The South West of England: Pt 21 – Penzance, Cornwall

After leaving the famous Land’s End, we made our way back towards Dartmouth in Devon via a few places in Cornwall, starting with the nearby town of Penzance…

Penzance:

Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: St Michael’s Mount, Penzance Harbour, Egyptian House, St Mary’s Church, Dry Dock, Wharfside Shopping Centre, Old Lifeboat House, The Battery, War Memorial etc

Pen 1

Our journey began in a Car Park we found near the main Harbour, where we could gaze out at the various boats awaiting the return of the tide. The Harbour is open to the sea, but a series of Sea Walls help to shelter it. The town is a thriving fishing port, and boats also regularly sail from here to the Isles of Scilly out past Land’s End. We set off around the inner Harbour wall, made up of Wharf Road, which becomes the Quay further round, to explore the rest of the town.

Pen 2

Across the road from the Car Park is the Wharfside Shopping Centre, taking its name from the quayside it inhabits. The centre opened in 1999, and contains all of the major high street shops you would expect. It fits in perfectly with the rest of the quayside, with an old style stone entrance, and the remainder of the building looks similar to some of the original buildings here at the front.

Pen 4

On the way out of the Car Park we passed the “Old Lifeboat House Bistro”, which, as the name suggests, is based in the Old Lifeboat House, constructed in 1884. This made the town the 1st in Cornwall to have it’s own lifeboat, and you can still see the 2 terracotta roundels either side of the upper window, which both bare the crest of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) who owned the building at the time. Sadly by 1913 the boat had been moved to Penlee in the next town along, called Newlyn, which we would get a great view of further around the seafront. The Lifeboat Station then closed 4 years later in 1917, having been bought by the local Council. Today it is of course the Bistro,and the historic building is the perfect place to stop for a meal. You can visit the Bistro’s website here.

Moving further along, we got a great view of the stone bridge that crosses the smaller Harbour which leads into the towns Dry Dock. The Dock is the oldest in both the UK and Europe, dating back to 1834. Just to the left, out of shot, is the rest of the bridge, where traffic is stopped and the bridge rotates to allow access for boats. The Dock is open 365 days a year, and regularly services boats, tugs and ships. The Dock was empty when we visited, and the water level had been dropped, exposing the stilts that the various boats are set down on for maintenance work.

Pen 5

Thanks to our current position by the Dry Dock, we were opposite the main Harbour entrance, in between the large sea walls. Beyond it lies Mount’s Bay, which stretches from just west of Penzance near Newlyn, round to Lizard Point, nearly 28 miles away. Lizard Point is situated past the end of the outcrop of land visible in the distance past the sea walls on the above picture.

Pen 6

We kept going, and arrived on the promenade, where we got a spectacular view of what is perhaps the most famous inhabitant of Mount’s Bay, which also provided it’s name, St Michael’s Mount, a large tidal island around 366 metres off the coast towards the small town of Marazion, further around the Bay. When the tide recedes it uncovers a man made causeway that provides a direct link to the mainland. Atop the rocky outcrop on the island itself stands a large Castle, the most recent addition to which was completed in 1878. Prior to the present building, the history of the Mount goes back to 1070 when it was gifted to the monks of Mont St Michel, over in France. By 1135 they had built a stone Church here, and it was in regular religious use by the Monks until 1535 when Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) began the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the Monks had left the Mount by 1548, although ruins of the Abbey did survive.

Due to it’s obvious tactical position, it played a part in a number of conflicts, from use as a beacon to warn of the advancing Spanish Armada in 1588, to 4 years worth of siege during the English Civil War, starting in 1642. It soon passed into the possession of the Aubyn family in 1659, when Colonel John St Aubyn (1613 – 1684) purchased the Mount and made it his home. The St Aubyn Barony (of Clowance) was later created around 1645 and inhabitants of the Mount held the title until 1830 when Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet (1758 – 1839) passed away. Interestingly, all 5 Barons had the same name, John St Aubyn. The title was later revived in 1887, this time as Baron St Levan, and still exists today, with James Piers Southwell St Aubyn (born 1950) being the 5th and present Baron.

The family do still live on the Mount, in the new Victorian Wing of 1878 that I mentioned earlier, although the rest of the Mount was gifted to the National Trust in 1954. The Mount, along with the Castle, makes for an incredible site, and it is open to visitors all year round, via the Causeway.

Pen 7

Continuing to move around the Seafront, there are a number of landmarks easily visible. The 1st of these you may have spotted already on the Harbour picture at the start of this post, and is of course the tower of the Parish Church of St Mary. It rises high above the town, and is one of the standout features of it’s skyline. Construction began in 1832 to designs by Charles Hutchens, and was completed 3 years later. New areas were subsequently created inside the Church, with an area below the West Gallery converted into a lobby by 1986, leading to a Chapel at the far end of the North Aisle also created around this time.

The exterior of the building is clad in Penwith Granite, Penwith being the name given to this area of Cornwall, made up of a large peninsula and extends from Land’s End, past Penzance and further East. In 1974 Cornwall was split into districts with councils, governed overall by the County Council. One of these districts was Penwith. The districts were later abolished in 2009 and Cornwall became one large Unitary Authority, under control of the County Council.

Pen 8

The 2nd landmark is the Jubilee Pool, a large swimming pool which opened in 1935. It was built out over a popular bathing point on the shore, in honour of King George V’s (1865 – 1936) Silver Jubilee, celebrations of which were sadly cut short when he passed away a year later. The pool remained popular in the town until the 1990’s, when it was found to be in a bad state of deterioration, leading to a revamp in 1994, when it was re-opened for all to enjoy. When we visited it was shut, mainly due to the damage done to the promenade by the storms in late 2013/early 2014, but it is still a popular public amenity.

To the left of the Pool is the 18th century Battery, built out of Granite. The Battery was built after war with Spain became a real possibility in 1739. The Penzance Corporation was worried that invasion by sea could happen, and petitioned the Government for defensive guns, with the Battery to house them. It also had a dual role, protecting the town from rough seas. A number of cannons were installed, 5 of which remained as late as 1910.

In 1922 the Battery was given a new addition, in the form of the town’s War Memorial, designed by Sir Edward Warren (1856 – 1937) and built by W.H. Snell & Sons, in honour of the fallen of Penzance during World War I. During World War II the Battery would again became a defensive stronghold, with larger modern guns placed there in case of attack by the Germans. All of these landmarks can be found on Battery Road, built in 1923 to enable better access into the town.

Pen 9

The rocks below are accessible from the Battery, so we wandered down to take in the views. This shot was taken looking from the Rocks at the base of the Battery back towards the 3rd Harbour, another smaller one that sits near the opening of the main Harbour, and along with the Dry Dock Harbour makes a trio along the front, although they all share one large entrance to the sea.

Pen 10

Looking West up the beach, we spotted the town of Newlyn in the distance. The town also has a large Harbour, the outer walls of which you can see above. At the edge of the walls is a small lighthouse, and a similar one sits in Penzance harbour as well, warning ships approaching the shore. This is also the town I mentioned earlier where the Penzance lifeboat was moved to, RNLI Penlee.

Pen 12

We started heading back towards the car, using Battery Road, and on the way we passed a Gold Post Box. For anyone who isn’t resident in the UK, normal British Post Boxes are painted Red. In 2012, London held the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, and in honour of every British athlete who won in a gold medal, Royal Mail painted a Post Box in their home town Gold. This particular one is for Helen Glover, who won Gold in the Rowing: Women’s Pairs. You can find out more about the Gold Post Boxes, and others that we have found, by checking out Gemma’s dedicated post here.

