Torbay or not Torbay – that is the question

The weather is set fine for a few days so am off down the coast. First of all I’m heading to the old fishing port of Brixham. It’s nice and civilised. There are a few visitors wandering around the dockside on this shining March day but the crowds are in the imagination rather than on the ground. The Park & Ride is closed even and there are spaces in the central car park.

It’s low tide. In the mud of the harbour a menagerie of boats balance precariously on their keels. It looks like a gentle puff of wind would push them onto their sides leaving them marooned like struggling beetles. I like the fact that Brixham is a working port. Yes, the white fibre-glassed hulls of yachts & cruises are lined up at their moorings in the marina. But the fishing fleet is still there, made up of traditional sailing trawlers, crabbers & modern offshore boats, rusty & stinking of years of holding their catch of fish & crustaceans. The history of the place oozes out of the small houses and the dockside.

Travelling eastwards Broadsands Beach is the recreation area for the town.

Goodrington Sands is also part of the crescent of rich dark sands which curves around from Brixham to Torquay known as Torbay. These beaches attract families and visitors to traditional, bucket & spade seaside holidays.

Paignton stretches eastwards from its old harbour. Beach huts line the promenade in irregular clumps. The pier, in all its tacky glory, reminds everyone that traditional seaside holidays consist of a lot of sand and even more cups of tea, candy floss, fish & chips and endless arcades to battle the children away from.

Torquay is supposed to be the elegant resort. Hmmm. There are many grand, white-washed buildings that remind the visitor of its Victorian past. But the pier…such a disappointment. If the pier reflects the grandeur of the resort then the stubby harbour wall with a few iron seats and stunted lamps along the top is a very poor reflection of Torquay’s past glory & present attraction.

The unique character of Totnes and Salcombe

Totnes is a market town that sits at the head of the Dart estuary. It has prospered since medieval times and has grown a reputation for alternative therapies. Totnes is its main street, lined with a huge range of independent traders including butchers, bakers, fudge-makers, cheese producers, cafes, bistros, ethnic bags and bangles and banjolelesl. The iconic clock tower spans the street around the half-way mark.

This plaque is particularly interesting, coming from Oxford as I do.

Salcombe is a bit further west on the Kingsbridge Estuary. It has a long and rich history as a centre for fishing and as a trade port importing particularly fruit from Spain , the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

Ship building took place in the town and many small workshops still remain. In the past the town could boast sail makers, blockers, blacksmiths and sawyers.

The first holiday home was built here in the 1700s.

As ship building and trade declined so the town developed its recreational side and it became a bustling resort town with many holiday lets and a busy ferry to take holiday makers over the estuary to the beaches opposite.

All these Devon towns are worth a visit but I have learned a couple of things about them. Firstly parking is a nightmare and it usually takes several circuits of the car parks and streets before a space is spotted. Warning: 9 times out of 10, in order to park will require you to carry out parallel parking  maneuvers (when’s the last time you did that?). Secondly, any space is usually at the top of a hill, requiring a quick descent to places of interest but a laboured accent at the end of the day to rejoin your vehicle. Park & Ride schemes are sign-posted but all seem to be seasonal and none ran after October.

My one tip to you: park on the other side of the estuary to these tourist towns. In most cases at least one passenger ferry dashes about from A to B to C. Although a bit chilly on the water, it beats being stuck in queues in town. Check on-line before you travel.


And then there is Dittisham

And then there is Dittisham. This picturesque village lies on the estuary of the River Dart. It has a population off around 420 and is a couple of kilometres upstream from Dartmouth. It has two pubs, one of which trebles up as a shop and a post office and the seasonal Anchorstone Cafe which serves excellent local seafood lunches. Other than that, it is a sleepy place with lots of holiday lets and a rather affluent feel. But don’t get me wrong. It has a charm and an attraction which makes it a relaxing place to chill out on holiday, although I expect the character might well change in the high season as boats and visitors are drawn to the estuary.

The narrow main street, called The Levels, is the only level surface in the village. It is cut into the scarp of the hills that line the estuary providing wonderful views of the estuary from houses on both sides, above and below the road. Sight of the water can also be grasped though gaps in hedges and over walls.

The approach to the estuary is always steeply downhill. A fact that fills the heart with dread as the minute the gradient starts to increase, you know that the return journey will require a massive effort for muscles and lungs alike.

Two passenger ferries serve the village from the small beach by The Ferry Boat Inn, a small cosy pub right beside the water, and the new pontoon which also acts as a crabbing hotspot.

One runs to and fro between here and Dartmouth, bringing visitors upstream to frequent the pub itself or wander the quiet lanes or as part of a circular amble along the estuary.The other plies across the narrow stretch of water to Greenway House. This is now owned by the National Trust and was once the home of Agatha Christie. Greenway Quay mirrors the pontoon on the west bank. A bell can be rung to summon the boat.

Trains and boats and planes (or three sailing ships) in Dartmouth

Dartmouth is just that…a bustly town at the mouth of the River Dart where narrow streets abound with history and drivers find it impossible to park. Having driven around the town three times and the only car park a similar number, I decide to do the sensible thing and follow the signs out from the centre to the Park & Ride. Here a scruffy piece of A4 over the ticket machine announces that the P&R buses (the whole point of P&R) ceased to run on October 29th. I ask you…what is the point of having the signs from the middle of town. Two more circuits and a bit of hovering and I time it bang on as car leaves from the street and I carry out a pretty impressive piece of parallel parking.

So, in the words of the title of that well known song by Peter, Paul & Mary, I had first hand experience of the train element. From over the estuary the sound of a real steam train stirs boyhood memories with the sound of the whistle and the sight of the ribbon of steam billowing behind above the carriages.

