Torbay

Torbay

Torbay

Tourist Information, Vaughan Parade, Torquay. 0803 27428. (posted Nov 2011): Exeter St Davids (0392 75398), Newton Abbot (0626 69929).

Napoleon is reported to have looked shorewards from the deck of the Bellerophon and pronounce it ‘beau’, ‘La coquette ville de Torquay’. It was to Lord Tennyson ‘The loveliest sea village in England’ and with testimonials such as those you wonder why it was necessary for Torquay to give itself airs and graces when it was at the height of its fame as one of the premier seaside holiday resorts in Britain. By 1850 it had claimed for itself the title ‘Queen of Watering Places’ then came the ‘Cannes of England’ and more recently ‘The English Riviera’. The fact of the matter is that it is none of those things. True, it has a balmy climate which encourages palm trees to grow along the promenade, true it has sub-tropical gardens, true it has beaches of sand and shingle and rocky secluded coves, but it is essentially a Devonshire seaside town, not French in any way and it is no longer sedately regal because it has got itself decked out to attract 20th century visitors, not the wives and families of the officers of the ships moored in the bay during the Napoleonic wars who discovered the place before Lord Tennyson, Napoleon III and Russian royalty did. Let us start where most people who arrive at Torbay by train start, on the way from Exeter. The line follows the River Exe, passing the great deer park at Powderham, home of the Earl and Countess of Devon, and then to the station at Starcross. After Starcross, as the train passes Dawlish Warren (a sandy beach with a nature reserve guarding the entrance to the Exe estuary) and Langstone Rock, the line suddenly runs along the sea and at Dawlish over a viaduct between the town’s seafront and the sea itself: it is a glorious piece of the line – a glistening sea when benign, huge spraying waves when rough, and red Devon sandstone cliffs inland. And then to Teignmouth and its Saxon harbour and Newton Abbot where you often have to change to a local train to Torbay, with stations at Torquay and Paignton.