That was the end of our trip to Penzance, and as we left the car park, we passed the Train Station, located at the other side of the car park. It is notable as one of the terminus’s of the longest direct train journey you can make in the United Kingdom, from Penzance, through Cornwall towards Bristol, Birmingham and the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East of England, finally arriving in Scotland via Edinburgh, at it’s final destination, Aberdeen. This service leaves daily, and takes in most of the major towns and cities in the UK as it goes. Penzance station is also the most Southerly train station in the UK. Aside from the long haul services heading North, trains also run to London, local destinations in Cornwall, as well as places like Plymouth in Devon. Local buses also run to various places, including regular buses to Land’s End itself. Land’s End also has a small airport, where you can fly out to the Isles of Scilly, or of course you can take the Penzance ferry to the islands. Although we didn’t have time to do everything in the town, if you visit you could also go and see the famous Egyptian House in the centre of town, as well as the fabulous old Market Hall, now inhabited by a branch of Lloyds TSB.

Penzance is a pleasant town, and the most Southerly major town in both Cornwall and the UK. It has plenty of history, beautiful sea views, and some splendid architecture. If your planning to visit Cornwall, Penzance, along with the local area which includes Land’s End should surely be on your list. For us, the next stop was Cornwall’s only city, and administrative centre, Truro…

The South West of England: Pt 20 – Land’s End, Cornwall

Bright and early the next morning we set off, to make the 3 hour journey from our Caravan in Stoke Fleming, just outside Dartmouth, to Land’s End, at the very tip of Cornwall…

Land’s End:

Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Holiday Park, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: The Bakehouse Restaurant

Attractions: Land’s End Signpost, Isles of Scilly, First & Last House, Longships Lighthouse, Land’s End Hotel, Lifeboat, Air Ambulance etc

Land 1

Land’s End. One of the most famous places on the island of Great Britain, located at the Southwesterly most point on the island, Land’s End has attracted tourists for decades, who come not just for the breathtaking views, but for the world famous signpost, which I shall get to in a moment. Evolving from a small scale attraction, Land’s End is now a large complex that includes Gift Shops, Restaurants, 3D Experiences and more. 3 hours after we left Dartmouth, we arrived in the Car Park, and set out to explore…

Land 2

Of course the 1st place we went was straight down to the seafront, to the Signpost, which was first installed here in 1957, and has since become a landmark the world over. I have been looking forwards to this trip for months prior to us actually arriving, and I wasn’t disappointed. You can get your picture taken by an official photographer who will then post it to you, so apart from the official picture which arrived a few weeks later, Gemma’s Dad took this one for us from behind the queue barrier (hence the reason Gemma is midway through moving her hair thanks to the wind!). You may have noticed it says “Banks – 383″. This is the actual distance to my home village of Banks, in Lancashire. A helpful chart is located on the photography booth, giving distances to all the major towns and cities in the UK, so I found Southport and Banks is directly next to it, so I could approximate the overall mileage. The letters and number used to create your personalised message can be selected from a box as you get ready to have your picture taken, so you can either have a mileage or a special message spelt out, whatever you like. The other distances listed include the 28 miles out to the Isles of Scilly, a group of islands off the coast of Cornwall, which we could just see the outline of later in the day.

It was quite an experience being all the way down at Land’s End, which is of course one of the famous duo of places that also includes John O’Groats, the most Northwesterly settlement in Scotland and Great Britain as a whole. A popular route for charity events, cycle races and just intrepid travellers, is to complete the journey from one to the other, either North to South, or South to North. As the Signpost says, its 874 miles up to John O’Groats, and whilst we haven’t quite covered all of that ground yet, at the time of writing we have made it as far North as Aberdeen, which is 696 miles away from here, so we are getting there!

Land 3

Also shown on the Signpost is the mileage out to Longships Lighthouse, pictured above, which is easily visible from the viewpoint behind the Signpost. Around it lie the Longships Isles, and the highest of these is Carn Bras, which the Lighthouse itself sits on. There has been a Lighthouse on the site since 1795 when Samuel Wyatt (1737 – 1807, Trinity House Architect) designed a 79 ft tall Lantern Tower. This lasted for around 70 years, until the 1860’s when the present Lighthouse was constructed out of Granite by an engineer called Sir James Douglas. It was completed in 1873, and for the next 115 years it was regularly manned, shining its light 13 miles (11 nautical miles) out to sea. In 1988 it was made fully automated, and currently sits on its own, the only land between Lands End and the Isles of Scilly, the outline of which was just visible in the distance behind the Lighthouse.

Land 4

As we were already down at the seafront, we had a walk away from the main complex, towards the Refreshment House, a Cafe/Shop shown to the right on the picture above. The view from here is outstanding, looking out towards the Atlantic, past the Longship Isles in the centre, and out to the Isles of Scilly far behind it. Land’s End is one of those places that you have probably heard a lot about, but didn’t really know what to expect, but it is quite an experience being here. Yes its become more of an attraction, but is still a beauty spot, and it is worth coming to say you have been, and to enjoy the beautiful view across the waves.

In front of us, a 200 ft drop leads to the waves below, at the base of the large Granite Cliffs which elevate the site. The waves crash loudly against them, and you really do get the feeling that this is as far as you can go. To the right is the main complex of buildings, and a path connects it to the Refreshment House.

Land 5

We eventually made it to the Refreshment House, which was originally opened by Gracie Thomas during the 19th Century. It is now known as the First & Last House in England, due to its position at the tip of the mainland. It is similar to the Old Toll Bar in Gretna, Scotland which is known as the First & Last House in Scotland as it is located directly over the border after you cross over from England.

Land 10

As you can see it was a lovely day, and it was the perfect place to be my first in Cornwall. The Cornish Flag flies proudly outside the Refreshment House, which is similar to the English Flag, but the Red is replaced by Black. It is called the Flag of St Pirans, named after the 6th Century Abbot of the same name, and St Pirans day is on the 5th March every year.

Cornwall is one of the ancient Celtic Nations along with Ireland, Scotland, Wales, The Isle of Man and the Brittany Region of France, so not only have I now got 4/5, but we are visiting one of the ancient Celtic Kingdoms. England was made up of various Kingdoms due to the sheer size of the country, and Cornwall was eventually incorporated into it, with Brittany becoming part of France.

Land 6

Moving back into the main complex, one of the many landmarks here is the Post Box, known as the First & Last Post Box in England, although amusingly a plaque on it currently states that it is out of order and anyone wishing to post something needs to use the one in the Visitor Centre. Its amazing how much there actually is here at Lands End, dating to before the tourist attraction became the dominating profile. It was an important stop especially on the way to the Isles of Scilly.

Land 7

Near the Post Box is a building called Penwith House, built in 1860 as the Temperance Hotel to compliment the original buildings here from 1854, where stables were provided for travellers. They are of a similar design to the First & Last House, and overlook the Lands End Signpost which is located round at the front of the building.

Land 8

The complex has grown in recent years, and there are a number of restaurants and attractions, including the Cornish Pantry, shown above, which has a great outdoor seating area where you can enjoy the view and your dinner, so we took advantage of the facilities for a while to relax after our long journey.

Other attractions include a 4D Film Experience, the interactive Arthurs Quest, and the story of various people who made the journey from Land’s End up to John O’Groats. Aside from this there are various souvenir shops where you can buy a replica model of the Signpost, which now sits proudly on my shelf at home.

