Torquay has long been regarded as one of the most glamorous resorts of the English Riviera. In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a prisoner, stood on the deck of HMS Bellerophon in Tor Bay and pronounced Torquay to be, “Beau”. It is easy to see why he felt this. Built on seven green hills, overlooking Tor Bay, Torquay is a resort with a genuine European atmosphere. Sparkling white villas built by the Victorians, adorn the hill tops. The promenade is lined with palm trees and colourful gardens. There is a lively harbour and an international marina.
The Victorians named Torquay, “Queen of the Riviera” and it became one of the most popular resorts in the south of England. In 1848, South Devon Railway made the town easily accessible. Bathing became fashionable and separate beaches were designated for ladies and gentlemen to bathe. It was not until 1899 that mixed bathing was permitted.
Kent’s Cavern attracted many visitors. Here were found human bones, together with those from Ice Age creatures, indicating for the first time that man had existed far earlier than previously thought. It is now a floodlit spectacle of stalagmites and stalactites situated close to Anstey’s Cove and is open to the public.
The English Riviera has 22 miles of coastline, coves and cliffs and provides 19 varied beaches, some small and secluded, but still easily accessible. From Marine Drive there are extensive views over Thatcher Rock, across Tor Bay to Berry Head at Brixham. From Babbacombe Bay the red cliffs of Dawlish can be seen.
The BBC TV series, ‘Fawlty Towers’, is closely associated with Torquay. This comedy programme, staring John Cleese, as the eccentric hotelier, was first broadcast in 1975 and has been screened in over sixty countries. The hotel shown in the opening shots was, in fact, not in Torquay, but was the Wooburn Grange Country Club at Bourne End in Buckinghamshire, which has now been demolished.
The inspiration for Basil Fawlty was Donald Sinclair, the owner of Hotel Gleneagles, who Monty Python’s Flying Circus team encountered in 1971. Whilst they were staying there, Donald Sinclair criticised Terry Gilliam for not using his knife and fork correctly and it is alleged Eric Idle’s bag was thrown outside because Sinclair believed that there was a bomb in it! The Monty Python team moved out, but John Cleese, realising the potential, stayed on and brought his first wife, Connie Booth, to join him to experience Sinclair’s unusual behaviour at first hand. She later co-wrote the programmes with her husband.
Sadly, Donald died in 1981. John Cleese affectionately described Donald Sinclair, a war hero, as, “the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met”. Hotel Gleneagles still exists in Asheldon Road, Torquay. It has been transformed into a luxury boutique hotel, overlooking Lyme Bay.
Agatha Christie, the world famous crime writer, was born in Torquay and spent most of her life in the area. She often bathed at Beacon Cove, an original “ladies only beach” and Meadfoot Beach. The family home was in Barton Road. She was married on Christmas Eve 1914 and spent her honeymoon at The Grand Hotel. She owned ‘Greenway’, standing above the River Dart, near Brixham, for thirty-eight years, which she used as a summer home and retreat, until she died in 1976. It is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. Visitors can travel by ferry from Torquay or Brixham.