There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Monday, 11 April 2016

Torquay and Around

Thursday 07/04

As a prelude to this year's instalment of the South West Odyssey we spent a few days in Torquay with our friends Brian and Hilary. After twenty years as residents of Hong Kong, and a further twenty in Stafford they moved to Torquay last June, moving into a large and comfortable apartment on a hill with a view of the sea to the south…

B & H's sea view, Torquay
.. and across the opulent dwellings of the Lincombes to the east.

Looking down on the Lincombes
I am well known for my frugal life style, being almost tea total and eating little more than a handful of oats boiled up with some chopped carrot - or turnip if I want a treat. Our stay with very hospitable friends involved a measure of gluttony and some alcoholic excess, over which it is best to draw a veil.

Meadfoot Sea Road, Torquay
After lunch we took a walk, a process which starts with a long descent to the sea shore, and ends however you do it, with a long ascent.
Thatcher Island, Torquay
 The sun shone, though it was hardly warm, and we walked along the coast over the headland...
Looking across Lyme Bay towards Exmouth
 ...and back through more residential streets.

Friday 08/04

Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890. She subsequently moved away but in 1938 at the height of her success she and second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, bought Greenway, a Georgian pile a few miles from Torquay near the village of Galmpton. It was one of their main residences until they died within a couple of years of each other in the 1970s. Agatha Christie’s daughter and son-in-law also lived there from 1968, giving the house to the National Trust in 2000.

Agatha Christie described Greenway as the 'the most beautiful place on earth.' Its setting on a ridge above the River Dart is certainly very attractive,….

Looking down to the Dart from Greenway
 … but the house manages to look simultaneously sturdy and pretentious and is to my eye, ugly. But she was happy here, and that no doubt added to its beauty.

Greenway, the former residence of Agatha Christie
The house has some Christie touches. The drawing room looks the perfect place to sit your eight suspects in front of the fire, unravel the plot and name the killer.

A room for unmasking a murderer, Greenway
The interior is not elegant, indeed it is cluttered. Christie and, even more, her daughter and son-in-law were collectors. There is sometimes a thin line between collecting and hoarding; some rooms are filled with quality articles…

Collecting? Greenway
….while others tend to clutter.
Hoarding? Greenway

Agatha Christie's DBE insignia are lodged in a cupboard among piles of crockery.
Dame Agatha Christie's DBE insignia in a cupboard of crockery
We walked through the garden down to the boathouse. In early spring some of the magnolia were in flower, others still thinking about it, while the rhododendrons seemed merely confused. We did not at first recognise the particularly spectacular blossom below as magnolia until Brian pointed out the plaque on the trunk, it is a variety called Kew's Surprise.

Magnolia, Kew's Surprise, Greenway
We walked past more spectacular blossom.....
In the garden, Greenway
...down to the boathouse, which is closed to protect the roosting bats, but there are fine views over the Dart from there...
Looking across the Dart from the boathouse, Greenway
 ...and from the battery - not a serious military installation - a hundred metres along the bank.

Looking up the Dart from the battery, Greenway
South Devon is a ria cost and the Dart is one of several small rivers with estuaries entirely out of proportion to their length. Leaving Greenway, the plan was to drive to the mouth of the river and take the ferry across to Dartmouth for a fish lunch and a pint or two of the highly rated Dartmoor Jail Ale. The ferry operates all day, even at low tide, but today it had run aground on the far side and the tide was still going out. Like the rest of the queue of waiting cars we turned laboriously round in the narrow lane. The drive to Dartmouth around the ria is over 20 miles and it was already lunchtime so we decided to cut our losses and make for Brixham at the extreme southern end of Tor Bay.

Brixham is a fishing town that has twice intruded into national history.  In November 1688 William of Orange landed at Brixham to start the Glorious Revolution that saw the banishment of James II and the installation of Williamandmary, Britain's only two headed monarch. The statue, which is in a poor state of repair, was built by public subscription in 1888 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his landing.

Williams of Orange and a sea gull, Brixham
The second time was in 1948 when my parents spent their honeymoon here.

The tide was out leaving the 'pirate ship,' a replica of Drake’s Golden Hind sitting high and dry on the mud…

The Golden Hind, Brixham Harbour
…. while fishermen mended their nets beside the harbour.

Mending nets, Brixham Harbour
Brixham has a variety of fish restaurants, but we went for basic fish and chips. The first floor restaurant above the take-away section was furnished with booths a little too small for bulky individuals. Those who chose cod were well pleased, haddock eaters, Hilary and I, less so. The texture was too soft, and although I would not suggest that what was sold as haddock was actually pollack, I had my doubts.