To find out more, you can see a map of the whole complex here, which is on their official website, where information about the facilities and shops is also available.

In another part of the complex, you can get up close and personal with both a Cornwall Air Ambulance Helicopter, and an RNLI Lifeboat. The Air Ambulance has been here since 1992, and bears the code G-CDBS, although the cabin belongs to another aircraft coded G-BCXO. The Lifeboat is an Oakley Class boat, named the “James & Catherine Macfarlane” and was originally part of the Lifeboat fleet in the Cornish town of Padstow, out at Trevose Head, between 1967 and 1983, with the operational number 4802.

Land

Our last stop was the Land’s End Hotel, which has a commanding position on top of the cliffs, and arguably one of the best views of any hotel in England. Its not often you can wake up and gaze out of your hotel room at the very edge of your country, looking out towards one of the largest oceans on the planet. The Lighthouse is easily visible from here, and at night its light will be the sole beacon in a sea of darkness that stretches out from Land’s End towards the America’s, pausing only briefly to greet the Isles of Scilly.

The romantic nature of its location makes it even more surprising that it was the victim of a German Air Raid during World War II, and whether or not it was the intended target, a bomb destroyed the Hotels Bar in 1941 and killed one of the occupants. But the Hotel still stands today, and I suppose you could call it the First & Last Hotel in England.

As you can imagine, getting to Land’s End predominantly requires a Car. The nearest train station is 10 miles away in the town of Penzance (which we would visit on the way back towards Dartmouth), although it is at the end of the longest direct train journey you can make in the UK, from Penzance, through the South West and Bristol, to the West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, into Scotland where it finally terminates in Aberdeen, some 689 miles from its departure point. Local buses do however run from Penzance to Land’s End, with up to 7 a day during the week.

Land’s End is an incredible place, and its well worth the long drive to reach it, for the breathtaking views, and that most holy of touristy moments, getting your picture taken with the Signpost. For the first time in our travels this really was as far as we could go, this truly was Land’s End…

The South West of England: Pt 19 – Babbacombe, Devon

After visiting the town of Torquay, we headed North to the small village of Babbacombe, after seeing signs for a Cliff Railway…

Babbacombe:

Status: Torbay Unitary Authority, Devon, Village, England

Date: 11/08/2014

Travel: Car, Babbacombe Cliff Railway (Babbacombe – Oddicombe)

Eating & Sleeping: Cliff Railway Cafe

Attractions: Cliff Railway, Oddicombe Beach etc

Babbacombe 1

After circling round a few times we found a parking space outside the Babbacombe Cliff Railway, which is made up of a Cafe next to the road, and a short path down to the actual station building, where the train cars leave from. Perched on the edge of a large cliff looking out across the waves towards the area where Devon and Dorset meet, it is an incredible sight, especially as you get to the Car itself and look down towards the lower station…

Babbacombe 2

At a steep gradient of 1:2.83, the 720 ft long track drops and impressive 250 ft down towards the lower station, situated on Oddicombe Beach. As one Car ascends, the other descends and the tend to cross in the middle. Cables are used to pull the Cars up the slope, and it is surprisingly smooth, and despite suffering from occasional Vertigo it didn’t bother me in the slightest.

The Railway has a long history, which began in 1890 when a local MP named Sir George Newnes submitted an idea to build a railway between the Cliff and the Beach. Although his idea was turned down, he eventually teamed up with a man called George Croydon Marks (1858 – 1938, English Engineer) to create such railways in Bridgnorth, Aberystwyth and others. Eventually the Babbacombe idea resurfaced, when the Torquay Tramway Company announced they wanted to build the line after all and they talked to George about the idea and he oversaw the design of the project. Work commenced in 1924, and 2 years later it was completed, and opened on April 1st, 1926 with the then Mayor of Torquay (Alderman John Taylor) in attendance. Like many railways the line was shut during World War II, and reopened in 1951. A major revamp was required in the 1990’s, and involved all of the track being replaced, ahead of a reopening in 1995.

Babbacombe 3

We soon set off on our journey down to the Beach, and passed the other car halfway down. Already we could tell we were in for a treat as the sun was shining and a wide expanse of blue sea awaited us down on the beach…

Babbacombe 4

This is the view you get after leaving the lower station and making your way down the beach, and it provides the best view of a Car on the line, when another one descended just a few minutes later. The Cars run regularly up and down during the day, between 9:30 and 5:55, from March until October. Its quite impressive how the Cars always remain horizontal despite going down a very steep slope, as the metal frame the Car sits on has been angled to match the slope itself.

Babbacombe 7

So this is Oddicombe Beach, which is famous for its cliffs which can be defined as Breccia, which means its made up of broken parts of other rocks stuck together, and a closer inspection confirms this. On the beach there is a small shop where the essentials for beach exploration are provided, as well as public Toilets and a Cafe. There is also a slipway for small boats to embark from.

The area is a popular tourist destination, and affords some amazing views out to sea.

Babbacombe 5

Looking back past the lower station and further around the coast, you will see round to some local hotels, such as the “Cary Arms” and the “Babbacombe Beach”. They are the perfect place to stay in the area, and are located in their own small cove which joins onto Oddicombe Beach. Incidentally, the Hotels, along with the Beach itself, are both accessible via a path from the top of the cliff, rather than exclusively via the Railway if it isn’t everyones cup of tea.

Babbacombe 6

Looking the other way up the Beach, as well as straight out to sea, you can make out the Devon Coast around Teignmouth, Dawlish, Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton. Past that the Dorset Coastline comes into view, around Lyme Regis, and forming a large semi circle round to Weymouth and the Isle of Portland near Chesil Beach, which was just visible as an outline in the distance but sadly didn’t come up on the picture above.

Travelling by Car around the Coast it is almost 80 miles round to Portland, yet across the bay it is significantly shorter, most likely around 55 to 60 miles. Further round past where Portland would be, behind the Tanker, is the English Channel which of course eventually leads over to France and the European Mainland.

Babbacombe 8

Eventually it was time to head back up to the top of the cliff, and as we waited for the next available Car, I got this picture showing both Cars together, the one on the right was heading down towards us whilst the one on the left was ascending towards the upper station.

Babbacombe 9

The last shot I got was as we made our way back up the Cliff, and passed the other Car on the way up. You may have noticed the Railway has a particularly large Gauge, which is actually 5 ft 8 in, as opposed to Standard Gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 in). For ticket prices and opening times you can visit the Railways official website here. The prices are very reasonable, and goes with the great experience as you traverse the cliff face.

Babbacombe is most easily accessed via Torquay, which has direct trains to Exeter, Paignton (for Dartmouth) and Manchester via Bristol and Birmingham, where you can then get a local bus round towards the Railway. Our day was at an end, after visiting Paignton, Torquay and Babbacombe, but our adventures weren’t over, and the next day we made a push for Lands End, the Southwesterly most point on the Island of Great Britain, at the very tip of the county of Cornwall…

The South West of England: Pt 18 – Torquay, Devon

Our next stop was also the birthplace of Agatha Christie, the major seaside town of Torquay…

Torquay:

Status: Torbay Unitary District, Devon, Town, England

Date: 11/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Torquay Town Hall, Marina, Torquay Wheel, Old Town Hall, Carnegie Library, Clock Tower, Pavilion, Princess Gardens, South Pier, Torquay Pier, St Johns Church, War Memorial etc

Torquay

We started at Torquay Town Hall, underneath what appeared to be a freak weather system, as one second it was gloriously sunny, and the next it was absolutely bucketing it down, but it didn’t detract from our trip, as there was plenty to see. Town and City Halls are a particular favourite of mine, as more often than not they are one of the most architecturally stunning buildings, due to their grand status, especially if you visit the Northern towns and cities in Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire, where the Victorians crafted fine buildings to reflect their importance to the Empire.

