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From Walls Hill to Babbacombe Downs

The view from Babbacombe Downs towards Oddicombe Beach

After being at home over the weekend, pottering in the garden, making meals, listening to the aircraft participating in the Torbay Air Show, I thought it might be nice for us to continue our walk today from Walls Hill towards Babbacombe and the lovely Babbacombe Downs, from where there are wonderful views of Lyme Bay.

Walls Hill is shown bottom right on the map above.   On our previous walk we took Walls Hill Road down to the junction with the main Babbacombe Road and turned left and returned to Wellswood. Today we will turn right onto Babbacombe Downs Road.

The first building we will see is the Babbacombe Theatre.

It is a small 1930s building and when I was a child, attending a private primary school in St Marychurch, Hampton Court (now the Abbey School) this is where our end of year speech day was held.

I don’t expect schools have speech days now!  Torquay’s Mayoress was usually invited and it was she who handed out prizes for various subjects.  In the 1950s it was known simply as ‘the concert hall’, and it is where entertainer, the late Bruce Forsyth, trod the boards in a summer season show called Gay Time. I don’t think an innocent summer show of entertainment would be called thus today!  Indeed, Bruce and his fellow entertainers, would call at my parents’ shop to buy their morning papers and cigarettes before playing a round of golf at the nearby Torquay Golf Club.

We can now stroll along Babbacombe Downs, taking in the marvellous views of Lyme Bay.

There is a 1930s-built viewing platform, a popular place to sit and admire the view …

This is me (above) aged almost 15 in August 1959 (I loved my blue & white hound’s tooth shirtwaist dress, and my high heeled shoes were dark green leather) on the viewing platform

The drum-shaped object has a compass on top, with arrows pointing to the various towns around the coast, from Teignmouth, Dawlish, Exmouth, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, etc, right around to Portland in the neighbouring county of Dorset.

To reach Oddicombe Beach, below the Downs, there is a Cliff Railway.

It is now more than 80 years since this little railway was built, but it does save one from the steep climb up from the beach on a hot summers day.

As one of the carriages goes down, the other one goes up.

This view was taken from the carriage about to go up

Facing the sea are many attractive buildings, almost all of them now hotels, guest houses, bars or cafes.  The Victorian lamps along the Downs add to the genteel appearance of the Downs, and one might imagine that it would’ve looked much like this over a hundred years ago.

When I was a girl, there were fewer opportunities for going abroad for summer holidays.  It was an age before the ‘package’ holiday and therefore most people in the UK spent their holidays within the UK, and many would flock to Torquay, known throughout the UK as “the English Riviera.”


I took the above photograph in 1959 you can see how crowded Oddicombe beach was in those days from this grainy photo taken on my old Kodak Bronie 127 camera.

On the extreme left, high up on the cliff, you can just make out a large red-brick house.  In recent times, the whole of that cliff has collapsed, taking the house (thankfully, unoccupied as the land was already unstable) with it.  It is amazing to think that I used to walk our Corgi dog around cliffs which are no longer there.

The red roof you can see here is the house behind the one which has disappeared down the cliff

I zoomed the lens so you can see the collapsed house, still partially there, parts already having disappeared

With or without this house, the view is still pretty amazing …


The above views were taken only three or four years ago, before that massive cliff fall – as you can see there had been some cliff falls before the house disappeared

As we are enjoying our stroll – for there is little point in hurrying along the Downs – we might see a sightseeing bus, a 1950s double-decker bus which now takes tourists around the coast.

And we might see people enjoying a picnic or children playing

When I was a child, there used to be a stage erected with a canvas awning over it, a temporary bandstand on the Downs with, in a semi-circle around it, deck chairs, and in summer evenings, small concerts would be given, holidaymakers sitting in the deck chairs.  How I miss the sound of a small orchestra playing in the evening sunshine.

At the far end of Babbacombe Downs there is a statue and drinking fountain (not that anyone uses it as such today!) in memory of Lady Georgina, Baroness Mount Temple, who was a founder member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and she is always holding a posy of flowers (I have no idea who places them there, but I’ve never seen her without flowers.)

We are now at the end of our stroll along Babbacombe Downs and we can either turn around and walk back towards Walls Hill and Wellswood, or continue our walk to the village of St Marychurch, where  I lived as a child.  But I think we now need some refreshment and so perhaps we might go to the Babbacombe Bay Café, half-way along the Downs, from where we still have views of this spectacular coastline and enjoy a cup of coffee (or even a light lunch.)

We will continue our walk another day.

Until next time

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. Oh Margaret, you were meant to entice us all to tourism in your parts of the world!!!! Wish you were paid since you also have to dig through your photo history and that all takes precious time! Thank you for showing us the beauty of your beloved area. Lucy

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Lucy, for recognising the time I have spent putting together this post. Yes, I have to look at my old photos and decide whether they are clear enough to use – my childhood Kodak Brownie 127 camera had a fixed lens, so the results were far from perfect, but I learned how to take photos from an early age. Indeed, it surprises me how people can take bad photos today with the wonderful digital cameras we have which do just about everything automatically! When I had my first 35mm camera, I had to choose the speed and aperture of each photograph, and photography was so expensive that you learned (or at least I did!) not to shake the camera, but to keep it as steady as possible, and not to cut off heads and feet and so forth! We even had to wind the length of film on, otherwise you’d have a double exposure, one photo over another so that neither were any use!
      But we do live in a lovely part of the UK, one that isn’t often publicised as much, say, as the big cities or the mountains of Wales and Scotland. So glad you enjoyed our virtual walk today.

