Author: Geoffrey Kichenside, retired Station Master, Kingswear
Built on seven hills, facing south into Tor Bay and in winter largely sheltered from cold north winds with a mild micro climate all of its own, many sandy beaches and rocky coves, blue sea and sky and scenery to rival anything on the Italian or French Riviera coasts, how do you describe Torquay, centre of the English Riviera, Devon’s major seaside resort? And its climate supports the growing of its unique palm trees, a symbol in many parts of the world for sunshine and warmth, essential ingredients for a seaside holiday. Torquay can trace its history far back into the distant past, not merely to mid-Victorian years with the opening of the railway from London, Bristol and Exeter in 1848 when the town started to develop as a resort, but for thousands of years before that when primitive man, and animals now long since extinct, took shelter in Kents Cavern, just a mile or so from today’s Torquay sea front.
With research and excavation carried out in the 19th century and later many artefacts have been unearthed ranging from crude tools and animal bones thousands of years old, which are now on display in museums or within the caves themselves and make Kents Cavern one of Torquay’s major attractions. Indeed Torquay has a wealth of attractions either within the town or on its doorstep, ranging from Torquay Museum, which not only houses many historic relics but remembers its most famous “head girl” crimewriter Agatha Christie, born in the town, to the spectacular Model Village at Babbacombe and the adjacent Bygones museum of Victorian street scenes and room settings, and Living Coasts, near Torquay Harbour, an offshoot of Paignton Zoo devoted to sea life and fascinating birds including penguins and inshore species.