Torquay Town Hall is no different, and reminds me of Stockport Town Hall near Manchester. Construction of this magnificent building began in 1906, although not on the section shown above. To the left out of shot, is a small circular section that adjoins the Town Hall, that was the first part of the overall building to be built, as the towns Library thanks to the generosity and funding of Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919, Scottish Entrepreneur from Dunfermline) who provided funding for various Libraries around the country. A year later, in 1907, the Library was completed, and opened to the public. The designer was a man named Thomas Davison, a London based Architect, and he went on to create the main section of the Town Hall as well, cladding both sections in local Grey Limestone. Building work on the Town Hall began in 1910, and similarly took a year to complete. Together the two sections blend perfectly into one, and sit at the top of Union Street, the main shopping street in the town which snakes its way down a shallow hill towards the sea front.

A new Library was eventually built behind the Town Hall in the 1930’s, and the Town Hall is currently home to Torbay Council, who administer the Unitary District of Torbay independent of Devon County Council. The former Carnegie Library was later absorbed into the Town Hall and now forms one of the buildings entrances.

Torquay 3

We made our way down the hill, with our ultimate destination being the large Ferris Wheel which has been erected outside the Pavilion on the water front. On the way, we passed a number of interesting buildings, starting with the Old Town Hall, which has now been converted into a Cafe/Bar, with public toilets on the lower side of the building. It is just as magnificent as its successor, and it is worth pointing out that it is 1 of only around 5 Listed Buildings along the entire length of the pedestrianised/shopping streets, including the new Town Hall. Completed in 1852, the building is similarly clad in Grey Limestone, and the dressings on the tower that separates the rows of Limestone is Bath Stone. The British Listed Buildings site cites the architect as a “Mr Dixon”, who I believe was the local surveyor for the town.

Sadly the building is no longer used for local Government functions, but is has been well preserved, at least from the outside, and is one of the stand out buildings in the town centre.

Torquay 2

Nearing the bottom of the hill, leading to the Marina, we took shelter in the “Fleet Walk Shopping Centre” which was completed in 1989. The architecture employed on this side, particularly the arches on the 1st floor, fit in rather well with the rest of the town, as opposed to a big brutish structure which so many shopping centres have ended up becoming.

Torquay 4

This building is shown on the previous picture, at the end of the shopping zone as you empty out into the Waterfront areas. It is listed as Numbers 6, 7 and 8, Fleet Street, and as the name “Bank Cafe” suggests, it was built for the Devon & Exeter Savings Bank in 1889. These types of buildings are my favourite, the Gothic Revival style that brings a sense of sophistication to a town, which is why I was blown away by the architecture in the city of Bath, the Georgian Architecture of which isn’t dissimilar to this.

Behind it rises the tower of St John the Apostle, but I’ll get back to that later, as we got a much better view of the Church from the top of the Ferris Wheel.

Torquay 7

Down on the Waterfront, we soon spotted an ornate stone Clock Tower, in the middle of a roundabout where Torwood Street, Victoria Parade and the Strand all meet. The Shopping Street, named Fleet Street, empties into the Strand, which acts a sort of ring road through the town. Looking back at the Clock Tower, I was surprised to find that its not actually a Listed Structure, which is unusual for something like this, however it has it’s fair share of history.

It is known as the “Mallock Memorial”, dedicated to Richard Mallock (Died in 1900, Torquay MP) who was a member of the well known Mallock Family who helped to bring good fortunes to the town throughout the 19th century. The Clock was completed two years later in 1902, and is another great example of the use of Bath Stone. The Bell inside the Clock was silenced when World War II started and it faded from memory. No one in the town even knew it had a Bell in the end as so few people were still around that had ever heard it ring. It was discovered by chance by the Westcountry Stonemasons Ltd when they were restoring the monument in 2010. The Bell can now sound out across Torquay once more.

The Gold around the interior and exterior diameters of the Clock Face is 24 carat gold, as the original was clad in Gold Leaf. It is one of a number of beautiful Clock Towers we have seen around the country, from the famous Clocks in Leicester and Weymouth, to the lesser known Jubilee Clocks, such as the one in Lyme Regis.

Torquay 6

You can see from the pictures how quickly the weather was changing that day, and we narrowly avoided a downpour as we gazed out across the Marina, where a number of private boats were moored. Behind it the Torquay Wheel stands high above the water, looking across to the luxury apartments on top of the hill.

To the right of the wheel is a row of 7 terraced houses, furnished in cream with a grey roof. These constitute numbers “3-15 Vaughan Place”, designed by Jacob Harvey and completed in 1831. They are a stunning row of buildings, and are complemented directly to the right by “Number 1, Palk Street”, also designed by Harvey around the same time. Moving on from here, we joined the queue for the Wheel, to see what we could see from the top…

T Wheel 1

Looking out from the top of the Wheel, we got a great view at the houses and flats on top of the cliff, overlooking the town and the sea front. Its a stunning locale, and when the weather isn’t experiencing freak conditions it must be the perfect place to live.

T Wheel 5

Directly below us was the famous Torquay Pavilion, which opened in 1912. It was the culmination of a design competition in the 1890’s, which was won by an architect called Edward Richards. The idea was to create a new public building for the town where concerts and performances could be held. Sadly Edward passed away before the building was started, as plans to build a new Town Hall also cropped up and it was eventually decided to build both at the same time. The new design was by Major Henry Augustus Garrett, based on Edwards original ones and construction finally kicked off in 1911, taking just 1 year to complete.

Looking to the left of the building, at the very end, there are 2 metal domes outside the main entrance, each topped with a figure of Mercury. The central dome has a layer of copper over it, and Britannia herself sits atop it. Whilst performances continued here until the 1970’s, since then it has been a shopping centre, with its fine exterior well preserved. As of 2014, it has been closed for renovations but I am unsure of when it is planned to re-open.

Torquay 8

As we noticed later on, there is a plaque on the side of the Pavilion that relates to Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976, famous Author).This is part of the “Agatha Christie Mile”, a walk around the area you can do which shows important places related to the famous author, which you can discover here. It was also here at the Pavilion that Agatha attended a recital by Wagner in 1913, with her 1st husband to be, Archie Christie, and when they returned home that evening he proposed to her. They were married a year later, in 1914.

Sadly her original home was demolished in the 1960’s but a plaque marks the spot it once held. Christie is of course famous for creating super sleuths Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Her 1st book to be published was a Poirot novel, called “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” in 1920 and now she is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for selling more novels than anyone else, and she is 3rd to only Shakespeare and the actual Bible for book sales. By the time of her death in 1976 she had amassed a huge collection of works:

Poirot – 33 Novels, 54 Short Stories

Marple – 12 Novels, Various Short Stories

In 1990, one of the most famous Agatha Christie celebrations took place, as Hercule Poirot himself (David Suchet on TV) arrived by train at Torquay Station, and met Miss Marple (Joan Hickson on TV) for the 1st time, with the two in character. They had never met in any of the books, so this was a historic event, marking what would have been Agatha Christies 100th Birthday.

