Torquay, Paignton and the old fishing port of Brixham combine to make Torbay one of Britain’s most popular areas for seaside holidays. The huge sand rimmed bay began attracting affluent visitors at the end of the 18th century. Today it offers sleek speedboats to traditional fishing trawlers, from funfairs and nightclubs to secluded coves.
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Babbacombe was a popular little resort, visited by royalty, when Torquay was nothing more than a fishing village. A steep and winding road corkscrews down from the clifftop to a crescent of sand sheltered by a stone breakwater.
The coming of the Great Western Railway in 1848 enabled Torquay to exploit its natural assets and develop into one of England’s best-known seaside resorts. Palm trees and other subtropical plants flourish in the mild climate, enhancing the almost Mediterranean atmosphere of the large harbour. Hundreds of yachts and cabin cruisers are moored there, together with day trip boats offering cruises as far as the Channel Islands.
Torre Abbey was founded as a monastery in 1196 but fell into ruin before its conversion to a Georgian mansion in the 18th century. Bought by the town in 1930 it now an art gallery. Nearby is the Spanish Barn, a medieval tithe barn where prisoners of the Spanish Armada were held in 1588.
Torquay offers a wide range of seaside attractions on land and sea.
Paignton’s snug little harbour packed with pleasure craft during the holiday season, is a colourful reminder that this resort was just a fishing village well in to the 19th century.
The beach of reddish sand is backed by a low sea wall and crossed by one the West Country’s few piers. The sands stretch northwards to Hollicombe Head. Paignton is the northern terminus of the Dart Valley Railway, which runs steam trains to Goodrington, Churston and Kingswear.
Narrow streets squeezed between attractive old buildings run steeply down to the harbour that has been Brixham’s focus since the Middle Ages. The town was a major fishing port for 300 years, and trawlers still mingle with yachts and pleasure boats.
The harbour’s most eye-catching feature is a full-size replica of Golden Hinde, the surprisingly small ship which Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world in 1577-80. Nearby, a statue on the quay commemorates the landing of Prince William of Orange, the future King William III, in 1688.