  2. Thank you Margaret for a lovely trip down memory lane.I used to holiday in Babbacombe in the 60s and 70s.A relative had a guest house there.I still remember the noise of the cliff railway.The ‘shooting star’ speedboat and many other happy times.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Hello, Viv and thank you for your kind comment and I’m so glad you enjoyed your virtual visit to Babbacombe. Yes, the Cliff Railway has it’s own special sound – we took our grandson on that last year and he loved it! I don’t recall the ‘shooting star’ speedboat, though, but I do know how busy Oddicombe and Babbacombe beaches were in those days at the height of the summer.

      • Well,husband has promised me a visit to Babbacombe soon,thanks to your beautiful photographs.I really wish I was there already,a cooling paddle is very much needed in this heat in landlocked Banbury.

        • Margaret Powling
          Margaret Powling

          How lovely that you will visit Babbacombe soon, Viv. It is lovely, and on Babbacombe Beach (not Oddicombe Beach, which his the one in my photos) across Babbacombe Bay there is the Cary Arms which is a lovely hotel/restaurant. Mind you, if you wanted a meal there, I think you’d need to book that, but it’s a lovely place with excellent food. On Oddicombe Beach, there is the lovely Three Degrees beach café, serving light meals and drinks all day. I wouldn’t recommend Oddicombe Beach for children as is shelves very steeply, mirroring the landscape. You go in about four or five feet and then it goes right down, so only for strong swimmers (of which I’m not one.) For swimming in this area, I would recommend Goodrington, lovely sands there, too (Oddicombe is a pebble/shingle beach). Torre Abbey Sands are lovely, too. And for seclusion from the tourists, Meadfoot Beach, but that’s only a small beach and often the tide is in so no beach as such to sit on. But do check that out, it’s not far from Babbacombe Downs. You go to Wellswood and continue down past the shops, park in Ilsham Valley, and then walk the short distance to the beach. Don’t for get the sun block!

          Margaret P

  3. Thank you for taking us along with you on your walk Margaret, what an interesting post and I do like that picture of you as a 15 year old, lovely dress!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I loved that dress, Elaine. It actually looked better than it does on that old, grainy photograph. It was in glazed cotton, very crisp, and with lovely buttons. There was what we used to call a “gown shop” in the village, called Lisette’s. A very stylish woman owned the shop (she wasn’t called Lisette, by the way) and the window would always have just one or two beautifully arranged garments, it was what we’d have called “classy”. My dear Mum would go there and sometimes pick out something she thought I would like – for this pre-dates teenage fashions – and this was one such item. I came home from school to find it spread out on my bed, what a gorgeous surprise! I wore it for years, even after I was married, as a shirtwaist dress doesn’t date. So glad you enjoyed the walk!

  4. Eloise (thisissixty.blog)

    Some lovely pictures, Margaret. I agree with Lucy….you could work for the Torbay tourist centre! I do hope you have encouraged some of your readers to visit the area. I have been coming for several decades and my parents honeymooned in Torquay. I never tire of it.
    How sad that the cliff is crumbling, like so much of the ever-changing landscape of our coastline. Amazing that you are able to show us from your own photographs how the aspect has changed over the last 60 years.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Strangely enough, I did a stint many years ago, just for one season in the Tourist Information Office in Paignton. I really enjoyed it, but it was only a part-time job for the summer. I loved meeting the people who had come on holiday and wanted to know where the nearest camp sites were or whether any hotels had accommodation (you’d be surprised how so many would just pack up their cars and their children and arrive in the town with nowhere to stay at the height of the season and we’d do our best, phoning the hotels, to try and find accommodation for them). It is a lovely area as you know with such diverse scenery. Yes, it’s sad to see that house disappear down the cliff – I have such happy memories of walks around the boundary wall it’s garden, it seems strange to think that it’s no longer there. Glad you liked seeing the photos, Eloise.

  5. We have a stage in our Auckland, New Zealand Museum grounds, more a small rotunda. And in summer, many free concerts of all sorts of music. I would assume that England has far more, stages, wee pavilions and such. We, your readers are so lucky having these photos to see, thanks so much. I had a similar dress to your hounds tooth one; mine was pink and white gingham with short sleeves. With a starched white petticoat, with a broderie anglais hem, underneath. Made by my Nanna. (lucky me)

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Oh, how lovely to have an outdoor stage as you describe, Ratnamurti. Yes, there are many bandstands around the country, in parks, gardens and public places but they are not used much today – unless anyone reading this knows differently. Perhaps on high days and holidays, as we say. Oh, yes, the starched petticoat! Ond dress I think it was a fine material called Dacron, had a stiff petticoat that was actually attached to the dress. However, no lovely broderie anglais hem, sadly!

