Babbacombe from Old to New: Top Things to See and Do
30 September 2016
For anyone visiting Babbacombe in the 21st century, you might never never guess the history behind this prettiest of Torbay districts. Quietly renowned as one of the most sublimely peaceful and secluded locations in the area, there is a darker history behind the sunny place we know today. In fact, there were just a handful of inhabitants and buildings in and around Babbacombe and the beach in the eaerly 1800's, including a few scattered fishermen's cottages, some if which have been carefully saved and renovated as hotel accommodation here at The Cary Arms.
It was only in the mid 19th Century, with the growth of the tourist trade in Victorian England, which saw a dramatic reversal in fortunes. More affluent, ornamental houses and some holiday cottages appeared with a tide of fresh investment, which gave locals much needed employment despite angering local critics who remarked that the latest properties were “quite out of character with the scenery”. Indeed, it seems curious that features such as beach huts would have been quite new and divisive of opinion at the time!
Top Activities and Places to visit in Babbacombe
Regardless of the critics, the Victorians transformed the then little known district of Babbacombe into one of the best loved places to visit in Torbay. And while today's area is very different, there are still the same beautiful views and air of calm, along with several pretty features that have stood the test of time, whether you want to explore local heritage, be entertained or simply soak in the spot many locals regard as the prettiest corner of Torbay. Here are some of the best attractions, shops and things to do in Babbacombe:
The Babbacombe Downs
Remnants from Babbacombe's decadent Victorian revival can still be found on the Downs (Image Credit: Wikimedia/ Nilfanion)
At around 100m above sea level, there are some splendid views from the old promenades, not to mention fine short walks. Once again we have the Victorians to thank, because long ago the Downs would have been overgrown and far less manicured. Worse, the rocky edges were dangerous and claimed the lives of several locals according to records. Today the feeling is less wild and the views unobstructed; you can see a long way from this vantage point, with Teignmouth and Exmouth to the east and even Portland Bill in Dorset if visibility is fine. Do bring binoculars if you have them.
Even more remarkable is the forgotten history from an era of Victorian decadance. With the rush of wealthy holiday makers, a bandstand was added, while groundwater springs were diverted to tumble beside the footpaths and culminate in a waterfall. The area's white stone was spoken of in hushed tones and developers even made a posh gents bathing area. Most of these features are gone, although the timelessly lovely views, lush flowerbeds and quiet paths remain.
Relaxed retail therapy at St Marychurch (Image credit: Joan Vaughan/ Wikimedia Commons)
Since Victorian times, this has been the miniature shopping village for Babbacombe. Today, it continues to be worth a browse, with a changing selection of smaller traditional, boutique and independent stores, including beauty and fashion outlets, delicatessen, plus a traditional fishmonger and baker. Pedestrianised and great to investigate at your own pace, it is also a lovely spot to pause for lunch outdoors. This is retail therapy at a more relaxed pace and there are plenty of places to stop for a coffee or a glimpse into local history while you're here.
A step back to another age of Torbay history, from Victorian slendour to Wartime (Image: Bygones)
Another curious feature of Babbacombe, this Torbay heritage attraction is a fascinating, and someti trip back in time to the golden age of Victorian enterprise. Complete with authentic artefacts, costumes and more, you can take a walk down a fantastically rendered Victorian highstreet, packed with curious exhibits and real items. There are also special sections on wartime Britain, quirky themes and finds such as vintage toys and much more. Some seasonal variations occur with opening times, so do check the website for current details, ticket prices and directions: http://bygones.co.uk
70 years old and still delivering stars in the making and good old fashioned variety shows (Image credit: Babbacombe Theatre)
After 70 years and still in business, Babbacombe’s main stage continues to serve up performances to visiting crowds. Avant garde it isn’t, but classic variety shows featuring comedy, singing and dancing continue to pack out the house. For fans of traditional variety entertainment it is a fun night out. – and several big stars cut their teeth here (including a young whipper snapper called Bruce Forsythe. To this day, for a friendly atmosphere and good value, there are few better seaside theatres in Devon. Click here for current shows and further information:www.babbacombe-theatre.com
A Babbacombe Murder Mystery
The many new fangled developments continued to put Babbacombe on the map (including local potteries and The Royal Hotel, constructed in 1863), but the most notorious name of all was no Victorian entrepreneur, but accused murderer John “Babbacombe” Lee. A local labourer with a didgy reputation, he came to press attention for the murder of his employer, Emma Keyse, who lived in Babbacome Bay at the time. Or at least, until John paid her a visit with a knife. Allegedly. We say allegedly because there are episodes of Scooby Doo with far more convincing evidence than this classic case.
It was not the murder itself, but Lee's botched execution that turned the case into a national sensation, along with headlines about "The Man They Couldn't Hang". He was to cheat death at the noose not once but three times at Exeter Prison, where the trapdoor mechanism failed to work. The then Home Secretary changed the sentence to life imprisonment. Was the comedy of errors pure chance, or a more mysterious force at work trying to show that Lee was actually innocent? We'll leave that one for you to decide.
The Cary Arms: The Perfect Spot for Eating Out and Short Breaks in Babbacombe
For a feeling of traditional Devon, along with superb food and excellent accommodation, why not join us at The Cary Arms? We have a superb menu of fresh produce and beautifully cooked seafood waiting, along with delicious local ales and an extensive wine list. Furthemore, with both classic hotel rooms and our brilliantly quirky deluxe beach huts, we have a range of the most comfortable character accommodation in Devon.