Torquay is styling itself these days as The English Riviera. It certainly possesses some, but not all, of the characteristics of a Mediterranean resort. The impression it leaves is of a re-branding project that is not yet completed. With the accelerating pace of global warming the style of weather might arrive before the architectural ambiance is finished being constructed. Houses, in price and quality, are already escalating in anticipation.
As a town, it still reveals its working class origins through its shopping areas. Even the main streets and malls are bog standard and quite ordinary. Esplanades of 'kiss me quick' shops and award winning chip shops are mixed in with Weatherspoons and Pizza Express. Quite a few converted banks, chapels and merchants offices have become designer wine bars. From which, in the height of summer, the noisy money of men and women will spill out and vomit onto the paving of its rejuvenated streets. Yet there are also quite a large number of quiet retired people living here, with surplus income to spare. We counted at least four Chinese Herbalists/Acupuncture Clinics, which must be something of a record. The divide between the style of the Have’s and the Chav’ Nots is very noticeable.
We largely took a leaf out of Gilbert and Georges book, and ate out for breakfast and lunch whenever possible. The Veggie Breakfasts, these days, are quite a standard mix of fried egg, tomatoes, hash browns, mushrooms and baked beans. They were, like the Cafe Latte’s, variable in quality and execution, depending on the cafe, though we found our favorite, called Fresh, with our first breakfast . Say what you like about the national cafe chains they have raised the quality threshold. So the best coffee in town was still to be found at Cafe Nero or Costa. Torquay, thankfully, has no Starbucks, Hurrah !! There is only so much frothy milk with a vague hint of having once been placed near a coffee bean, that I can stomach.
Abandoning the car, to be parked for the week on one of Torquay’s numerous
severely inclined streets, we took a bus to Brixham. Brixham is still a working port, with one of the largest remaining fishing fleets in the country. Though these days, that can’t amount to much of a claim to fame. It does have its own practical worldly charm, and an appearance of not tolerating any pretentious none sense, its a port and small tourist attraction, OK ! In feel it is very like Whitby, with its high cliffs, tight little bay and steeply rising terraces. House prices to buy or rent are lower, the shopping area is slightly grubby and run down in places. So far, no one is rushing to gentrify or push it up market, its too earthy for that. Though the yachting set park there boats here, they choose to live elsewhere.
We also took a sea cruise to Dartmouth. A very beautiful place, hidden almost secretively in a high sided river estuary. With the Royal Naval College looking down and the Royal Yacht Club moorings at Kingsmear, we were in a different social climate altogether. Expensive shops, cafes and well maintained old properties, some selling for prices in the millions, indicate that the heart and wallet of The English Riviera is really cloistered here. It feels so conservative, safe and protected from Gerry U Boats and the liberal ravages of urban Britain. A place at peace with itself, harmonious, with a degree of homogeneous integrity, based as it is on the triple buttresses of yachting, class and money. We left having really enjoyed our visit, but knowing living there would be an entirely different experience. Still, it felt somehow comforting to know a place like Dartmouth still exists.