Torquay is full of interesting things, but many people head straight into the town centre. Here we take a walk on the edge, along the southern coast of Torquay.
Depending on how fit you’re feeling, you may choose to walk from Paignton to Torquay. Failing that you can catch the number 12 bus from Paignton bus station to The Grand Hotel where our walk begins.
The bus stops outside the Torquay Bowls Club, made famous in the ‘hilarious’ film set in Torquay, ‘Blackball’. However, dominating this end of the seafront is the majestic Victorian hotel, the Grand. Located next to the newly-built Torquay railway station and built around the same time as the other ‘high class’ Torquay hotels, it became a popular haunt of wealthy people from London wishing to ‘take the air’ in the new, exclusive resort and travel on the new Great Western Railway.
Cross over the road towards the seafront and you will see a headland to your left, known as Corbyn Head (1). History tells that it got its name from a pirate who was hanged there. At one time the whole of this area was covered in trees but many were lost as a result of Dutch Elm Disease. Many years ago there were plans drawn up to turn the land from Corbyn Head to Livermead into Torquay Airport! Today you can see a monument dedicated to members of the Torquay Home Guard who were killed while manning an anti-aircraft gun during the Second World War.
You are now ready to begin your walk along the seafront towards the harbour.
As you walk along the seafront let your imagination take you back to the 17th century when Torquay seafront had a completely different look. The hills around the seafront were thickly covered with trees and there was not an hotel or house to be seen. If you had been at this point in those days you would have needed your swimming costume, because you would have been swimming in the water. The present road and pavements have all been reclaimed from the sea.
On your left you can see Torre Abbey Meadow (2) with the Spanish Barn and Torre Abbey behind it. The house was built next to the remains of an earlier monastery. During the Napoleonic wars Spanish prisoners of war were kept in the barn before being transported up to the prison on Dartmoor. It was thanks to the popularity of the resort in the 18th and 19th centuries that the present Torquay seafront exists. The reclaimed land allowed the building of a toll road along which trams and horse-drawn carriages would run.
As you continue along the seafront you will pass the ‘curly’ footbridge, and then the sadly neglected ‘Palm Court Hotel’. In its heyday it was another of the exclusive places to stay in Torquay. Unfortunately it has now seen better days, though there are plans to return it to its original glory. As you pass the tourist cafes next to the hotel you will see an old, stone building at the end. This is the old toll house where those people wishing to use the new seafront road had to stop to pay the ‘toll’.
Your journey will now take you around the sweep of the seafront wall towards the Princess Theatre. It opened its doors in 1961 and has been entertaining the locals and tourists ever since with well known British comedy acts, world-famous operas and West End musical productions.
If you fancy a bit of extra walking you may like to walk along the Princess Pier (3). The original design dates back to the 1890s with an amusement building at the end but this unfortunately burned down in 1974 and was never re-built. It’s worth the extra walk just to have a look at the views of the marina and out across Torbay towards Brixham.
Once you’ve passed the theatre you now enter the area known as Princess Gardens. This land was also reclaimed from the sea and designed to commemorate the visit of Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria, in 1890. Apart from the impressive fountain and the war memorial you cannot miss the large, copper-roofed building known as the Pavilion (4).
Opened in 1912 the Pavilion Concert Hall played host to the likes of Edward Elgar and Henry Wood. It has been the location of an artificial ice-rink and nowadays is a shopping arcade with a bar upstairs.
Your walk will now take you across the Millennium Bridge (5), which like many other ‘Millennium’ constructions around the world wasn’t finished until much later than 2000. It was created to allow boats to be permanently moored in the inner harbour without being left on the mud when the tide went out, and enable people to cross the inner harbour without needing to walk all the way round.
For the next part of the walk you need to turn right up Beacon Hill (6). On your right you will see the ‘Living Coasts’ zoo, which is part of Paignton Zoo and specialises in exotic seabirds and mammals. Hidden away next to the entrance to the Living Coast car-park you can find the entrance to a path leading to Beacon Cove. For the Agatha Christie fans you may be interested to know that as a girl the famous author would come down here for a swim as it was a ‘ladies only’ beach.
Continuing up Beacon Hill you will pass the Royal Torbay Yacht Club. Established in 1863 and based in the present building since 1886, the club has seen Olympic events, royal visits and damage during the war. A commemorative plaque on the wall near the club tells of the time in 1942 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to review the Royal Air Force stationed in the area. In 1948 the Summer Olympic Games water sports were held in Torbay. The Olympic Flame was brought from London and burned in Torre Abbey Gardens for the duration.
You will now come to the Imperial Hotel (7). At one time it was the ‘Queen’ of the English Riviera and the only four-star hotel in the bay. In its long history it has seen not only royalty and politicians but also film and pop stars have stayed here. Walk up towards the main entrance to the hotel and you will notice a walled path leading off to the left: this is where the coast path will take you to the next part of your walk.
The next point of interest on this walk is the World War II shelter situated at the bottom of a terraced area (8). In Victorian times these terraces were covered with colourful beach huts where the wealthy guests from the Imperial Hotel would take the sun and enjoy the view. During the war the concrete shelter was built to serve as an observation point for the army to look for mines in the bay. These days it has a much more environmentally-friendly job: it has been converted into a bat roost where the local population of these endangered creatures can safely sleep.
After following the path around the corner it will now take you up some steps into the wood. Before you go up the steps follow the path around to the end for a spectacular view of ‘London Bridge’, a natural arch created in the rock where, according to local fishermen, a very large Conger eel lives in a wreck on the seabed.
After a short climb through the wood the path will now take you up the cliff face until you eventually come out at the highest point of the walk, 60m (200ft) above sea-level, with wonderful views back towards Torquay and across the bay to Paignton and Brixham.
The end of this section of the path will bring you to the open area known as Daddy-Hole Plain (9), named after ‘daddy’ the old Devonian name for the Devil. It was said that he lived in a cave at the bottom of the cliff. You can see large Victorian villas around the playing field.
It’s downhill all the way now towards the final destination of the walk. Continue along the cliff top until the path takes you down towards Meadfoot Beach. If you look over the cliff you will see the large flat rock known as ‘Long Quarry’ which is a good fishing spot.
The end of the walk brings you out at Meadfoot Beach (10) where you can see the magnificent Regency hotel, The Osborne. This was another popular place to stay for the rich and famous, in fact, some say that Tsar Nicholas II of Russia stayed there while on honeymoon. On the hill overlooking the beach you will also see the impressive ‘Kilmorie Flats’ where some well known British comedians used to live.
Here ends the coastal walk. Catch a bus back to Torquay town centre or, if you’re still feeling fit, continue along the coast to Thatcher Avenue (which has the most expensive houses in Torbay). AT