Planes must have passed overhead during my visit. However it was boats that took the biscuit. I saw countless boats of every description. I also saw three ships, well ferries, two of which carried vehicles, pass me by, plying across the water at different locations, even though it was not Christmas Day, nor the morning, just as they have done since the 13th century.

Bayard’s Cove is the oldest part of the town. It is a quay whose cobbles ooze history. Read this bit about the coal gangs that operated from here.

I love the Tudor houses amid the narrow steep alleys and the small fort at the end.

Further along the estuary, where the river meets the sea, yes….the mouth of the Dart (!), is a church, it’s graveyard and, on each bank, two parts of a larger fort. Both would have had cannon and a huge chain would have been stretched across between them to prevent pirates and enemy forces entering the river and threatening the town.

Family-friendly beaches from Dartmouth to Salcombe

Hi Everyone. For me, it’s down to south Devon for a few days over New Year. I have rented a small cottage in Dittisham, overlooking the calm waters of the Dart estuary, between Totnes and Dartmouth (more about that on another occasion). Today I went exploring. I decided to complete the short stretch between Dartmouth and Salcombe as part of my journey around the UK coastline. This section has tall cliffs interrupted by crescent bites of beaches gnawing into the landscape.

Unable to access the coast through the sizable settlement of Stoke Fleming due to its location high up on the cliffs, I drive south of the Dart to find Blackpool. Yep, absolutely true. Blackpool Sands has a similar wide beach but only a few rather classy buildings and an extensive tea shop and eatery. Three rather forlorn beach huts separate the car park from the refreshments.

Streete is also high up on the cliffs. A mile or so out of town the road drops down to the wide crescent of Slapton Sands with the unusual sight of the fresh water nature reserve on the land side separated from the sea by a long, thin spit of land which holds the road.

Torcross at the southern end of the beach is a village of tea rooms and holiday lets hiding behind the sea defences with larger properties holding more impressive positions overlooking the sea from the surrounding cliffs. It’s only claim to fame is that it was a practice beach for unloading troops before the D-day landings. Indeed a tank was found in the sea just off the village around shuts in the car park to be admired by visitors.

Across the cliffs, Beesands is an old fishing village from where crab and lobster fishing took place. This single street settlement hides behind an impressive sea wall, fronted by huge giant rocks, with a small beach at one end, a pub in the middle and a tall closed up house at the other end.

Hallsands is even smaller. It too has a beach. But the sea defences here failed to stop the cliff erosion and now the cliff road has been cut and the terrace of houses at the far end leans close to the precipice, in danger of collapsing onto the rocks below.

Start Point Lighthouse can be seen in the distance.

Thames Crossings for Christmas

Do you remember this? It describes my journey down the River Thames from source to estuary, capturing every crossing as an image and in writing, with some history on each one. Many of you kindly bought a copy last year.

This is a small reminder that if you want to buy friend or family a copy for Christmas this year, than simply get in touch. Each copy costs £15.00 and I can pop one in the post for you for an extra £2. Simply drop me a line at or and I will confirm the order, the address and provide you with my bank details.

Many thanks.


A day by the seaside at Southend-on-Sea …… or is it: -on-estuary?

The sun continues to shine and draw me away to continue my travels. You may remember that a few years back my journey down the east coast was interrupted when my car decided to stop in a huge plume of smoke and I had to get home on the back of an AA low loader. See, the life of a travel blogger is no easy ride (ooohhh, actually it was very easy!!). So I missed out visiting Southend (on the east coast).

Now, here I have a real quandary. My question, that many of you have helped me with, but no-one head give me a categorical answer, is this: is Southend-on-Sea on the coast as its name suggests? Or is it on the estuary? Even locals cannot give me a definitive answer. But, as its name includes the word ‘sea’ and as it proudly claims to have the longest pier in the world..and as it has Rossi’s ice cream, I feel duty bound to include this long piece of seaside as part of my coastal journey around the UK.

So first into the beach huts and sea defences of Shoeburyness which is tucked neatly around that marshy bit of coast, facing across the estuary to industrial skyline on the Kent bank on the other side.

The beach blends seamlessly into the traditional seaside delights of Southend-on-Sea where Victorian elegance stretches side by side with the coats of colour of fairgrounds & arcades, candy floss, rock & ice cream. Easy to reach from the East End of London by the early railways the resort soon took off with its soft sandy beach and long paved promenade with a line of rather stunted palms, supposed to remind us of the south of France.

Around the front of the pier a collection of fairground rides rattle and squirm and hiss and scream to let the punters know they are on holiday. The pier itself is rather colossal. The longest pier in the world, it stretches for a mile out into the estuary until it feels like the it touches the far side. You can walk to the end or get the original train. Guess what? I took the train.

Leigh Old Town, part of Leigh-on-Sea and so included on my tour, is further up the estuary. The estuary turns sand and beach into proper mud and silt, divided up by creeks and wriggling worm lines of brown sucking squelch. Is it water or is it land? Here the cockle sheds still exist but no longer a crescent of crunchy shells over which fisherman bounce over planks, unloading their catch in buckets on yokes. When the tide is right they still use yokes but straight onto the quay. The old sheds are now more glitzy pubs and bars serving young families at a ranch of trestle tables under wide umbrellas, a range of shellfish – oysters, dressed crab, lobster, scallops. Where have the cockles and winkles and whelks gone to? Are we so superior now that these are beneath us.

Great, I have now filled the gap in my journey down the east coast. I have now travelled from Berwick-upon-Tweed down and round to Bournemouth, visiting every coastal settlement on the way. Now I have to travel around the sticky out bit and up the west coast doing the same. See you soon.