Sunday, June 25, 2017
Exploring the English Riviera—Torquay, Paington, Brixham and Babbacombe:
With the English sun promising to shine down benevolently over Devonshire, it made sense for us to haul ourselves off to the nicest part of the county—what is referred to as the ‘English Riviera’ on the South Devon coast. This comprises the three seaside towns of Torquay (the best-known of the three), Paington and Brixham which are dotted around the perfect bay known as Torbay.
Only since it was Sunday, we had very limited rail service. This urged us on to the bus station where we hoped to find more frequent buses to get us to Torquay. We started our day at Melbury House with granola bars crumbled up in flavored yogurt with coffee and apples before setting off on foot for the bus station—about a fifteen minute walk away. When we reached there, we discovered that the earliest Stagecoach bus would leave for Torquay only at 10.05 am. This left us a long while to sit and chat companionably with fellow passengers who provided us with a lot of suggestions for places to go to and things to see. It was amazing how friendly the English were to us and how pleased we were to get into conversation with them as we whiled time away.
When our Stagecoach Hop 2 bus arrived, the driver advised us to buy a Day Ticket which would allow us unlimited use of the buses for the entire day—at 8 pounds this was a steal. Delighted, we climbed up to the top deck and then gave ourselves up to the sheer delight of taking in charming little villages that time forgot, sleepy villagers in sleepier hamlets enjoying a Sunday’s lie-in, pastures filled with farm animals, tea rooms advertising Devonshire cream teas and highways whose hedgerows were filled with blackberry bushes thick with pink blossom and promises of juicy fruit to come. Even had we no particular destination in mind, just these bus drives would have made our travel to and in Devon seem fully worthwhile. We trundled lazily along until we arrived at the town of Teignmouth (pronounced Tinemuth), where a fellow-traveler called Sally advised us to alight and take a connecting bus which would arrive earlier at Torquay. It seemed like a good plan—so we took her advice. At Teignmouth, we bought ourselves ice-cream from Jane’s Ice-Creams (salted caramel and chocolate) that were divine and, five minutes later, were in another bus that took us off to Torquay.
Torquay, Gem of the English Riviera:
Torquay is known for two famous residents: the real-life Dame Agatha Christie who holidayed every summer in its environs and the fictional Basil Fawlty of Fawlty Towers fame played by the inimitable John Cleese. Torquay is also known for its chi-chi summer residents who bring a seasonable whiff of urbanity to this lovely sea-side resort with its ultra-broad beach, its cliff-perched manors, its restaurants and souvenir stores. It might be a far cry from Nice or Monte Carlo, but Torquay does have its own share of sophisticated charm that I found completely enchanting.
We began by exploring its lovely maze of narrow streets that were absolutely filled with elderly visitors. In fact, in much of Devon, we saw large groups of older travelers—obviously ‘pensioners’, they are enjoying the thrills of their seaside towns before the schools close for the summer and sea resorts become mobbed by families who will fill every niche and crevice of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall with colorful beach gear (as I had seen in Dorset last year). Using our map, we set off for lunch and using a recommendation from Lonely Planet, we arrived at Pier Pont, a sea-front eatery where we ordered a quinoa salad with beetroot, oranges, rocket (arugula) and goat cheese as well as a Baked Potato with British beef brisket. We also enjoyed a bottle of beer that we shared. Our lunch was absolutely scrumptious although it was spoiled for Shahnaz by the presence of hovering seagulls who were horribly vicious and greedy and who swooped down on leftovers on diners’ plates. Our vantage point on one of the outside tables provided us with sweeping views of the beach all the way to the little colorful beach huts that are such a regular feature of the British beach resort. We clicked a few pictures and then walked along the waterfront to the nearest bus stop to get on to a bus that would take us to Brixham as we had received a suggestion to go there next.
On the Bus to Brixham:
The bus ride to Brixham saw Shahnaz soundly asleep as I took in the splendor of the Devonshire coastline. The sea was incredibly clear and as the waves melted on to the shore their colors were reminiscent of Hawai’i with streaks of aquamarine, jade, and even mauve. The jagged coastline was filled with interesting natural features such as terracotta red rock formations that created gateways in the sea (similar to Durdle Door in Dorset). Chic mansions hugged the coast which is clearly the playground of the wealthy.
Everywhere we went on the Riviera, we saw the flotsam and jetsam of the British beach holiday: plastic spades and pails, blow up toys, eateries featuring fish and chips, ice-cream kiosks, stalls selling cotton candy and the inevitable cream tea focusing on scones.