Major Garrett wasn’t just responsible for the construction of the Pavilion, but also for a much wider plan between 1890 and 1930, that also took in the Pier. This was the first section to be finished, in 1890 and consisted of a long concrete groyne which protrudes out to sea on the water side of the wheel, to give a great view back at the Harbour, out of shot on this picture.

Above you can see the Marina/Harbour which is a prominent feature on the waterfront, which we spotted before from the Clock Tower. Protecting it from the sea at the far end is the South Pier, added between 1803 and 1806 during improvement works. It is built out of Limestone Rubble, as opposed to just concrete, and helps to shelter the Harbour. At the same time the South Pier was added, a Fish Quay was also built. Past the Harbour you can look out over Tor Bay, which lends it name to the local Unitary Authority district of Torbay, which Torquay is the administrative HQ of. Further along the coast you will find the town of Paignton, which we had visited earlier in the day, with its distinctive Red Sand and Pier.

The landscape of the town is very impressive, with hills on either side of the Harbour which is almost a cove. You may have spotted the large net at the far end of the seafront? This belongs to an attraction called “Living Coasts”, a joint Zoo and Aquarium, which has a variety of Animals from Penguins, to Otters to Redshanks. The net covers the enclosures which are located outside, including that of the Penguins, and stops anything else getting in. It is a local landmark, and the perfect place to have a collection of seafaring wildlife. You can visit their website here.

T Wheel 3

Earlier I mentioned Princess Gardens, another part of Garretts big construction plan here at the waterfront. It was also in 1890 that work on the gardens began, when Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyle (1848 – 1939, 4th Daugher/6th Child of Queen Victoria) laid the foundation stone. Since then, a stunning fountain was added in 1894 as a gift from H Young of the Torbay & Cumpers Hotels, along with a War Memorial, designed by R Blomfield in 1920, after the 1st World War. The Memorial is lined with Portland Stone, and a Bronze plaque on the side. On the very top stands a small urn, and it stands as a memorial to the fallen of Torquay and the local area during the war. A similar set of Gardens is located over the road, and a bust of Agatha Christie can be found here.

T Wheel 6

The final landmark we could see from up the Wheel was the Church of St John the Apostle, which I pointed out on the shopping streets, where the tower was just visible above the Devon & Exeter Savings Bank building. This stand out building has overlooked the sea front since 1873, when it was completed after 12 years of construction which began in 1861. The original architect was George Edmund Street (1824 – 1881, English Architect from Essex) who oversaw the 1st stage of building work, and his son, Arthur Edmund Street, went on to build the Church tower between 1884 and 1885, in keeping with the rest of the building. It stands as one of the largest buildings in the town aside from the Town Hall and Pavilion, and I imagine the view from the tower would come close to that of the Wheel itself.

Sadly our trip up the Wheel soon came to an end and we were asked to disembark, and we had one final destination of the day to get to. Torquay is a stunning place in a beautiful area, which is known as the “English Riviera” in reference to the famous “French Riviera” around the South of France and Monaco. There are plenty of fine buildings in Torquay, great sea views and a plethora of history from famous authors to talented architects. We particularly enjoyed going up the Wheel, although I am unsure how long the Wheel is scheduled to remain in its present position.

Transport wise, Torquay has its own train station, which opened in 1859, with a subsequent rebuild in 1878. Regular services run on the “Riviera Line” between Exeter and Torquay, via Paignton (where you can change for Steam services to Kingswear/Dartmouth), as well as on Cross Country routes from Paignton to Manchester via Bristol and the West Midlands. Local buses also run to Paignton, Exeter, Dartmouth, Plymouth and many more destinations.

We had a great time in Torquay, but it was time to move on, to a village on the far side of the town, called Babbacombe, famous for its cliff side railway…

The South West of England: Pt 17 – Paignton, Devon

Our next stop was the classic seaside resort of Paignton, which has been likened to Blackpool for its long beach, pier and amusement arcades, but it has a few uniques points about it…

Paignton:

Status: Torbay Unitary District, Devon, Town, England

Date: 11/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Paignton Pier Donuts

Attractions: Paignton Beach, Paignton Pier, Amusement Arcades, Redcliffe Hotel, Palace Hotel etc

Paignton 1

The 1st thing many people notice when they arrive at the sea front in Paignton is the oddly red tinted beach. As far as I am aware, this is due to the presence of Red Limestone cliffs further up the beach (shown as it starts to curve round in the near distance) which has tinted the sand. It contacts brilliantly with the water, with two very different colours meeting in the middle to make it a rather surreal experience. The major town of Torquay is visible in the distance further around the bay, which is called Tor Bay, hence the name for the local district which covers both Paignton and Torquay, with a number of other small towns. Originally under the jurisdiction of Devon County Council, the district was made a Unitary Authority in 1998 giving it the administrative status of a County, however it is still historically part of Devon and associated with it on all maps.

Paignton 2

Paignton Pier is the other defining feature of the beach. Completed in 1879, it was designed by George Soudon Bridgman and paid for by a local barrister called Arthur Hyde Dendy. Running for a total length of 780 ft, the pier contains a long arcade in the centre, with various games and food stands, before you exit out of the back onto the other half of the pier which has outdoor games such as shoot the target, a large bouncy castle and mini go-karts etc. You get a great view of both Torquay and the red sand from here, and 100 years ago you would have seen the Steamer pulling up on its way from Torquay to the nearby town of Brixham. This area of the Pier sadly burnt down in 1919, and was never replaced, so services ceased. The Pier was split into different parts during World War II to prevent the Germans using it as a landing dock, so it wasn’t until the 1980’s that it was fully repaired and remains open today.

Paignton 3

From the pier, far down at the other end of the beach, you get a perfect view of the Redcliffe hotel, which looks out across the waves. It was originally designed by, and built for, Robert Smith (1787 – 1873, a former Colonel who was also a well known Engineer and Architect in India) around a much older building. Unfortunately the construction date of this isn’t included with its Listing on the British Listed Buildings website. He passed away in 1873, and 30 years later the building was converted into a hotel, and greatly enhanced. After Robert had finished his design work, it consisted of the central rotunda section, supplemented by another 3 wings, to the North, West and South. The North is the only obvious original section, as the South/West sides have both been altered since.

It’s a stunning building, and one of the most unique places to have a hotel in the area, with views across the stunning red beach towards the famous Pier, and out across the Tor Bay.

Paignton 4

There are a number of famous hotels in Paignton, included the “Palace Hotel”, shown above. Like the Redcliffe Hotel, it was built as a private house, back in 1870. This particular one was called Steartfield House, and was home to Washington Singer (1866 – 1934), the son of Isaac Singer (1811 – 1875) who is famous for inventing the Singer Sewing Machine around 1851.

The house would have once sat alone, enjoying uninterrupted views out to sea, until more buildings began to spring up by the start of the 20th century. It became the Palace Hotel in 1925, after it was bought out and extended, with the extension presumably being the long section to the right. Like many buildings in the South, around Devon and Dorset, it was temporarily taken over by the Government, allowing the Canadian Armed Forces to move in for the duration of the war. It was in a strategic position looking out into the English Channel, in the confines of Tor Bay, which would have been a likely target for any German U-Boats advancing on the coast.