We took a stroll round the harbour. Turnstones were everywhere, scuttling along the concrete unconcerned by the presence of human beings. They migrate to and from the arctic so must be strong fliers, but in Brixham they seemed to prefer walking.

Turnstone, Brixham Harbour
There is little you can do after lunchtime fish and chips beyond making a token effort to walk it off, and then go and have a nap. So that is what we did.

Saturday 09/04

 Coleton Fishacre is a very different house from Greenway, though it's very close to it, on the coast just east of the Dart estuary.
Coleton Fishacre
It was built in 1920 as a country house for Rupert D'Oyly Carte. He lived in London managing the Savoy Theatre and the Savoy Hotel which had made the family's money, and visited at weekends.  His wife lived there full time, as did their daughter until she sold the house in 1949.
Bedroom, Coleton Fishacre. Light, elegant and rather dated
It was designed by Oswald Milne according to the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, though he was also influenced by the then very modern Art Deco style. Unlike Greenway all is simplicity and elegance and although the windows appear no larger than at Greenway there is much more light.
Upper floor corridor, Coleton Fishacre
Strangely I thought the untidy clutter of Greenway seemed timeless while the elegance of Coleton Fishacre feels rather dated.
Sitting room, Coleton Fishacre. Also light, elegant and rather dated
Like Greenway it had a fabulous garden full of magnolias, camelias and other flowers I am far too ignorant to identify.

Unidentified but colourful, Coleton Fishacre
The garden tumbles down a narrow valley from the house to the sea. Within the relatively mild climate of south Devon it seems to enjoy an even warmer microclimate. Bamboos grow here that are rarely seen elsewhere in this cool and cloudy island.
Bamboo, Coleton Fishacre
Returning to the apartment we sat out on the balcony. Although the shade temperature was only 11 or 12, the heat-reflecting brickwork made the most of the weak spring sunshine and it was a pleasantly warm place to sit and see off a couple of preliminary bottles of rosé while Brian fired up the Landmann for one of his legendary barbecues. Brian's skill with the tongs is widely recognised, but it is only fair to also mention that Hilary was responsible for the pork marinade and the rub for the chicken, essential parts of this meal’s excellence.

Sunday 10/04

Meteorologically, Sunday started badly and got worse. Like every day we spent in Torquay, it was exceedingly convivial, but from the point of view of this blog all I have to offer is a single photo of the wind-lashed mouth if the River Exe.

The mouth of the River Exe
The river flows out, the sea rolls in and the wind stirs it all about
Like the Dart it is a ria, but partly closed off by a sand bar where a flock of lapwings huddled miserably against the storm.

Monday 11/04

Before heading off for Withypool and the start of this year's South West Odyssey we took a stroll with Brian down to Torquay centre. First we went over the headland to an area of worn grass popular with those who like to throw balls for dogs to chase. This is the bizarrely named Daddyhole Plain. At some unspecified time in the past a hole appeared in the base of the cliff. Satan himself took up residence in the hole and he is The Daddy. Strong cider in these parts!

The Daddyhole Plain, Torquay

From here we followed the South West Coastal Path which works its way down by a series of steps and rough paths....

Torbay from the path down to Torquay center
..... to Torquay harbour.

Beside Torquay harbour
 We passed the clock tower and walked out along the front through the gardens.

Torquay's trademark palm trees were much in evidence, but although this area undoubtedly has a relatively mild climate, the palm trees and the title 'English Riviera' always sound too much like wishful thinking to me.

Gardens along the front, Torquay
 Further along the road was closed as the tide was high and the wind was whipping the spume across the road. We strolled back to the centre and, like the old people we are, used our old peoples' bus passes to cadge a ride up the hill.

Then after a light lunch it was off to Exmoor for Day 25 ofthe SW Odyssey (see the next three posts).

 And finally.....

....many thanks to Brian and Hilary for their hospitality, good food and abundant wine, not to mention abundant food and good wine.


  1. Pleased you enjoyed your stay; you have painted our new adopted area in a good light. Your comments are noted and the hospitality will be toned down next time but we will have to leave it to Lynne to get in touch with her boss to lay on the weather. Brian

  2. I am delighted to hear there will be a next time. You may have read something in that I didn't intend; please don't tone down anything! As for Lynne getting in touch with her boss, either she does not ask in the right way, or he does not listen. We seem to get whatever is on the shelf for the day.