When we arrived, about an hour later, at Brixham, we found that we had to climb a hill to get to the harbor. The next bus back in the direction of Paington and Torquay was about an hour later—this left us an hour to explore the utterly gorgeous harbor town that seemed to be built in tiers. Each building was painted in a pretty pastel shade—blue, pink, lemon. They seemed to sink gradually down to the sea as we climbed the crest of the hill past souvenir stores.
When we arrived at the harbor, we found a huge replica of The Golden Hind, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world in the late 1500s. Indeed, the harbor itself was simply buzzing with Sunday evening crowds—people of every age from octogenarians to infants in prams were out and about enjoying the benign summer sun. We drank it all in, quite fascinated by the beauty of the landscape and the energy of the visitors. In another week or two, these places will be overwhelmed by the crush of humanity…but for the moment, they are just perfectly stocked with happy people who are far from harassed.
At this point, I noticed The Rockfish Grill, a well-reputed chain of restaurants run by well-reputed chef Mitch Tonks whose fish and chips have been declared ‘Best in the UK’ for the Year 2017. Naturally, we could not leave Devon without partaking of his offerings. But I was also aware that his flagship eatery is in Dartmouth—which we’d be visiting on our last day. I, therefore, told Shahnaz to hold out on tucking into this seaside treat until we got there (much to her disappointment as she said later that she could have eaten fish and chips at least five times on this trip).
I also noticed that the Brixham branch of the chain was offering Salcombe Devon crab cocktail—a delicacy that is a must-try in these parts and one that is advertised everywhere. I suggested we get that instead. Shahnaz was game and next thing we knew, we were at the takeaway counter at The Rockfish Grill being presented with little cups filled with finely cut lettuce and cucumber in a light thousand island dressing with mounds of dressed crab meat clustered on the top. We clutched our treats close to us as we hurried off to the bus stop to catch our bus. While on the bus, we thoroughly enjoyed our crab cocktails that were sweet and juicy and incredibly flavorful. How happy we were that we had ticked off one more gastronomic treat that Devon could offer as we sampled its specialties. Next stop? Babbacombe, where at the Angel Tea Room (one of the best-known in the area), we would enjoy a Devonshire Cream Tea!!! I simply could not wait.
Enjoying a Devonshire Cream Tea at Babbacombe:
Sometimes it pays to be greedy! Had I not insisted we get to the Angel Tea Room for a cream tea, Shahnaz and I would never have laid eyes on the gorgeous Devonshire coastline at Babbacombe which is truly breathtaking. As it turned out, we got a bus in Torquay that took us to Babbacombe where we were let off on the high street and directed to the road that would take us to The Downs where the famed tea room is located. So, getting there was no problem at all. It was the return to Exeter that would prove far more problematic as the evening wore on and Sunday bus services became skeletal.
But, for the moment, we were focused on Tea! With scones! And lashings of Devonshire clotted cream! And strawberry jam! And a cake or two thrown in for good measure! So after we crossed the high street and took the side street to get to The Downs, which are high cliffs that offer astounding views of the coast, we were thrilled to find ourselves right outside the Angel Tea Room! At this point, we were torn between my need to tuck immediately into one of the creamy treats and Shahnaz’s desire to sit on one of the benches and gaze out at the glory of the coast line from a cliff-top garden filled with wild flowers. I postponed the pleasure of my tea and settled down to enjoy the stunning scenery with her. We paused to take pictures and to marvel at the fact that had we not decided to have a cream tea in one of the places most touted on the internet, we would have missed the grand spectacle on this portion of the Devonshire coast.
About fifteen minutes later, we were seated in the pretty flower-filled courtyard of the eatery and being presented with menus that were basically unnecessary as I knew exactly what we were going to eat—scones, of course, with the works! I also ordered a slice of fruit cake—because that was all they really had left. The other cakes had gone and the place was taking last orders in twenty minutes—we had just arrived on time. Any later and we’d have been turned away. It did not bear thinking about! And, of course, we had tea. Decaff Roiboos for me and Shahnaz as we shared a pot. Service was wonderful, the scones with cream and jam were luxuriantly sinful but it was the view that stole the show as we sat facing the softly setting sun of a perfect day as it disappeared over the horizon.
Getting Back to Exeter:
Getting back to Exeter proved to be far more challenging than we had imagined as all manner of life seems to come to a standstill on a Sunday evening after 5.00 pm. Still, after some harried moments, we found a bus that took us safely back to Exeter after a ride that took a little over an hour.
It had been an amazing introduction to the English Riviera and we could see why crowds flock there for a little bit of R&R.
Until tomorrow, cheerio.