Paignton 5

We moved onto the High Street, called Torbay Road which, much like Blackpool, is full of Arcades and Amusement Centres, befitting its seaside status. The town has a much longer history than just as a seaside resort however, with the name Paignton being derived from the original settlement, called Paega’s Town, created by the Saxons around the 5th Century when they invaded Britain. Fishing and trading are also important parts of the town, with a new Harbour being built in 1837, which still exists today. The Town was also granted a Market Charter in 1294, similar to many other towns and cities around the country, and other notable attractions in the town include Paignton Zoo, on the outskirts of the town. Opened in 1923, and now contains 250 species across 2000 specimens, and it remains one of the most popular attractions in the area.

Paignton 6

We decided to embark on a drive of the Town Centre and I picked out a few things of interest as we went, starting with the Railway Station, which is the current terminus of the Dartmouth & Kingswear Steam Railway. The line had originally opened in 1859, between Kingswear (for Dartmouth ferries) and the junction with the Great Western Railway near Torquay. It would eventually close in 1972 when it became a new heritage railway, but only half the length of the original.

The station is also on the Exeter to Torbay route, from Exmouth to the major Devon city of Exeter through to Paignton via intermediate places like Dawlish. It was in Dawlish in 2014 that the sea actually washed away the track which runs along the sea wall, stopping all services into Cornwall, effectively cutting off the county by rail. The line has been repaired and trains can once again run through to Paignton from Exeter. Other trains that call here include the Manchester to Paignton Cross Country services, a long distance service serving Devon, Bristol,  the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Manchester regularly. The main train operator in the region, aside from Cross Country, is First Great Western, who took over the franchise in 1996, with an extension in 2006. They also serve the neighbouring counties of Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Dorset, Hampshire and London etc.

Paignton 7

Continuing on, we passed the Paignton Library & Information Centre, located just a few minutes around the corner from the Railway Station at the intersection of Station Lane and Great Western Road. The Library is one of the more modern buildings in the town, and was completed in 2010, replacing an older Library which was knocked down to allow new houses to be built.  The Architect for the new building was a man named Andy Chaplin, and it was one of 58 Libraries which have been financed by the Big Lottery Fund in recent years. As the name suggests, it also contains the Information Centre which provides local info for the town, as well as an exhibition space for budding artists, who can submit their work throughout the year for the chance for it to be on display to the public.

Paignton 8

Like most towns and cities around the UK, there are a number of Churches to be found in and around the suburban area, and we spotted at least two as we finished our exploration. The first of these was the towering form of the United Reform Church, designed by GS Bridgman, along with the building to the left of it, the Church School. As a pair they opened in 1875, and are clad in local grey Limestone, giving it a distinctive appearance amongst the painted terraced houses on the road. Sadly it is now listed as the FORMER United Reform Church, so I am unsure what exactly is happening with it, but it has possibly closed. Some Church buildings around the country have been converted into living spaces, so its possible that will happen here.

Paignton 9

Our 2nd Church, and final stop of the day in Paignton, was the Gerston Chapel, built around 10 years after the United Reform Church, in 1888. It is a popular place for the local community has regular social gatherings at the weekends for communion, prayer and coffee mornings. It’s a stunning building, which happily looks almost brand new, and has been kept in great condition of the years.

Paignton is a pleasant town, perfect for those wanting a seaside getaway, or a base for the wider county with the Zoo, Beach and nearby towns such as Totnes and Dartmouth providing great days out. That was it for us in Paignton, as we were off to the neighbouring, and much larger town of Torquay, the birthplace of Agatha Christie…

The South West of England: Pt 16 – Totnes, Devon

Our next stop was the town of Totnes, which contains the last physical crossing over the River Dart before it runs down between Dartmouth/Kingswear, which are linked by the Dart Ferries, and then out into the English Channel. Totnes Castle is a major landmark, in a prominent position above the town…

Totnes:

Status: South Hams District, Devon, Town, England

Date: 10/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Totnes Castle, River Dart, Totnes Pound, Guildhall, Jubilee Fountain, Dartmouth Inn, Wills Obelisk, St Marys Church, Mill Trail, High Street etc

Totnes 1

Our exploration of Totnes began on a road called New Walk, which runs parallel to the river. As we made our way towards the town centre we found a pleasant little side street, which contained an elegant Fountain, dating back to 1904. It stands as a Memorial to the 60 years on the throne by Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) between 1837 and 1897, which culminated in her Diamond Jubilee Celebrations all over the UK and the rest of the British Empire.

Behind the Fountain, at the end of the street is a large cream, Grade II Listed building called the “Dartmouth Inn” which began life around the time that Victoria took the throne, sometime after 1834. It consists of 3 storeys, and it remains a popular local pub just a few minutes away from the historic sites of the town, and the riverside. For anyone interested in dropping in for a drink, you can visit their official website here.

Totnes 2

At the end of New Walk, we reached a small roundabout where (clockwise from New Walk) Fore Street, Coronation Road and Bridgetown all meet up. If you follow Coronation Road you will reach the Totnes Tourist Information Centre in around 2 minutes, with the local Hospital located another minute past that.

Looking out over the roundabout is our 2nd monument of the day, taking the form of a tall Granite Obelisk, completed in 1864. It is dedicated to a man called William John Wills (1834 – 1861) a local born in Totnes who is famous for being the 2nd in Command of the Burke & Wills Expedition. The object was to traverse the length of Australia from South: Melbourne to North: Flinders River. This made William, along with his co-explorer and 1st in Command, Robert O’Hara Burke (1821 – 1861, Irish Police Officer), the 1st White Men to traverse this area of Australia. Sadly both men perished on the return trip, and out of the 19 men who started the expedition only 1 returned to Melbourne alive, as 7 members died and the rest resigned at the Northern end.

Totnes 3

As its name suggests, the road called Bridgetown leads straight to a bridge that crosses the River Dart over to the Eastern portion of the town. The Bridge is known as the Totnes Bridge, and was both designed and built by Charles Fowler (1792 – 1867, English Architect from nearby Cullompton), and completed in 1828. Interestly, it is also the final bridge that crosses the Dart, despite the river flowing for at least another 10 miles, and exiting into the English Channel between the town of Dartmouth and the village of Kingswear, which can only access each other using 1 of the 3 Dart Ferries. This creates a problem for travellers in the Dartmouth area trying to reach Torquay (or vice versus) as if they miss the final ferry of the day through Kingswear then it’s a significant detour to go round via Totnes.

Before you reach the main portion of the river here, you first cross the “Mill Tail” which is a side channel of the Dart. The area between the Mill Tail and the river is called Vire Island, which is technically a small peninsula. The Tail gets its name from the old Mills and Factories that line this side of the riverbank, with the main building being the Town Mill, which currently houses the Tourist Information Office. Completed in the 16th Century, the building was in use for several centuries afterwards, until around 1945 when it was amalgamated with the adjacent Bacon Factory until 1990. Fully restored, the Information Office moved in a decade later . Other local warehouses and factories include Holmans Warehouse (Mid 19th Century), the old Cider Factory (Early 19th Century), as well as the aforementioned Bacon Factory Main Premises Warehouse (1850’s, extended 20th Century).

Totnes 4

This is a view of the main section of the Dart, with various small boats moored up in the centre. It’s a picturesque area of Devon to explore, and traversing the river by boat downstream of Totnes will uncover various scenic and historical gems, until you eventually reach Dartmouth, where you may even spot the Kingswear-Paignton Steam Railway, with trains running along the riverbank next to you. Regular cruises on a ferry down the river are available, and you can find out more here.

