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
Hollicombe is situated between Livermead in Torquay and Preston in Paignton which means that it sits on the border of the two towns. As the majority of the beach is on the Torquay side I have decided to include it into Torquay.
It’s a good beach for soaking up the sun as it’s a veritable sun trap. It’s also safe for swimming and a good place for rock-pooling at low tide.
There are no facilities at all here which means it’s a quiet and secluded beach. It never gets crowded as many visitors don’t even realise it’s here.
Access to the beach is through Hollicombe Gardens, next to the main road. These gardens used to be part of the gas works and when they were closed down this area was turned into a lovely park. Unfortunately, a few years ago S.W. Water used this site as a part of their clean-sweep operation and it was never put back together in the same way as they found it. Consequently the area became neglected which was a crying shame because these gardens had water features and lovely flower beds as well as a nice grassy area to lie about on. It’s still a nice place to lie around and the flower beds are gradually being turned over to wildflowers, so it’s not all gloom and doom. In fact I quite like the wild look but I’m sure the council see it as an economic way of tidying the place up a bit.
Walking through the gardens leads you to a tunnel under the railway and onto the beach.
There are a limited number of parking spaces on the main road or you can catch the No.12 bus and get off at Hollicombe Gardens.
An alternative way of getting here is to walk to the end of Preston Beach and follow the path/cycle path over the top of Hollicombe Head and down to the beach.
Wonderful historic cruise.
As I have mentioned in other parts of my Torquay page, I was there in July2013 at the invitation of Virtual Tourist member %[http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/66d71/]EASYMALC aka Malcolm for an excellent meeting of VT members. I was not able to get down for the Friday events but the plan for the Saturday was a trip on the Fairmile boat round to Dartmouth (weather permitting) and I was really looking forward to this. I love being on the water, I love military history (of which more anon) and I love Dartmouth, having visited that lovely place as a teenager and more recently when I was walking the wonderful South West Coast Path some years ago. In the event, the weather was glorious and I even managed to burn my knees having put on my shorts. I shall spare the reader the horror of that sight!
Come the Saturday morning and we assembled at the Offshore Bar which had become our default meeting point for the weekend. Malcolm had everything beautifully organised (thanks again mate) but insisted on trotting off to check on the arangements which were all in place and the sailing was definitely on.
Wandering down the pier (as you look seawards it is the one to the right hand side of the harbour, almost opposite the big wheel) we saw a queue of people waiting to board. This was not a problem as Malcolm had booked ahead for us and so we stepped on board the Fairmile, a most wonderful vessel. I suspect it may once have been an HMS (His Majesty's Ship) but I am not actually sure what the current designation is but we were welcomed by a very friendly crewman and took our places on the upper deck. As I mentioned, it was a gloriously sunny day and although there was accommodation downstairs, nobody was going to sit down there.
As you can see from the photos (and again, apologies for the quality as my camera was playing up) there is a bar on the upper deck. Indeed, there is one on the lower deck but no need to open it on a day like this. Everyone was on the top deck enjoying the simply stunning views of the wonderful South Devon Coast acompanied all the while by the very informative commentary from one of the crew members.
So what of the Fairmile? Well, as the crew members were more than happy to explain, it was a rescue vessel in the Second World War and now sports the original designation of her original service number RML497 (Rescue Motor Launch 497). Effectively, she was a vessel charged with rescuing Allied pilots downed at sea and rendering medical assistance where required. Much or the recently refurbished vessel is given over to this medical theme as one of the images here show. There really is something quite magical although slightly sobering about sitting on a deck marvelling at the passing coastline and thinking about some poor half-drowned and possibly injured pilot defending our country against fascism. This is not ancient history, many of my aunts and uncles served in that war.
Nowadays, however, it is a peaceful, incredibly peaceful journey that greets the visitor. You travel relatively slowly along the coast with the excellent commenatary as mentioned above as a guide. All too soon we were disgorged at Dartmouth for an afternoon doing our own thing.
The return trip was equally pleasant if not moreso as the heat began to abate somewhat and again it seemed like no time until we were back at the jetty at the end of a simply marvellous trip which is highly recommended. On the way back we were even trated to a look at a pod of dolphins of which there are many to be seen along this stretch of coast if you are lucky. Regrettably, I didn't get any images of them but hopefully the images will give you some idea of the day and we even got the skipper to pose for a VT flag photo!
Full details of times and prices are on the attached website and I recommend you check there. I shall not post them here as they will obviously change over time and the website will be kept current.
- Historical Travel
Lest We Forget
The Torquay memorial is in the form of a square column and capitol on a square double plinth and is surmounted by a metal urn, three steps lead to the base. The memorial is to the memory of the men of Torquay who died in the Great War 1914 – 1918 and of the men and women of Torquay who died in the Second World War 1939 – 1945 whose names are to be found in the Book of Remembrance in the Town Hall.
- Historical Travel
A very safe haven.
Let's be honest, you are at the seaside in a place that was largely built upon maritime endeavour so it is inevitable there is going to be a harbour and, in the case of Troquay, it is a very pleasant one. It is not so much a thing to do as a thing you cannot really avoid as it is fairly large and dominates the centre of the town.
