Walk - 2 Living Coasts - Meadfoot and London Bridge
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Starting from Living Coasts, turn left down Beacon Hill towards the harbour. Walk towards the Mallock Clock Tower, bearing right at the junction to walk up Torwood Street.
- At the traffic lights turn right into Parkhill Road, bearing left uphill along Meadfoot Road. Carry on past the car park on the left and the Haytor Hotel on the right, until the road levels out and bears left after Lower Woodfield Road.
In Saxon times there was a small settlement in Torquay known as Torre, and Torre Abbey was founded here in 1196. One of the richest monasteries in England, in 1539 it was disbanded as a result of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1662 the buildings were bought by Sir George Cary, and by the nineteenth century most of the land was owned by the Cary family, as well as the Palk and the Mallock families. Lawrence Palk, 2nd Baronet, built the first harbour in 1806, and another was built in 1870 by another Lawrence Palk, 1st Baron Haldon. This was used extensively for importing coal and wool from Australia, and was extremely popular with the town's yachtsmen.
After the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon was captured and held prisoner on the HMS Bellerophon for two days in Torbay. 'Quel bons pays!' he is said to have exclaimed: 'What a beautiful country!' Admiral Nelson also visited the town during the Napoleonic Wars, in January 1801.
- Turn left into Higher Woodfield Road at the next junction, taking the next right into Lincombe Drive. The road runs along the top of a steep, wooded cliff above Meadfoot Beach, and there are glimpses of the sea between the trees. Continue along this road as it follows the valley inland and views open up to the soaring red cliffs of the East Devon coastline.
The Lincombe area of Torquay was an exclusive development of impressive villas for wealthy visitors, drawn to the town by its growing reputation as a winter health resort because of its mild climate. The Palk family owned most of Lincombe, and their solicitor, William Kitson, was appointed as their estate manager in 1833 and was responsible for much of the town's commercial success during the tourist boom of the period.
The mock castle of Lincombe Keep was a folly designed in the 1930s by Fred Harrild, a pupil of Edwin Lutyens.
- After about a mile, when the road bears sharply left, look out for a metal gate on the right with some steps leading downhill, opposite the approach to “Highlands”. Take the steps, turning right at the bottom. A short distance along this track is a junction with a footpath heading left, signposted to Kents Cavern.
- Detour left to these remarkable caves, where evidence has been found that some of the earliest humans lived here, almost half a million years ago. Returning to this junction, turn left along the path signed to Meadfoot Beach and follow it along the edge of the woodland below Lincombe Slopes. (If you are not visiting Kent’s Cavern, go straight ahead at the junction).
- At the fork stay left to follow the clear path downhill, bearing right to reach the bottom of the Ilsham Valley. When the path forks at the mouth of the valley, keep left, following the sign to Thatcher Point.
- Reaching the beach at Meadfoot, turn right along Meadfoot Sea Road. At the end of the beach follow the road uphill to the right until you come to steps on the left, just after the toilets.
- Turn left up these steps and onto the path signed to Daddyhole and then Beacon Cove. At the top of the steps go through the archway and bear left, still going uphill. Bear left along the path just before the bollards by the Duchy Hotel, climbing more steps to Daddyhole Plain.
Daddyhole Plain is one of three limestone plateaux around Torbay. Daddy is an old Devon name for the Devil, who is said to have lived in a cave at the foot of the cliff, formed when a large chunk of limestone fell into the sea, creating 'Daddyhole'.
Like Hope's Nose, Daddyhole is particularly noted for the coral fossils in its limestone cliffs, and its alternating bands of shales and limestones have given geologists an understanding of the kind of life forms that once lived in the shallow seas where these rocks were laid down. The calcium-rich soil above also encourages a number of rare plants to flourish, including white rock rose and ivy broomrape, an upright reddish-purple plant with cream-coloured flowers. Before you leave Daddyhole, be sure to pop in to see the displays in the National Coastwatch Institute's lookout and visitor centre to find out more about their work and the maritime heritage of the area.
- Carry on along the Coast Path towards Torquay, as it burrows its way through an evergreen blanket of holm oak (also known as holly oak: holm is the ancient name for holly, and it is actually a holly, not an oak). At the bottom of the steps just before Peaked Tor Cove, the path divides. Detour left to view London Bridge, a spectacular limestone arch created over time by the pounding of the sea.
Also tucked away above Peaked Tor Cove is the mine watchers' post used during the Second World War by Torbay's Home Guard. The narrow cliffs protected the lookout from enemy aerial surveillance, and its secluded location gave it panoramic views across Torquay Harbour, where the men could watch for the detonation of mines on the seabed in the event of an attack by sea. Nowadays the lookout provides a roost for a colony of horseshoe bats, thanks to the St Marychurch & District Action Group, which raised funds for a conservation project to protect the bats already living in the pillbox. With help from the Devon Bat Group and the Torbay Coast & Countryside Trust, a group of volunteers refurbished the building and provided additional roosting spaces. Horseshoe bats are an endangered species in Britain, and the greater horseshoe bat is only found in South West England and South Wales.
Rock End Walk, ahead, was laid out in Victorian times as a pleasure walk through formal gardens. Today it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is managed by the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, an independent local charity dedicated to looking after some of Torbay's most significant heritage and wildlife sites.
- At the road turn left to walk down Parkhill Road, past Beacon Cove back to Living Coasts.
The Imperial was Torquay’s first major hotel and dates from 1863. Owned by the Palk family, it attracted many notable visitors, including the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, who visited in 1877.
Until 1903 Beacon Cove was a 'ladies only' bathing beach, complete with bathing machines, and novelist Agatha Christie often swam here as a child.