Walk - Riviera Line - Torquay Station - Hidden Torquay
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
The South West Coast Path is justifiably renowned for the quality of its walking experience, with its high cliffs, wooded estuaries and sandy beaches. However, it is worth remembering that it also offers superb walks where it passes through some of Devon’s seaside towns. In winter or early spring especially, when some of the more remote parts of the coast can be damp or muddy, these urban Coast Path walks are well worth doing.
This walk is based on the harbour at Torquay. It winds its way eastward through a quiet surprisingly rural area before returning to the harbour, where there are splendid views over the bay. Torquay became established as a resort for the well-to-do when the Royal Naval Fleet used Tor Bay as an anchorage during the Napoleonic Wars.
It became fashionable for naval officers and their families during the first half of the 19th century. This prompted the building of many large and fashionable villas as well as exclusive hotels as Torquay aimed at the higher end of the market. This holiday trade was given a special boost after the railway arrived in 1848.
- Leave Torquay Station by the main entrance and walk to the seafront passing the Grand Hotel on your right. Cross the road onto the seafront and then turn left heading for Torquay Harbour passing the Princess Theatre on the way. Make your way to the Strand on the north side of Torquay Harbour. If preferred, the journey from Torquay Station to Torquay Harbour can be done by open top bus.
Lord Haldon of the Palk family, who at that time owned large tracts of land in and around Torquay, established the Inner Harbour in 1806. The Outer Harbour was built later in the 19th century and became important for ships taking emigrants to Canada.
- Having crossed over the harbour by the new pedestrian bridge turn left towards the clock tower. At the Clock Tower junction bear right. Walk up the road as far as the traffic lights and turn right into Parkhill Road.
The church on the left, Holy Trinity, was built in 1894-96. In 1982 It became redundant as a church and was converted for use as a sports centre. It is now the Rainbow Fun House for children. It remains a significant local landmark with its prominent spire.
- Follow the road round to the left and uphill – now Meadfoot Road.
The walk now enters Lincombe, an area of Torquay developed during the 19th century with exclusive villas for the well-to-do. They remain impressive houses.
- Keep along the road until it levels out and bears left. At the next junction turn left into Higher Woodfield Road. A little way along this road turn right into Lincombe Drive.
Lincombe Drive passes more imposing Victorian villas, especially on the right hand seaward side. In contrast on the inland side is an area of more modern development. This whole area was owned by the Palk family in the 1800s, and it was the manager of the Palk Estate, William Kitson, who effectively shaped this part of the town.
Further on, the road begins to run along the top of a steep, wooded slope which forms the cliff above Meadfoot Beach. The walk now gives views out to sea through the trees, and the sound of the sea on the beach can be heard. The feeling here is very rural.
- Keep following Lincombe Drive as it contours along the lip of a valley leading inland away from the sea.
The road rounds the “castle” at Lincombe Keep. This unexpected building was originally a folly designed as an entrance gateway to the garden of the early 20th century house of Castle Tor above. It was originally designed by Fred Harrild in the 1930s; he was a pupil of the renowned architect Edwin Lutyens. Those who know Castle Drogo, designed by Lutyens, may be able to see a resemblance.
Soon, if the weather is clear, views ahead open up to the distinctive red cliffs of the East Devon coast.
- As the road contours around to the left again, look out for some steps downhill on the right at a metal kissing gate. They are immediately before the first house on the right, opposite the approach to “Highlands”. Go down the steps and at the bottom turn right. A little way along this track is a junction with a footpath to the left, signposted to Kent’s Cavern.
It is worth taking the short diversion along this path to Kent’s Cavern and, if you have the time, looking around the caves. They comprise a series of connected limestone caves and from the dates scratched in the walls have been considered a curiosity since the 16th century. Human beings inhabited the caves in prehistoric times with sabre-toothed tigers, woolly rhinoceros and mammoths. There is a shop with information, toilets and a restaurant.
- After visiting Kent’s Cavern, return along the footpath to the junction and turn left along the path signed to Meadfoot Beach. Keep left downhill at the fork. Follow the clear path as it continues to descend, bearing right to reach the floor of the Ilsham Valley.
Although now hidden in Torquay’s suburbs, Ilsham has a longer history, being mentioned in the Domesday Book. There is also a medieval house which was used as a grange by Torre Abbey.
- Approaching the mouth of the valley the path forks. Keep left, at the lower level, signed towards Thatcher Point. The path soon arrives at the sea at Meadfoot. From here follow the South West Coast Path back to the harbour.
Meadfoot gives views over the whole sweep of Tor Bay, with Berry Head the prominent landmark at the far side of the bay.
- Turn right along the back of Meadfoot Beach. At the far end go uphill for a short distance then turn left up the steps immediately after the public toilets (open summer only), signed to car park and Daddyhole and, a little later, Beacon Cove.
On the opposite side of the road is the imposing Hesketh Crescent, one of Torquay’s most notable set of buildings. Dating from 1848 when complete it included a hotel and ten large houses for rent. It is still nowadays home to a large hotel and luxury holiday apartments.
- At the top of the steps go through the archway and bear left, still going uphill. Just before some bollards by the Duchy Hotel bear left along a path and up some more steps to arrive at the coastal plateau of Daddyhole Plain.
This spot gets its name from a 19th century cliff landslide which was attributed to the devil, or Daddy to use the local name. It is a good viewpoint to look over the villas in Palk’s estate inland (and some more modern development) and also for splendid sea views.
- Walk along the seaward edge of the car parking area and on along the cliff top to another archway by a shelter. Go through the arch then follow the Coast Path as it descends some steps then passes through an unusual tunnel under a private lookout.
This part of the coast is the Rock End Estate. It used to be part of the grounds of a grand house built in the 1840s. In 1950 the house was later demolished and the estate developed for housing. The Coast Path generally avoids these houses and continues to give superb views over Tor Bay.
- The path descends a long series of steps then, after rising slightly to a viewpoint, descends another flight of steps. Turn right at the bottom.
The area on the left just beyond here is a public space. Known as Peaked Tor, this was a public terraced garden in the later 19th century, the beach below being used as a gentleman’s bathing cove. The pill box is a World War 2 mine-watcher’s post from where mines protecting Torquay Harbour would have been remotely detonated. It has now been adapted to make it a suitable roost for bats.
- Continue ahead past some bollards and then alongside the Imperial Hotel to arrive at a road.
The Imperial, although now somewhat altered, was Torquay’s first major hotel, dating from 1863. Another Palk venture, it encouraged many notable people to visit the town, including the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII in 1877.
- At the road turn left downhill past Living Coasts.
An offshoot of Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts includes reconstructed beaches, artificial cliff faces and estuary features. There is an aviary of sea birds (you may see some flying inside the net mesh) and viewing areas for seals. It includes a shop and restaurant.
- Continue on down the hill to arrive at Torquay Harbour. From the harbour follow the seafont past Princess Theatre to Torquay Station. If preferred, the journey back to Torquay Station from Torquay Harbour can be done by open top bus.