The Torbay area (Torquay, Brixham and Paignton) offers refuge for vessels from the Southwesterly winds that often pound this coast and has done so for centuries. They are keen to state on the website (below) that "Torquay remains a fully commercial and busy little Devonshire port" although I saw very little commercial operation but rather more an extremely lively marina well filled with private vessels. Certainly, there are various other things going on like the Brixham ferry and the Fairmile trips along the coast to Dartmouth (see seperate tips) but I found this to be essentially a leisure marina, and a very pretty one at that. apparently there are 440 leisure moorings for vessels up to nine metres long and a cill and bridge (pictured) ensure that the harbour never dries out even at low tide.
I mentioned in my introduction page to Torquay that I had visited some years previously and the whole place looked a little run down but that money had obviously been spent sprucing the place up. This is particularly evident in the harbour area which has rightly been turned into a focal point for the tourist trade on which the town so much depends. Fringed by various shopping and refreshment options, the entire harbour area has undergone somewhat of a transformation since I had last visited and, frankly, it is looking very well on it. The traveller could quite happily spend a day or more just in and around the harbour and I suggest they do, it is charming.
- Budget Travel
- Sailing and Boating
Even if you’ve only come to Torquay to enjoy the coastline and entertainment you should definitely try to include a visit to Kents Cavern as well if you can.
These show caves were opened up to the public for the first time back in 1880 and attract around 80,000 visitors a year. Exploration of the caves took place much earlier than that and records go back as far as 1571.
These dates become insignificant when we start to go backwards in time though. The cave’s most important find was a human jaw-bone that has recently been dated to between 41,500 and 44,200 years old which makes it the earliest modern human (Homo Sapiens) fossil found in N.W. Europe. It can be seen in Torquay Museum where many other finds from Kents Cavern are kept. (See my tip on Torquay Museum).
If you think that’s old then think again because Stone Axes have been found in the caves that can be traced back 500,000 years. These earliest Europeans (Homo Erectus) would no doubt have used these tools to butcher the local wildlife which would have included Hyenas, Lions and Mammoths.
Just to prove the point there’s a Bear’s skull on display before you enter the caves that has been put at around 420,000 years old.
So, if archaeologists have dug up these remains from all this time ago how old are the caves themselves? Well it would seem that they were formed about 2 ½ million years ago when rainwater gradually permeated through the limestone rocks.
So what about the age of the rocks themselves then?
They’ve been dated to around 385 million years old, which is still young compared to Scotland’s Pre-Cambrian rocks that are something like 3,300m years old - and if you’re really interested you might like to know that our planet was formed some 4,600m years ago.
The caves are interesting from both an archaeological and geological point of view, but for obvious reasons can only be seen on a guided tour, which is both fun and informative and lasts about an hour.
Kents Cavern has been in the hands of the Powe family for over a hundred years but it’s bang up to date with facilities that you would expect of such an attraction and is open throughout the year.
The caves are an important part of local, national, and international pre-history and you’ll leave Torquay all the poorer (figuratively speaking) if you don’t come here before you leave.
- Historical Travel
- Family Travel
Torquay has a lively harbour and an international marina and remains a fully commercial and busy little Devon port; the Harbour is sheltered by two piers. Princess Pier to the west and Haldon Pier to the south. Princess Pier is a popular promenade complete with seating that also provides a good spot for anglers. The inner harbour lies behind a cill and bridge, trapping the water at half tide level and berths 170 moorings for boats up to 9 metres long. The Quayside contains shops, cafes and ample space for trailers and a boat park area.
- Sailing and Boating
This Victorian Fountain has the distinction of sharing the mouldings that were used to cast another fountain which is outside Raffles Hotel in Singapore. There are slight differences to the bolted-on sections in that the bowl on the Singapore version has no supporting brackets and the top feature is different.
Mallock Clock Tower
Made of Bath stone the clock tower, known as the Mallock Memorial, was built in 1902 and is named after Richard Mallock, who represented Torquay in Parliament from 1886 to 1895 and who died in 1900. In 2010 the Clock Tower was re-dedicated to the people of Torbay following restoration by the Torbay Development Agency (TDA).
- Historical Travel
St John the Apostle Church
St John's Church is an Anglican Parish Church and is a fine example of Victorian Church Architecture influenced by the Pre-Raphelite Movement. The church is a delightful building with many interesting features, including Burne-Jones and William Morris windows, Salviati mosaics and a rare total immersion font.
Mondays, Fridays and Sundays
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
These days you can visit outstanding museums in this country with their exceptional collections for nothing :-Free, buckshee, zilch. So why would anyone want to pay a fiver to visit a small provincial museum like Torquay?
The problem is, of course, that small local museums don't get any real consistent financial support, and this doesn't just apply to Torquay but to smaller museums up and down the country. Consequently a small band of people with the help of volunteers put an awful lot of effort in to keeping locally important collections in the local community. So if you feel like I do that it's important for this to continue then the admission fee asked for doesn't seem so bad.
