Where I Walk In… Paignton (Seafront)

Home sweet home – Paignton is where I was born and bred, and it’s about time I actually finally did something with my pictures of Paignton and share some thoughts on this area on this website. Covid has resulted in me spending much more of 2020 at home than anticipated, so what better time to more closely embrace the beauties of the area, particularly with the spell of good weather we were lucky enough to have this summer. Starting with the seafront (and, later, continuing with some of the other, perhaps less touristy parts of the town), I aim to share some of my favourite pictures and walks that have occupied my time both this year and across many bygone years.

I shall begin with the core of the seafront: Paignton Beach. From here, I will describe and show Fairy Cove and the harbour, both of which are essentially connected to Paignton Beach at the southern end, before looking north towards Preston Sands. Finally, we will head to the far south of Paignton, concentrating on Roundham and Goodrington.

Paignton Beach

Walking up to Paignton Beach from the town centre, the first thing that always comes to mind is the smell of the fresh doughnuts and ice cream – sugary air. It’s funny how sugar and salt can define the air of a place, but Paignton always has that mix: the frontier with the sea and the production of various sweet goods that go with the beach experience. It’s funny, but Paignton Beach has always been a winter place for me – a place to run on, walk along, and enjoy with few crowds, but the memory I associate with Paignton Beach is always that slightly sticky, busy place, where most of the people around you are possibly enjoying their environment for the first or second time, not knowing the grey, plain beauty of the beach come December.

That said, one cannot deny the beauty of Paignton Beach on a warm summer’s day – when nature blesses the bay with beautiful weather, there are few places in the country that can compare: Paignton and Torbay are incomparable when the sky is blue. Sometimes, even getting into the sea can be a pleasant experience!

Getting to Paignton Beach is simple – just head east! If you don’t know which way east is, you just need to head down Torbay Road / follow the big white building (Vue Cinema) from the train/bus station once you get to the railway crossing. The sandy stretch is on the other side!

Paignton on a perfect summer’s day.
The beach is popular with locals as well as tourists from both the UK and abroad.

Very rarely, when the wind blows in the right direction and a storm is just far enough away, Paignton can even become a place to surf. Usually, however, the bay acts as a natural shelter for many a passing boat, tanker, or perhaps even cruise liner.

On foot, a single lap of Paignton Green is approximately one mile, meaning runners and walkers are able to use it for regular practice. Torbay Park is also a pleasant place to relax, bordering some pubs which open up to the park on pleasant days.

Torbay park, with the Vue cinema behind.
Torbay Park

To the south end of Paignton Sands lies the harbour and, just beyond, Fairy Cove.

Looking over to the harbour and, behind, Fairy Cove.

Fairy Cove

Nestled between Roundham and Paignton Harbour, Fairy Cove is a delightful, unassuming addition to any walk in Paignton. Its name might be possibly generate fantastic expectations, and while this might be somewhat unrealistic, Fairy Cove is a supremely pleasant place to spend time.

At high tide, it appears to be a pretty small, standard beach hidden behind the red cliffs of Roundham and the walls of the current harbour, but at low tide, there is plenty more to explore.

Fairy Cove.

For one, the remnants of Paignton’s history emerge if the tide moves far enough out, starting with a straight stone line heading out to the floating cardinal marker. The former walls of some of Paignton’s former industry (and construction of the present harbour) still partially exist, submerged under the sea, and provide a strangely artificial, linear addition to the rocks in this area. Despite a bookcase full of books on the history of the local area at my family’s home, I have only recently aimed to physically discover more about Paignton’s history on a more active basis. This stone line appears to either have once supported a crane or, due to the square shapes dotted down the wall, are designed to farm, filter, and process oysters. Either way, it’s intriguing what the sea can reveal in its ebb and flow.

Google Maps appears to show Fairy Cove at a higher tide, concealing what lies underneath.