Totnes 5

Moving onto the high street (Fore Street), there is a plethora of old and interesting buildings as you ascend towards the Church, Guildhall and eventually the Castle at the top of the hill. Nearly all the buildings on this street are Grade I or II Listed, so wherever you look, you are looking at a piece of history. A few examples of this include:

1) The building directly to the left of Peacocks is “Number 27 Fore Street”, a 19th Century addition to the street which has a red brick front, and a roof tiled with Welsh Slate.

2) To the left of that is “Number 29 Fore Street” which is much older, dating back to either the late 16th or early 17th Century. The frontage however is an 18th Century addition, although the structure of the original building survives behind. It is now occupied by a Superdrug, and has a large modern extension to the rear of the property.

3) One of the grandest buildings on this row is the Lloyds Bank Building, to the left of Number 29. It is one of many Banks that occupies a number of grand stone buildings around the Country, many of which were custom built for the Banks themselves. This particular one is mid 19th Century, and was designed in the “Florentine Renaissance” style.

Totnes 6

Directly across from Lloyds Bank is the “King Edward VI School”, a 3 storey Red Brick Mansion built in 1797, to replace the old 17th Century complex of an Orchard, Chapel and House which belonged to Henry James, the Mayor of Totnes in both 1637 and 1651.

It has gone through several name changes throughout its life, from “The Mansion” when it was first built, to “Hele’s School” in the 1870s and 80s, to the King Edward VI Grammar School by 1887. The School itself had been founded in 1553, in honour of the passing of King Edward VI (1537 – 1553) who became King at the age of 9 and died of sickness aged only 15.

The School has since had the Grammar dropped from the name, and was greatly expanded in 1902. Today it is part of a larger set of buildings that forms the “King Edward VI Community College”.

Totnes 7

Further up the street, on the same side as Mansion House, you will come across the Totnes Museum, housed in one of the oldest buildings in the town. Built around 1575, this stunning building was originally the home of the Kelland Family.

After much restoration it is now presented as an “Authentic Elizabethan Merchants House” and contains the towns Museum, which includes 12 different galleries, showcasing inventions from Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871, English Mathematician, who invented the 1st ever Mechanical Computer” and studied at the King Edward VI School) and many others, as well as a history of the town and finds going back centuries from the local area. Along with these you could visit the Herb Garden outside, or the old Courtyard.

The building is exquisite, and behind the vertical windows on the 2nd storey can be found the Victorian Nursery, furnished with items relevant to the period.

Totnes 12

Just slightly further up the street is the famous Totnes Clock, housed in the “Eastgate” which also forms part of “Number 2, High Street”. The Gate is part of the original Town defences from around the 14th century, a few different parts of which exist, such as the North Gate on Castle Street. There was a West Gate a bit further back down the hill but it was demolished in 1810. The Eastgate was given a new Victorian front from around 1835, with the Clock being added around 1880. Tragedy struck in 1990 when it was gutted by fire, along with surrounding buildings but thankfully the whole lot was restored, with even a new Clock from the right era being gifted by the University at Kingston-upon-Thames in London. Walking underneath it is a common route used to get to the Castle, although we took a slightly different route…

Totnes 8

Just opposite the Totnes Museum is a set of steps that leads up to a road called the “Guildhall Yard” which runs around the edge of the Churchyard of St Mary’s Church, shown above. It began life as a Benedictine Priory sometime before 1432, most likely around 1088. The local Mayor, John Burhed, gave permission for the building to be rebuilt in the 15th Century and all the major sections of the building, from the Nave to the Chancel were rebuilt by 1448, with the tower being completed in 1459, to designs by Roger Crowden. The building uses some rather unusual materials, compared to a lot of other Churches we have seen, with the roof again being Welsh Slate, and the rest of the structure is made out of a red sandstone from the surrounding county.

Totnes 9

Across the way from the Church, down the right hand side when looking at the picture above, lies the Medieval Guildhall from the 16th Century. Before it was converted, the building was once part of the complex of buildings that made up the Priory, until 1553 when King Edward VI allowed it to be used as the new Guildhall. By 1624 the building also contained a Magistrates Court, and was in use during the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) as a Prison, a function which it retained until 1887. Court functions later ceased in 1974, but it is mostly famous for its lower hall, which has been used throughout history for conferring the title of Mayor on an individual, with some counts suggesting over 600 such ceremonies have taken place here.

The Guildhall and St Marys are both tucked away away from the high street, surrounded by other buildings on all sides and if it hadn’t been for our curiosity in seeing the steps leading up to the churchyard we most likely wouldn’t have even known the Guildhall was here. Thats what makes exploration so interesting, heading away from the main routes through towns and cities, and discovering little gems like these.

Totnes 10

We exited the Churchyard round by the front of the Church, past the Guildhall, and used a small passageway to then rejoin the high street and continue our journey up the hill towards the Castle. On the way, we passed Totnes Civic Centre, home of Totnes Town Council. Just outside the town South Hams District Council also have their headquarters. So far I am unable to find a completion date for the building, but whilst it’s a modern building its style fits in well with the rest of the town, and there is a pleasant square outside known as Civic Centre square.

Totnes 11

We finally reached the top of the hill, and gazed up in awe at the almost intact ruins of Totnes Castle. This imposing figure looks out over the town, keeping watch on the valley below. It predates the town defences, back to the 11th Century, when the original Norman version was constructed, and the earth works from this time still survive. A Motte & Bailey Castle, a common feature around the UK including Clitheroe in Lancashire and Carrickfergus in N. Ireland followed, before being replaced in the 13th Century by the original stone version, in the shape of a large circle. This is the same design that survives today, although this is actually the version from the 14th Century, after a rebuild of the previous incarnation. Incredibly most of the building is actually intact, and the way it looks now is pretty much how it would have been centuries ago.There are two storeys, the ground floor, and then an outer rim where you can look out over the ramparts, accessible via a short stone spiral staircase.

It is an English Heritage owned property so there is a small charge to visit the Castle, although it is certainly worth it. Once you get past the entrance gate you come out at the bottom of the steps, and ascend up through the main Castle entrance into the inner courtyard. There are outlines in stone on the floor so presumably there were other inner walls once upon a time. You can then climb one of the spiral staircases to the ramparts, and gaze out over the town. You can see the length of the high street, and St Mary’s is the most obvious landmark from here, rising high above the rest of the town. You can even see as far down as the river Dart, and looking North West (not pictured) you can spot the local train station.

The view from us here is fantastic, and you can see how the town is surrounded on all sides by luscious green hills, in the heart of the Devon countryside. This marked the end to an interesting few hours of exploration through Totnes, and we made our way back down the hill towards the car.

Like the city of Bristol, Totnes has its own local currency, an initiative launched to try and keep money in the local economy. Totnes Pounds can only be spent in Totnes, so the aim is to get locals and tourists alike to start using the currency so that more money is spent in Totnes itself and the local area. Bank of England money can be traded in for the currency, at a rate of £1 = 1 Totnes Pound and they can be bought at various local shops. There are at least 4 different notes, the Blue £1, the Green £5, the Orange £10 and the new Purple £21. There are no coins issued as part of the currency so any change received from spending the notes is in Bank of England money. Other places around the UK with their own currency include Bristol, Brixton, Eko (Scotland), Lewes and Stroud.

