The middle of the three towns making up Torbay, Paignton has long been a favourite holiday destination ever since the Bishop of Exeter visited in the Middle Ages. But it was with the arrival of the railway that Paignton really turned into the town we know today.
A more typical British holiday resort is hard to imagine, with its amusement pier, rows of arcades and shops selling candy floss, buckets and spades and fast food restaurants.
But Paignton has more to offer the than those traditional tourist trappings. There are ancient buildings including the medieval Kirkham House and remains of the Bishop of Exeter’s palace. Paignton is also home to Oldway Mansion which was designed by the American Isaac Singer, the inventor of the sewing machine, and finished by his son, Paris.
But for good reason is Paignton known as the ideal spot for a family day out, with its excellent sandy beaches, wonderful zoo and plenty of exciting activities from go-karting to paragliding and water-skiing. Or you could just find a quiet spot and watch the world go by with an ice cream.
At the southern end of Torbay, Brixham is a busy working port, home to one of the largest fishing fleets in Europe. Each day the fresh catch is sold in the fish markets on the historic quayside.
Around the harbour are a number of small, unique shops, and kiosks offering fishing outings and a variety of day and night boat trips around the bay or even up the River Dart to Dartmouth.
To reflect its sea-faring heritage, Brixham Museum includes lots of interesting artifacts and information about the town’s past, including rare photographs andwritten accounts.
Brixham is also home to an artists’ league, known as the ‘Shoal of Brixham Artists’. The Shoal was founded in 2003 when a group of local artists decided to work together. You can view some of their work at the Breakwater Bistro and Art Gallery which houses changing exhibitions throughout the year.
Newton Abbot was originally two towns dating back to the 13th century which were eventually joined under one council until 1901, by which time the railways had arrived and workshops to repair locomotives and carriages were built. While the workshops are all gone now, the mainline station still offers travellers aquick route to London and the north.
Throughout its history Newton Abbot grew steadily to become a bustling commercial centre and market town. There was a weekly market in Newton Abbot as far back as 1220 but it has since closed and today the pedestrianised town centre offers an interesting blend of independent and high street shops.
Nowadays the town is most famous for the racecourse which sits on its north-western edge. Newton Abbot prides itself on being the leading summer jumping racecourse in the UK, and certainly offers a great day out. For more information visitwww.newtonabbotracing.com
Totnes, a short drive west of Paignton, is an ancient market town and river port – and well worth a visit. A transition town, Totnes is proud of its vibrant artistic and creative scene, and is home to numerous artists, writers, musicians, craftspeople and therapists.
It also has many individual shops selling everything from fine arts, antiques, second hand and antiquarian books, handmade shoes, ceramics, unusual boutique items, furniture, musical instruments, crystals and complimentary therapies. You can also explore the Friday and Saturday Markets below the Civic Hall.
There are also numerous galleries and workshops in and around the town which display examples of art and craft from local artists.
Totnes is also famous for launching the Totnes Pound, a local currency which can only be used to buy goods and services in the town. Its aim is to encourage more local trade and thus reduce food and trade miles and convince tourists to use local businesses.
With its busy, narrow streets and ancient castle and church tower to explore, Totnes has something for everyone.
Located south of Brixham, on the banks of the beautiful River Dart, Dartmouth’s narrow, medieval streets full of galleries, restaurants and unique shops and beautiful aspect overlooking the picturesque estuary are a real treat for the senses.
Dartmouth has a rich seafaring history with its famous regatta and working port, and is home to the Britannia Royal Naval College which overlooks the town from a hillside above.
There are many sites of historical interest in Dartmouth, including the cobbled pavements of Bayards Cove and the English Heritage Dartmouth Castle, which sitsat the mouth of the Dart Estuary. The castle is well worth a visit and you can even take a boat trip from the quayside at Dartmouth, which lands you a short walk from the castle entrance.
You can also take a pleasure cruise either upstream, where much of the renowned TV series ‘The Onedin Line’ was filmed, or along the coast to watch grey seals.
On land, the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway is another trip worth taking, with steam trains running for seven miles from Paignton along the coast to Churston and on through the wooded slopes bordering the Dart estuary to Kingswear.
With its excellent shopping, high-class restaurants and glorious views, Dartmouth is well worth the trip on the car ferry from the north, even if you have to wait a little while.
Plymouth,about an hour’s drive from Torquay, is a bustling city, with a large commercial centre, proud naval history and fantastic views over the natural wonder of Plymouth Sound. There are many attractions for the visitor, and you will struggle to fit everything into one day if you try to do it all.
Many people head straight for the new shopping centre, based around the large indoor Drake Circus, with its major high street stores, and revamped city precinct. Alternatively, head to the historic Barbican, which dates back to the 16th century and contains many points of interest including the Mayflower Steps, the symbolic leaving point of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620, and the Plymouth Gin Distillery, which offers guided tours (and tasting!).
Across Sutton Harbour is the National Marine Aquarium, which is a wonderful attraction for the whole family. It houses many impressive tanks with sharks, turtles and all the creatures found in the waters around our coast.
Overlooking the sea is Plymouth Hoe, made famous as the scene of Sir Francis Drake’s game of bowls the day England was about to be invaded by the Spanish Armanda. It affords superb views across Plymouth Sound and is home to the Royal Citadel, which offers a guided tour and still houses a battalion of marines.
You can also catch a ferry across to Queen Anne’s Battery, with great views back towards the Hoe and also out to sea, or take a cruise up the River Tamar, past the Devonport Royal Dockyard, with its frigates and nuclear submarines.
As you can see, a visit to Plymouth might require some forward planning!
A short drive north of Torbay, Exeter is the capital city of the county of Devon and is home to the magnificent Exeter Cathedral, which dates back to Norman times. The huge building dominates the centre of the city, and is flanked by ancient streets with wonderful restaurants and hotels.
Alternatively, take a free Red Coat guided tour to get a real feel for the history of one of the oldest cities in England, or simply drop in to the visitor centre and explore yourself.
Wander down to the Quay with its warehouses, bars and restaurants and take a walk along the Exeter Canal Basin where you can follow the canal for five miles to Turf Lock and the Exe Estuary Trail.
Exeter is rightly famed for its top-class shopping, which is due in large part to the 2007 opening of the Princesshay development, with over 60 shops including designer clothing stores and many cafes and restaurants.