If you think of the South West English Riviera, you tend to think of Torquay, or may be Paignton with palm trees, yachts and blue-green water behind a bustling beach and colourful nightlife.
If you prefer something a little quieter, the smaller and less crowded, Oddicombe and Babbacombe Bay could be perfect for you. It lies on the outskirts of Torquay, and like Torquay has palm trees and beautiful seas, but otherwise it is a world away.
It still has all the facilities you need – tea shop, ice cream and refreshments – but without the crowds. There is a pub too – The Cary Arms. In fact you can enjoy tea and teacakes right by the clear almost tropical blue-green water. No wonder that on a bright and sunny day it’s easy to imagine you are somewhere much further south!
The Devon Riviera
Oddicombe and Babbacombe Bay are just to the east of Torquay. When in the car, you can turn off the main A379 following signs to Babbacombe Beach and St Marychurch. There are several car parks but with a bit of persistence you may find some free on-street parking. You can use what you saved on parking for the wonderful cliff railway! The nearest train station is in Torquay and you can get a bus from there to Babbacombe.
The Promenade at Babbacombe is set on top of the cliff looking down on both Oddicombe and Babbacombe Bay and is known as one of the highest Promenades in the country. There are pavements and beautiful green gardens with floral displays and of course palm trees. The view looks down to Oddicombe Bay on one side, and Babbacombe Bay a little further on. There are walks down the cliffs to the bays that are enjoyable, but quite steep.
The alternative way down is via the cliff railway set at the top of Oddicombe bay. Why not walk down, and then save yourself the steep climb back by getting the cliff railway back up again? You will experience more spectacular views – and it’s fun travelling by this traditional example of clever engineering and design from a bygone age.
Fabulous Devon Beaches
For me, it’s the beaches of Oddicombe and Babbacombe that are the main attraction. At Oddicombe sit a while on the steps by the beach and enjoy the view to Babbacombe to the right, and the cliffs of the Jurassic coast to the left stretching into the distance. On a clear day you can see as far as Portland Bill. It is also possible to identify the towns of Teignmouth, Dawlish and Exmouth from this vantage point
Oddicombe beach is a Blue Flag beach so its very clean and the water is crystal clear. It has a mix of shingle and sand, with more sand exposed as the tide goes out. From Oddicombe beach you can walk right round along the coastal path to Babbacombe bay. There are a few steep steps but it is otherwise an easy walk.
Babbacombe beach is a popular diving centre. There is a diving school where people can train for the PADI certificate.
The sheltered bay, gentle tide, interesting rock pools and mild temperature of the water attracts divers from all over the country.
There were several divers in the water when I went and because the water is so clear, it is sometimes possible to see them when they are swimming under the water. Water-sking is a popular activity in the bay too.
Dolphins can often be seen nearby and a seal or two visits the harbour, hoping to be thrown a fish by the many people fishing there! When I was there a seal stayed in the harbour for over an hour, just bobbing around seemly enjoying the attention it got from all the passersby. It was amazing to see this wonderful creature so close up whilst still in the wild.
Babbacombe Cliff Railway
The cliff railway was opened in 1926 and has run continously since except for a stoppage during the Second World War with only a six week stoppage for some maintenance in 2003.
You can read much more about the construction and history on the cliff railways own website. The cliff railway is now run as a Community Interest Company. You can even get married in the carriage as it has been granted the appropriate licence.
A Devon Holiday
If you want to do more than stroll on the beach you will not be disappointed. You can visit Kents Cavern – amazing prehistoric caves or go to the miniature world of Babbacombe model village. Paignton zoo is also nearby. There are many events and festivals through the year too.
Babbacombe is home to one of the famous fish and chip shop – Hanburys – award winners in 2012 – First in the South West and Second in the whole of the UK – so it’s easy to end a day at the seaside in that most traditional and emjoyable way – knowing you will be eating the best available!
So whether it’s just a day trip or a few days away on holiday – Babbacombe is one of Devon’s great hidden gems.