a garden gazebo set up in the bar for the purpose. I do not know if this is an annual thing but if cider is your thing, this could well be the place to be.
I did not eat but the food I saw being served around me looke very pleasant. The staff were friendly and I got into conversation with a few of them - delightful young people. As I say, I did not try any of the special ciders brought therefor the festival but my pints of Strongbow were in fine order.
To summarise, I know al the arguments pro and anti Wetherspoons and I really leave the traveller to make up his / her mind. Some people love them, some hate them. Certainly for cheap prices, it is hard to fault them. I was completely pleased with my experience in here and so I have to recommend the place.
- Food and Dining
- Beer Tasting
- Wine Tasting
Remember the dead.
I have written many, many tips on Virtual Tourist about war memorials in the UK and I make no apology for doing so. I was in the forces myself and feel that htese monuments are as worthy of the visitors attention as the local church, zoo, park or whatever. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against eh mentioned attractions but, regrettably, people just tend to walk past these memorials. I suppose it is the old concept of familiarity breeding contempt.
When I was a child, these things were memorials to the two World Wars against Germany and her allies as they tried to take over Europe and the world but in more recent times they are sadly the reminders of more recent conflicts. Some of the images here may give you an idea of what I am talking about. From conflicts as diverse as Jamaica (I didn't even know we had been at war there!), to Korea, Kenya, the Falklands and even the Yangtse River in 1949.
I have thought long and hard about adding the last image. I have no wish to be controversial but I offer this as a genuine reflection of what I saw. Whatever the thinking behind it, I cannot change what was there the day I visited and it was a small poppy (Royal British Legion) cross in memory of Drummer Lee Rigby who had been murdered, effectively hacked to death whilst off duty and unarmed, outside his barracks in Southeast London shortly before. There is a comment written on the left arm of this cross. I do not associate myself with this comment in any way but I feel it is important that I always write my tips as honestly as possible. Right or wrong, and I am not going to get into the argument, this is not the forum for it. This is what I saw and what the traveller is possibly going to see. I leave it as is.
I know I have gone on about this on what should be a fairly simple tip about a thing that people will pause to look at for a very short time, but I do not want to be misunderstood.
Whatever your thinking about this, the war memorial is still worth a look as, indeed, is any war memorial in UK. Perhaps a few seconds pause and reflection there might be in order.
- Budget Travel
- Historical Travel
Heading out of Torquay along the prom past Corbyn’s Head towards Paignton will bring you to Livermead Sands.
Torbay tries to keep everyone happy and at Livermead there’s a designated water skiing area. It’s a beach where you can also take your dog, even in the summer months.
On the flip side there aren’t any facilities and parking is pretty well non-existent. However the No.12 bus stops here and is probably your best bet if you don’t want to walk.
There are also steps down to the beach which makes access for the disabled difficult.
The beach itself consists of sand, shingle and rocks which makes it a good place for rock pooling at low tide.
To the right of Livermead Sands is Institute Beach, a small quiet cove, which suffers from frequent rock falls, so heed the notices if you intend sunbathing under the red sandstone cliffs.
At the far end of Institute Beach Livermead Head beckons and it’s definitely worth taking a stroll around there at low tide - but be warned - don’t attempt it on an incoming tide because you won’t be the first to get cut off if you get it wrong.
- School Holidays
- Water Sports
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