Totnes has a local railway station which 1st opened in 1847 and lies on the line between Exeter and Plymouth, as well as Cross Country routes from Penzance in Cornwall, through Devon and up to Edinburgh/Aberdeen in Scotland via most major towns and cities in the East & West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East. Local buses operate to nearby towns such as Dartmouth and Torquay, and the nearest motorway is the M5 which begins 25 miles away in the city of Exeter and then runs up towards Birmingham, past interchanges with the M4 (For South Wales and London) and connects with the M6 (For Manchester, Liverpool, Lancashire, Cumbria and Scotland). Exeter also has an International Airport, and Bristol International Airport is a further 65 miles up the M5.

Totnes is a beautiful little town, in a great location, with views to match from the top of Totnes Castle, and a plethora of listed buildings lining the high street. Our next stop was the town of Paignton, as we made our way towards the major town of Torquay…

The South West of England: Pt 15 – Kingswear, Devon

After various trips across the river from Dartmouth on the Dart Ferries, we eventually put down in Kingswear to explore the village and take in the beautiful river views…

Kingswear:

Status: South Hams District, Devon, Village, England

Date: Various

Travel: Car, Lower Ferry, Passenger Ferry, Higher Ferry

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Dartmouth Steam Railway, Kingswear Castle, Kingswear Marina, River Dart etc

King 1

In my Dartmouth post I mentioned the Station Restaurant, which is housed in an actual train station building built back in 1864 for the Dartmouth & Torbay Railway, which connected to the Great Western Railway past Torquay and was intended to run to Dartmouth via Kingswear. Construction problems meant that it never made it across the river so the station at Dartmouth remained empty. This meant that the line then terminated in Kingswear instead, with passengers then being taken across the river to the Dartmouth Station on a special pedestrian ferry.

The whole line closed in the 1960’s, but it was bought by the Dart Valley Railway Company, and re-opened along part of the line. It now runs to Paignton, and covers around half of the original route. It was the ideal place to stop as the station is literally just around the corner from where the Lower Ferry docks.

Steam trains run up and down the route, and during our time in Dartmouth and Kingswear we spotted two different engines, out of a fleet of at least 4 different Steam Engines:

The smaller Green engine is called Hercules, and was originally built in Swindon in 1920, and worked in the village of Aberbeeg in North Wales as a coal train, like many of this class. It was sent for Scrap in the South Wales town of Barry by 1964, but after 22 years at the yard it was still in one piece, but in a very bad condition. Happily it was rescued in 1986 and carefully restored, and was then bought by the Dartmouth Steam Railway (also known as the Dartmouth & Paignton Steam Railway) in 2008. The railway also owns one of Hercules’s sister engines, called Goliath (5239) in a similar paint scheme.

Aside from Hercules & Goliath, two much larger engines also work on the railway, and one of these is called Lydham Manor (7827) which can be seen above pulling the coaches along the line towards Kingswear in a photograph I took from the Dartmouth side of the river. This Engine was also built in Swindon, but was made for much heavier duty work, such as pulling trains on the North Wales Cambrian Coast Line. The Engine is part of the 2nd wave of this class to be built, as the first set of 20 date back to 1938, with a follow up order of 10 in the 1950’s. Lydham followed Hercules to Barry in 1966, but was rescued much earlier, in 1970, and beautifully restored. It joined the line in 1973 and is still in regular use today. A similar engine called Braveheart (75014) is also in use on the railway but the design is slighty different. You can find more about the engines on the Railways official webpage here.

King 2

This is a view of the station interior, with the central platform containing a Cafe, Ticket Office & Shop. On the left is an old train carriage which contains a small museum about the railway and it’s history, which is open during the day. It’s an odd feeling being on an old train whilst looking around the exhibits, but its the perfect way to preserve all these fabulous old bits of stock.

Trains run regularly throughout the day towards Paignton, and the line is directly next to the river as it leaves Kingswear, giving great views over at Dartmouth. When we hired a boat in Dartmouth we were quite close to the Kingswear bank further up the river and the train (headed by Lydham Manor) went straight past us, which was an incredible sight.

King 3

Also in the station when we visited was a large Diesel Engine called Titan (D2192) and the chance to drive it up and down the platform for just £5 was being offered, but unfortunately we didn’t have time. The Engine was built as a shunter, and usually resides at Churston, near the other terminus in Torbay, for use shunting rolling stock.

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The end carriage on the regular train that is hauled along the line is the No.13 Devon Belle, one of a pair of Observation Cars which originally ran on the Devon Belle service between London and Plymouth in the 1940’s and 50’s. The other surviving car is No.14, which began life in 1918 as an Ambulance Coach, and was subsequently converted into a Pullman Passenger Coach and then a Bar car in 1937. Both Coaches then became Observation Cars in 1947. Since use in the USA in the latter half of the 20th century, No.14 returned to the UK and has been in use at the Swanage Railway in Dorset since 2008.

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As Hercules coupled up and began to depart we got a great view of it alongside Titan, on either side of the platform. Hercules left, out on its journey towards the seaside town of Paignton, which we visited a few days later.

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Kingswear is quite similar to Dartmouth, with quaint little houses built in layers up the side of the hill. This is a typical street in the village, and the varying colours of the buildings make it a pleasant place to explore. Whilst as landmarks go there aren’t a vast number on this side of the river one of the things about Kingswear is that part of its attraction is its charm, and its position opposite Dartmouth means that, even if you have come to visit Dartmouth specifically, you could go for a quiet wander around Kingswear as the two places come almost hand in hand.

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The views out across Dartmouth are also quite spectacular, as well as of the Kingswear Marina, located next to the station. Hundreds of boats crowd the river, and can regularly be seen sailing up and down the Dart. High up on the Dartmouth side behind the Marina is the Britannia Royal Naval College, completed in 1905. As the only surviving Naval College in the country it is of special importance to the Royal Navy and commands a spectacular position above the Dart.

You can find out more about the Naval College, and Dartmouth itself, by reading my dedicated post here.

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One of the days we were in the area we hired a boat in Dartmouth, and sailed up and down the Dart for 3 hours exploring both sides of the riverbank. Dartmouth is home to a grand Castle near the mouth of the Dart, just before it flows out into the English Channel. Opposite the Castle is the smaller Kingswear Castle, shown above.

A precursor to Dartmouth Castle was built around 1388, with Kingswear following much later when construction started in 1491. Completed by 1502, the two Castles now guarded the entrance to the English Channel, and were specifically built to house gun platforms for artillery. Dartmouth however was the larger Castle and throughout history it flourished whilst Kingswear was slowly left to decay, until brief use during the English Civil War (1642 – 1651). It wasn’t until 1855 that the Castles fortunes were reversed, when it was bought by Charles Seale-Hayne (1833 – 1903, British Politician from London). He employed Thomas Lidstone to convert the building into a private residence, which it remained until World War II, during which it was occupied by the Royal Marines as a defensive position against potential sea attacks. It then passed back into private ownership after the War, before being eventually bought by the Landmark Trust in 1987, and it is now available for holidaymakers to stay in.

It’s a stunning building and offers a unique holiday opportunity, facing off with Dartmouth Castle. Together the two create an imposing presence on the river, protecting the two settlements against any future attack.

Kingswear is a pleasant little village, which sees a lot of traffic as it sits at the start of the through route from Dartmouth – Torquay via the Dart Ferries and Kingswear. Steam trains run regularly to Paignton, and local buses can be found in both Kingswear (for Paignton) and Dartmouth (Plymouth).

We soon followed the main route out of Kingswear, heading to the town of Totnes, which has it’s own Castle on a hill in the centre of town…