Torquay, Paignton & Brixham
England's Most Popular Resort
When the Brits head for a holiday in their own country, where do they go? Well, it turns out that more go to Torbay than any other inland destination. Torbay is a region on the south-weCredit: Martin Thompsonst coast of England, in the county of Devon, about three hours on the train from London. It consists of three main towns, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, plus a number of villages including Babbacombe, Goodrington and Cockington - a beautiful little village of thatched cottages and a large manor house. There are also many nearby towns and sights worth visiting, including Teignmouth, Dawlish, Salcombe, Dartmouth, Totnes, and indeed, the Dartmoor National Park - the eroded remains of long-extinct volcanoes formed when Britain split from North America hundreds of millions of years ago. The whole area is one huge resort, known as "The English Riviera". When the sun is shining (pot luck in Britain, I'm afraidCredit: Edward Thompson), it can be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Despite essentially consisting of a number of country towns, the area is very cosmopolitan and just packed with entertaining things to do and places to see.
Once a fishing village, the centre of Torquay is probably the harbor, now surrounded by shops and restaurants, penny arcades, and the Living Coasts mini-zoo which specializes in marine life such as sea birds and seals. You can also catch the half-hourly ferry from here to Brixham or Credit: Martin ThompsonDartmouth. The fares are very cheap (only £1 per person to Brixham and the trip takes half an hour - faster and cheaper than the bus!).
The Princess Theatre beside the harbor usually has some TV mini-celebrities playing there, and at Christmas-time they run a traditional pantomime show for the kids - Jack & The Beanstalk, for example. A bit further around the sea-front by the historic Torre Abbey, there is usually a fun-fair with rides and sometimes a balloon to give you a bird's-eye view of the bay.
Just up the road a mile or two is Kent's Cavern. This is a cave system rediscovered in the 19th Century. InhabCredit: Martin Thompsonited by our pre-human ancestors for at least 350,000 years, and by modern humans since about 30,000 years ago, you can go on an hour-long guided tour for just a few pounds each.
Of course, being a seaside resort, Torquay has a number of beaches for the sun worshippers, and cliffside walks for those who prefer a bit of a challenge (the area is very hilly - it's those ancient volcanoes). Meadfoot beach is pebbly rather than sandy, but there is the chance of finding a fossil or two as although this is not the region known officially as the Jurassic Coast, which begins a few miles further East at Exmouth, it is nevertheless designated as a site of special scientific interest. For sandy beaches, you might try Torquay beach, or Oddicombe beach. These Credit: Edward Thompsonbeaches are quite small, but there are other little beaches up and down the coast nearby, so if one is too busy or the tide is in you can always move to another one. Oddicombe beach is best reached by way of the cliff railway - or at least, best left by way of it, since the steep walk up the cliffside road is for the physically fit only!
Not far from Oddicombe beach is the Babbacombe Model Village - a strange sort of entertainment, but good fun for the kids to see toys used to make a whole miniature town.
Paignton has a large sea front, and lots of shops and cafes to attract the tourists. It is also full of hotels, so if you are holidaying in the region there is a good chance that your hotel will be situated here, most likely only a few minutes' walk from the beach. If you're not keen on that beach (although it is a good one) you might like Preston Sands and Goodrington Sands, each a short walk or bus ride further West along the coast. Preston Sands are often used for kite surfing and dinghy sailing.
For me, though, Paignton's main attraction is the world famous Paignton Zoo: one of the best in the country and certainly far superior to London Zoo. Paignton Zoo is quite large so it would be easy to spend a full day here. There is a mini-train ride around the zoo that the kids will love, and the restaurant serves a good selection of food.
Brixham is basically a quaint little fishing villaCredit: Martin Thompsonge on the far side of the bay from Torquay. As mentioned earlier it is probably best reached by way of the ferry from Torquay. It's most famous historical resident is probably Sir Francis Drake, and a replica of his ship, The Golden Hind, is maintained in the harbour and can be explored for just £4.60 per adult. He sailed in it in 1577 and over three years circumnavigated the globe, bringing back a tremendous amount of treasure: more than the entire national debt at thCredit: Martin Thompsone time. He also sailed from here with his fleet to defeat the Spanish Armada against all the odds when they tried to invade England.
Nowadays, the harbour is mainly populated by fishing boats and pleasure yachts. The town is known also for Berry Head, the penninsula on which the town of Brixham stands. This is a national nature reserve including a lighthouse, the remainsCredit: Martin Thompson of an Iron Age fort, and also Napoleonic fortifications built at the time of the Napoleonic wars with France. In Brixham and in Torquay harbors you can see ramps built for the use of American forces when they left for the D-Day landings in 1944.