Driving to Torquay makes it very clear what this part of Devon is all about. Whereas Totnes and Kingsbridge are happy, self-sufficient little towns, the acres of chalet parks and campsites, the signs declaring entrance to the English Riviera, the model villages, all cry out what Torquay is for: it’s all about the tourist. The continental climate of the Devon coast, the palm trees lining the seafronts, the hotels lining the harbour mark out Torquay as a poor man’s Cote d’Azur, and on a wet, grey, cold December day, you’d have to be a poor man indeed to mistake the gaudy ethnic restaurants and chain stores of Fleet Street for the vieux ville of Nice or the art deco exaggerations of Cannes.
Nevertheless, it’s not without its charms. Some people must think so at least: the unitary authority of Torbay (comprising the adjoining Torquay, Torbay and Paignton) are campaigning for city status, giving it a population of 64,000, just shy of Brighton. But you can’t get away from the tourists: in peak season, the population swells to around 200,000. It’s difficult for me to comment then on what makes Torquay what it is, without seeing it at its peak (something tells me I wouldn’t really like it: l’enfer, c’est les autres).
I panic slightly on entering a new town, mostly due to parking. This time it meant finding a space in the first car park we saw, which turned out to be the slightly gaudy multi-storey for the Union Square shopping precinct. This means that most signs of Torquay as a centre of civilisation are a hike downhill from here, and a hike uphill to get back. Nevertheless, we press on, only to find that the charity shops we were searching for were actually very close to Union Square, just in the opposite direction. No matter: TK Maxx duly yielded its desired pair of gloves, and the trip downhill was worth it.
This trip to Devon seemed to be spent mostly in department stores. Like Austins in Newton Abbot and Pearsons in Enfield Town, we stopped for some lunch at a self-service restaurant on the third floor, and looked out at the lowering skies over the harbour and out into the English Channel. I’m starting to feel a real fondness for these places: like a little world unto themselves, the Grace Bros comparisons come thick and fast.
The charity shops here are a mixed bag: an Oxfam is really the best equipped and obviously appropriated the best of the local donations, but Scope, PDSA, Rowcroft Hospice and British Heart Foundation all mean that the town is definitely worth popping into – for an hour or two, and probably not in season if you value your sanity.
Find: Torquay @ Google Maps
Consume with: Lunch at Hoopers on the Strand. Not quite Simpsons in the Strand, but not too bad.
Visit: I’m still trying to convince my better half to go to the model village in Beaconsfield, so Babbacombe is a non-starter. Nevertheless, if you fancy recreating Hot Fuzz, here’s a good place to try.
Overall rating: three brand new sleepsuits.