Sunday, 20 April 2008

A Walk in Torquay

Today I’m making up for not posting on my regular day, Friday. On that day, I was trekking around the coast at Torquay. My friend and I have a regular pilgrimage to this area where we first met as school children.

We had an early lunch at Molloys in St Marychurch – a warming steak pudding for an incredibly reasonable £3.95 each. Afterwards we visited some of our favourite parks before arriving on Babbacombe Downs where we were enticed by the rolling breakers below. The weather was wild, most unusual for that part of the world, and the white tops of the waves blended into a strange muddy colour I don’t remember seeing before.

The familiar stepped path we took beside, and under, the cliff railway was littered with broken branches. Down at Oddicombe Beach we stood gazing at the powerful sea breaking on the shore close by. Looking up at the red cliffs I saw where they had broken off and tumbled down, breaking up the steps to the promenade below and hiding the footpaths I used to walk in my youth.

A sudden squall of rain sent us rushing to the pay kiosk for a ride to the top in the dry of the railway box that would be heaved up on its metal ropes, passing the downward box on the way. We weren’t alone. Other strollers were ill equipped for the weather. I hid a chuckle when a woman said, “Notice how the guard closed the doors on us but didn’t step inside. Wonder if he knows something we don’t.” That cliff railway had been operating with no accidents since before I was born.

By the time we reached the top, the rain had almost stopped, so we set off through the manicured gardens that were Babbacombe Downs, where I had some of my first wedding’s photos taken many years ago. With the weather so uncertain, we gave gave the wild Walls Hill Downs a miss and followed the road to the Palace Hotel, where recuperating RAF officers were killed in bombing raids in the last war.

Here we turned off again to the coast and walked down to the cliffs above Ansteys Cove. This was where another school friend of mine got her enviable tan every summer because her father had a business on the beach there – deck chairs, pedalloes, ice creams and such like.

It is also where a notorious part of the coast path called Bishops Walk begins. Because it is sheltered by trees and cliffside vegetation, we followed it high above the shore and past the sheltered seats where a girl was found murdered when I was in my early teens. Nowadays, I seem to hear about murders almost every day, but when that happened it was really unusual and it rocked our seaside town community to the core.

Remembering that story made the place seem really creepy and we hurried on till we recognised the sheltered piece of coast with the small rocky peninsula called Hope’s Nose jutting out ahead of us, and the island of Thatcher Rock looming behind it. The fishing has always been good off Hope’s Nose, but people used to say it was attractive to the fish because it was where our sewerage was emptied into the ocean. I’m not sure what the current arrangements are.

The sea around Thatcher Rock was where the diving school took its students for their training dives. It is always covered in sea gulls.

When we emerged onto Marine Drive, we turned in the opposite direction to reach Lincombe Drive below Kents Cavern, home of the earliest inhabitants of this part of the world. We wandered through the moneyed area of individually designed detached homes, each set in its own beautiful acres, until we could turn into the meadows that stretched right down to Meadfoot and more beaches.I was reminded of the day after my mother’s funeral when a great mess of our family gathered outside someone’s beach hut, basking in the early summer sunshine and speaking in hushed tones of how much she would have enjoyed it.

But on this day the seas were still pounding in and at one point we had to cross to the far side of the road to avoid a drenching from the spray flying over the sea wall. Then it was all road-walking over the hill and down to the harbour and a welcome cup of tea.

We had been lucky with the weather for our walk after all. We were more in danger of getting wet from the sea than the rain, and thoroughly enjoyed our bracing exercise.

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