“Herds of wildebeest sweeping over the plains”, well that’s Torquay in South Devon for you, according to Mr John Cleese.
My Fawlty Towers accommodation did turn out to be somewhat different from the TV series. No herds of wildebeest, no sea views, but I did get a glimpse of India and Bali!
A chance booking for weekend break did throw up the Hillcroft a boutique bed and breakfast villa high on the hill above the town with charming, friendly, helpful owners and not a hint of Basil Fawlty I might add, in fact quite the reverse!
The Victorian style building did seem an unusual package for the ethnic and continental styled rooms to be found inside. The Indian suite for a couple of days certainly gave a hint of the great country and the rooms that made up the whole suite had some of its scale too!
A comfortable carved large wooden bed, wall hangings, rustic bathroom, additional separate shower and adjoining lounge themed to reflect the sub-continent. According to the owner the building when they acquired it was part converted with themed rooms so they decided to continue as they modernized the remainder of the villa in complementary style, giving them a niche in the Torquay tourism market in which they sell themselves, mainly through the internet.
This area of South Devon or the ‘English Riviera’ as its been dubbed by its local councils marketing departments does have a great draw as there are certainly plenty of places to visit and enjoy over a typical week-end. This is Agatha Christie country too and as well as providing plot locations for some of her crime novels, she was born and lived near here and there are many, places to find out so much more about this world famous Devon crime writer’s life.
First on the visit list and a TV film series location for her fictional detective in ‘Evil Under The Sun’. Getting there, although not far, was as meandering as some of her plots. Pretty hairy narrow lanes on the way to Burgh Island, where Hercule Poirot was to discover a murderer and drug smuggler.
SOUTH DEVON MYSTERY ISLAND
The island a few hundred yards off the South Devon coast featuring its famous art deco hotel and is reached at high tide by an amphibious tractor or simply on foot at low tide. Access to the hotel itself is out of bounds if you are not a resident, however the island does have some nice short walks and they provide some stunning viewpoints for looking back the enchanting South Devon coast. The island pub ‘The Pilchard Inn’ does allow day visitors and again sections of that are off limits too, but its stone and timbered interior is certainly cosy enough for a meal, coffee or a glass of ‘Pilchard Ale’ should the weather not be perfect. Its shelter also provides a great place to wait for the aqua tractor to return you to the Devon shore at Bigbury on Sea.
Snaking around the South Hams roads to Buckfastleigh was the chance to try another form of transport and again has been used as a Poirot film location. Arriving in time for the 1.15pm to Totnes. A chance to climb aboard a steam train, stepping back several decades for the living history experience, that is the South Devon Railway. The 30 minute ride mainly along the River Dart is delightful and all made possible by the dozens of volunteers and enthusiasts that run the service making it a joy to glimpse a bygone day, here now in the present.
Getting back to Torquay and Paignton did seem to be somewhat busier with the huge garish ferris wheel on the seafront and the busy town centre getting ready for a Friday night out for locals and visitors.
Setting out to a restaurant in the evening did provide an amusing diversion. On ordering a taxi and providing them with the name of the Italian premises we were kindly given as a good choice for dining by our host. The driver did have some problem locating it, he was unaware of the name and made a few hurried calls to base and even they did not seem to know of it. After a wait and check with a mobile phone map still no joy. The driver decided he would drop us in the main restaurant area a group of us vacated the cab and saw a promising eatery opposite and headed for it. After being comfortably seated and food and drinks order taken looking back to now where the taxi had dropped us off was the very restaurant that we had asked for in the first place! By some fluke he had dropped us off right outside it so both he and our party missed it too. However the next night we did get to try it.
This visit was made at the back end of the holiday season so getting around that area of South Devon by car is generally very easy with very few delays and no heavy traffic to contend with. Weather at this time can also be very comfortable and still quite warm; the sun and blue-sky days that we were blessed with did contribute to the overall experience.
Other firm favorites on the visitors list are Paignton Zoo, the fishing port of Brixham, the river estuary village of Dartmouth or a little further and you can be in the wildness of the National Park of Dartmoor, which is only about 15 miles away.
Back to the Hillcroft just a couple of niggles, very few coat hangers in the wardrobe, no room safe. In this day and age hardly any visitor’s now travel without some valuables, be they cameras, cards iPods, laptops etc. Foreign visitors have passports, money and tickets too, so for me it’s a bit of a soapbox subject and I do like to see these items installed in all rooms. They do not cost a great deal and they do provide some piece of mind when staying away from home.
Providing you do not end up being part of the plot of an Agatha Christie novel you are pretty sure to have a very pleasant stay in the Torbay area! I am sure “your little grey cells” will provide you with some excellent memories of a trip to South Devon at just about anytime of the year.