So what do you get for your money? Firstly, don't let the Victorian exterior put you off because inside it's not as fusty as you might imagine. Thanks to grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund the museum has had a makeover to bring it into the modern age. It is in fact the oldest museum still operating in Devon (founded in 1844) and over the years has ammassed an estimated 300,000 specimens. Only about 1% is on display and it's easy to see why. It's not a large building and there are a number of things that are important to the history of Torquay. They include the special geology of the area (it's the world's first Urban Geopark), the life and literature of Agatha Christie, explorers of the past who either came from or lived in Torquay, and of course the everyday things that made Torquay what it is.
For the casual visitor I would highly recommend the items on display that have been found in Kent's Cavern - and whatever you do don't miss KC4. It's only tiny and you could easily miss it - but don't because KC4 is Britain's oldest human fossil, recently dated at between 41,500 and 44,200 years old and consequently the earliest modern human fossil ever found in N.W. Europe. It was found in Kent's Cavern in 1927.
The best thing to do of course is to check out the museum's website for all the up to date details. It has lifts to help people with mobility problems, a cafe and shop as well as a Classic Cinema every other Friday afternoon. Photography isn't permitted in the Agatha Christie section due to copyright issues but is allowed everywhere else. It's open practically every day of the year (except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day) so there's no excuse not to come and check it out -and it has to be worth it for the price of a large glass of wine - or a small one if you qualify for a concession.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
An EX-Attraction - The HiFlyer Balloon
When I came to write this up I discovered that the balloon was ripped to pieces by high winds in January 2012 and hasn't been replaced. It then transpired that the operators, Lindstrand Technologies, had been in a rent dispute with the Torbay Council and hadn't paid any rent for use of the site in the Abbey Gardens for the last three years - the sum of £50,000 is being bandied about.
So it looks like this is no longer going to be a "Thing To Do" after all - well at least not with this particular balloon, but I'll leave this piece anyway as a reminder of what was - and another example of Torquay's capricious nature.
- Historical Travel
- Hot Air Ballooning
One Of Torquay's Newer Buildings - Riviera Centre
Whilst the Torquay Town Council weren't spending money on the upkeep of the characterful and historically important Torre Abbey they did manage to find funding for this concrete monstrosity - about 15 million pounds.
Completed in 1987 this is a purpose-designed conference, sports and leisure centre with gymnasium and swimming pool facilities. It seems to have had a bit of a chequered history in its earlier years when managed by the Council but in recent years the centre's management has been put out to tender and has been rebranded from the English Riviera Centre to become the Torquay International Riviera Centre.
Recent reviews rate the Bay Brasserie restaurant quite highly and the swimming pool with its wave machine and flumes gets some good write-ups too but it is still a very ugly building and typical of the overall incongruity of the town itself.
- Water Sports
- Business Travel
Torquay's Oldest Building - Torre Abbey
Torre Abbey was founded in 1196 by a group of six Premonstratensian Canons from Wellbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. The order had been gifted the land by Lord William Brewer, who at the time was High Sherriff of Devon and an important advisor to the succession of contemporary monarchs. As well as the land for the abbey Brewer also provided various other grants which provided an income for the canons and the upkeep of the abbey and subsequent canons attracted further sources of income such that in 1536 Torre Abbey was said to be "The wealthiest in all England." (according to the "Valor Ecclesiasticus" - the Church Valuation initiated by Henry VIII in order to asses them for taxation).
Following Henry's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 the abbey's church was demolished and the remaining buildings turned into private accommodation which were eventually bought by the wealthy Cary family, who owned the nearby manor of Cockington, in 1662.
The Cary's were responsible for creating the present-day manifestation of the abbey, adding further buildings, relandscaping the gardens and creating the Georgian facade of the South Range. By the end of the First World War the Cary family had lost all of its male line, most killed during that conflict and the house was bequeathed to the son of one of the female family members, a naval captain, Lionel Coxon. In order to accept the bequest Coxon was required to change his name to Cary, for which he received royal assent. However not being independently wealthy Coxon, now Cary, struggled with the upkeep of the house and upon his death in 1929 his son, Commander Henry Cary, had to sell it, offering it to the Torquay Town Council for the bargain price of £40,000.
The council duly bought it in 1930 and decided to use it as an art gallery and museum, opening it to the public. Coincidently two years later the council managed a similar deal for Cockington Court with the Mallock family who had bought Cockington from the Cary's back in the 1660's and similarly turned the manor house there into an art gallery and museum too.
With the decline in the Cary family's fortunes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the property had seen little investment in its upkeep and this was the case also under the council's ownership. What repairs that had been carried out were unsympathetic to the buildings' structures, such as the use of cement-based rendering which prevented the walls from breathing and causing the supporting timbers to rot. In 1994 a building inspection commissioned by the council found that there was serious structural damage which was in need of immediate attention. The abbey was then closed to the public in 1996 for major renovation work, a project which is still ongoing, and despite opening for a couple of years has now been closed again whilst the last of the work is carried out. This is expected to be completed by July 2013 and when it reopens it is expected to be one of the Southwest's main attractions as both a gallery and a museum.
Even though the main buildings are currently closed you can still walk round the outside and enjoy the gardens and external architecture.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
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