Section 1. Brixham to Babbacombe – Devon Coastal Path
Distance - 13 miles - Grade: Easy walking with a few moderate sections - What these grades mean.
Torbay or not Torbay that is the question!
The walk today takes you round the blue waters and 20 odd beaches of the semi circular Torbay. Everyone it seems has an image of Torquay – often rather unfairly that of Fawlty Towers or an Agatha Christie inspired retirement home, and for those hell bent on rushing past this section then summer ferries link Brixham with Torquay along with plenty of local buses so you can miss it out and start at Day 2. But our view? Those prepared to keep an open mind should walk the path and will be surprised, enjoying a stimulating introduction and rather amusing wander.
Torbay is as much a part of the history and scenery of the South Devon Coastline as the rocks and stacks to come and to miss it out is to lose this context to the path.
Walk it and you will get in an easy first day walking, but still cover a respectable 13 miles which will set you up well for the remoter sections of path beyond Torbay. What you won’t be expecting is to spend parts of the day passing through impressive rocky outcrops, ornamental coastal gardens and parks, gentle azure coloured bays backed with golden sands and appealing continental looking seascapes. Whilst there is a section along the seafront between Paignton and Torquay Harbour, this in itself has much to amuse as you follow the Agatha Christie Mile and watch those heading down Paignton Pier, a true British Seaside Institution.
Away from this short section are the great vistas of Torbay, heralded as the English Riviera by those who were destined to miss the Grand Tour of Europe due to the Napoleonic Wars, and the charm of the place, lined by elegant Georgian mansions and mock Italian villas, is without doubt best entered by, encountered through and left behind by those walking through it on the coast path.
Brixham to Babbacombe
For those ready to walk round the bay, you leave the Statue of William of Orange guarding the busy fishing harbour at Brixham before taking the Devon Coastal Path through the old gun placements at Battery Gardens in an area with huge naval significance running from the Spanish Armada through to D Day – pause to learn more at the Brixham Battery Heritage Centre just off the path. Pleasant wooded descents this morning through The Grove bring gentle cliff climbs and falls through pretty beaches at Churlston Cove and over the shingle bank lining Elberry Cove. Churlston Point opens out into wide grassy expanses with the first grand views of Torbay leading the walker over Broadsands Beach to follow the steam railway line from Dartmouth into Goodrington Sands, now passing through the first set of lush ornamental gardens clinging around the red cliffs of Roundham Head.
Into bustling Paignton esplanade which will bring a smile with its classic English Pier. A town based on salt marsh, sand dunes... and cabbages before more welcoming seaside gardens are entered at Hollicome Park. The tarmac promenade into Torquay harbour is quick and straightforward alongside sandy beaches at times or on the sea wall. Historic Torre Abbey provides an interesting diversion through grassy open spaces just off the main sands, this place is now a museum and art gallery - originally founded back in 1196 and a former “home” for prisoners from the Spanish Armada – today it's an oasis of calm in the centre of Torquay and a great lunch stop.
Rock Walk brings more palm gardens as you reach the impressive cosmopolitan harbour and marina of modern Torquay, crossing the Millennium Footbridge to pass the D Day launching point at Beacon Quay.
Your short urban encounter over, the Devon Coast Path now starts to climb and fall through more coastal gardens and grassy lookout plateaus such as Daddyhole (Devils Hole) Plain, while offshore stands the impressive Thatchers Rock and other pinnacles, leading the walker onwards to the stunning Hopes Nose Rocks. You now follow the Bishops Walk, sanctioned for its views by the Bishop of Exeter back in 1840 so he could look to sea over the Ore Stone where you will spot Devon’s largest Kittiwake colony.
Now enter high level woodland at Black Head and the jagged rocky headlands at Anstey’s Cove before a steep wooded path brings you to the twin beaches at Babbacombe and Oddicombe where the route uses a run of wooden cliff bridges and walkways to reach the famous 240ft cliff railway which scythes its way through the line of dark red, tree covered cliffs. With good accommodation options away from the bustle of Torquay spend your first night in the wooded coves of North Torbay with good dining options and pleasant views before you start the switchback climbing on the trail tomorrow.