      • Eloise (thisissixty.blog)

        Last year we were in Dartmouth when we saw a crowd of peop,e around the bandstand. Thinking that we were in for an al fresco musical treat we hurried over only to find that they were just about to start…….a fish auction!

        • Margaret Powling
          Margaret Powling

          Oh, that’s so funny, Eloise … a fish auction in the bandstand! Well, at least it’s being put to a practical purpose!

  6. You certainly live in a lovely area and I can tell you appreciate it as well. I’ve never been to any of the countries in the UK, but I’m sure your area is right up there, if not at the top for most beautiful.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      We are very fortunate in the UK to have so many lovely areas, Jennine (and our fair share of ugly inner towns and cities, of course – not everywhere could be considered beautiful) from the very north of Scotland to the tip of Cornwall. But the south west peninsula of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset must rank up there with some of the most beautiful areas. Coming from a northern industrial town (my parents were Lancastrians, having been born in Lancashire) and moving to Devon when I was almost seven years old, I have memories of that northern town, with it’s grimy buildings (since when many have been cleaned, I’ve no doubt) and factory chimneys (many since demolished, of course) and can only say coming to Torbay – with clean sea air and the gorgeous coastline – was like a dream come true for my parents and myself. Maybe I do appreciate it more, perhaps, than people who have always lived here, I really couldn’t say, but I do love Devon, my adopted county.

  7. Thank you for playing ‘tour guide’ to us, again, so that we can continue to learn more about your part of the world. Such beautiful coastline, buildings, parks and scenery. The cliff railway looks like fun. I have been on something similar in Wellington New Zealand and Austria. I don’t like heights so carriages which run along rails that are firmly attached to the ground are A-okay with me 🙂

    I love the photos of you as a teen and of the beach in 1959. Thank you for sharing them with us. Your dress was beautiful and from reading the comments (and your replies), much loved. I am constantly impressed with your ability to recall detail – being able to remember the name of the dress shop, etc. I also enjoyed reading Ratnamurti’s comment about her pink and white gingham dress.

    Thank you again for the personalised tour xx

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, the cliff railway is fun, Lara. I especially loved it as a child, although there were often great queues to come up from the beach on it, and we’d have to wait for perhaps half an hour or more in the hot sunshine. Sometimes it was easier to walk up from the beach as the hillside was covered in trees and their shade was often very welcome – but it was a very steep climb!
      I don’t know how I can recall so much detail but I can. Those days are firmly etched in my memory.
      The dress shop called Lysette’s was lovely and wouldn’t have been out of place in a town rather than a village. It was double-fronted, with two large windows, and it was always beautifully dressed, sometimes with the most attractive lingerie. In the latter part of the 1950s the owner opened a hairdressing salon at the back of the shop and this is where my mother and I had our hair done. We had some lovely shops in our village – indeed, it was quite a large village, not like most people’s idea of a Devon village with a pub, a church, and a village shop. I will write more about the village on another occasion, but it was a lovely place to live in the 1950s. I wish I had photos of the shops but as a youngster I didn’t think of photographing shops … photographic film was expensive as was having films developed and printed (or D and P as it was known) – so you saved your previous film, often only 8 pictures at a time, for things you considered important – a pretty view, a person, or your dog.

  8. What gorgeous photos! And a beautiful day for a walk. You are so lucky to have scenery like this where you live.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Hello, Jane, and thank you for looking in and I’m so glad you like my photos. I’ve always enjoyed photography, and digital cameras make photography so easy – indeed, it has made everyone a photographer (well almost!) Yes, we are very fortunate indeed here in South Devon, we have lovely scenery, but there are so many lovely places in the British Isles, we could all perhaps name somewhere lovely where we live.

  9. I loved reading this, and it was such a wonderful surprise to find your gorgeous dress photo in the midst of it all! Breathtaking views! And you always talk about just the sort of things I’d want to know. Thank you!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      That’s so reassuring, Beth, that I talk abut the sorts of things you’d want to know! I suppose this is the journalist in me (for I wrote for magazines for many years) and when I was writing about a new subject, I asked myself “what would I want to know if I was reading about this?” Of course, there’s the old standby list of questions that a journalist must answer in a piece, too … who, what where, when, why and even how! If you can answer those questions in a piece, you have just about covered all bases.
      Glad you like my blue and white dress. I loved that dress. It was so simple but very smart. My mother was great at finding things like that, I didn’t need to go out and choose it, she just bought it for me and laid it on my bed so that when I returned home from school one day and went to my room, I found it there.

      • what a perfect way to get such a lovely garment!

        • Margaret Powling
          Margaret Powling

          What I liked about the clothes that I had in the 1950s and 1960s, Beth, is that they were well-made. Dresses often had under-skirts, skirts had proper linings, and the hems of skirts and dresses were proper hems, not just an edge that has been machined. My hounds’ tooth dress was lovely, with pointy turn-back cuffs to the 3/4 length sleeves, too, and very pretty white buttons. Just one of many pretty dresses I had in those days.

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