Furthermore, a plethora of rock pools emerge as the sea retreats. As well as being a place for spotting sea life and the birds that like to perch on the taller rocks, more remnants of the old harbour’s past. A long pipe reaches out to the former stone wall, presumably now acting as an outflow from the current harbour or part of the drainage system of the town.

Paignton Harbour

Writing this in 2020, this section might be considered something of a work in progress as the harbour has undertaken something of a transformation across the last twelve months. Recent years have seen transformations undertaken of the Harbour Lights restaurant / bar, the small cafe (Molly Malone’s) and the smaller kiosks that sell boat trips and other such activities.

Paignton Harbour.

From Paignton Beach, access to the harbour is available through the archway, next to which a plaque exists that provides some insight into the harbour’s Victorian genesis. What has only existed at this spot for a matter of months, however, are the tables that belong to the fresh, new Harbour Lights bar. Once the Covid pandemic passes (which, writing in October 2020, feels somewhat fanciful), this will no doubt be an extremely popular spot to dine and drink.

Beyond the archway, one can head left towards the north arm of the harbour, straight ahead down the slipway towards the boats (and the water, unless the tide is out, at which point the harbour dries up somewhat), or right up the slope towards the road; it is in this direction that any longer walk will take place – namely, towards Roundham and/or Goodrington.

The inimitable thatched cottage that overlooks Paignton Beach, just before you enter the harbour.

Fairy Cove (mentioned previously) can also be reached from harbour, and is a delightful way to extend any walk around Paignton: simply follow the south quay (past the cafe and other offices/stalls) and descend the steps to the right at the end.

Preston Beach

Located between Paignton and Torquay, Preston is home to a further long stretch of beach and a green, as well as other shops, views of the bay, and woods further inland. Paignton Beach and Preston are separated by a small area of land that houses the Redcliffe Hotel, a small, exclusive entrance for which can be seen from the beach side of the land.

Walking to Preston Beach from Paignton is a simple two-minute walk along the road, but at low tide it is possible to remain entirely on the sands, keeping the Redcliffe Hotel on your left and the sea to your right.

The very north end of Preston Beach finishes with the red cliffs that hide Hollicombe on the other side. As with Fairy Cove, low tide reveals secrets of Paignton’s past, although the area around Hollicombe was once a far more industrial area, housing gasworks, a train station, and an area for loading and unloading boats. Old tramlines can be seen when the tide is low enough, identifying the industry that once took place here.

A winter’s look back to Hollicombe, Preston, and Paignton, and Roundham.

Roundham

Moving south again, I spent a great deal of time on Roundham Head growing up. Whether it was with my Grandfather playing Pitch and Putt (how the green on the headland was formerly used in the nineties) or watching the Red Arrows perform from the cliffs, Roundham is a place to get good views of Paignton and Goodrington.

A way to walk and include the harbour, Fairy Cove, and Roundham, before descending to Goodrington.

Roundham head can be enjoyed simply by sticking to the path – the outer path that follows the cliffside allows you to look back out to the sea. At first, you can look back to Paignton and Torquay, but later on you will reach the top of the cliff gardens, from the top of which you can observe Goodrington and Brixham through a series of manicured flowers and trees. The cliff gardens are a lovely way to head down to the seaside at Goodrington, but you can also continue right on to the road, at which point there is a steep hill that can be followed (referred to by my Grandfather as ‘Breakneck Hill’, although I cannot confirm if this nomenclature is popular with anybody else!).

On Roundham Head, this time look back towards Torquay.
From Roundham Head, looking at the sea at Goodrington.

Goodrington

We end our exploration of Paignton’s seafront at Goodrington, although this is by no means where the coastal treasures end in Torbay. Separated by a small piece of land that holds The Inn on The Quay, Goodrington Sands North and South are a worthy visit. For me, they usually act as a starting point for any walk to Broadsands, Churston Cove, and, eventually, Brixham, but Goodrington is a popular destination for holidaymakers and locals alike.

I must confess that despite the popularity of the beaches, I do believe without a doubt that the best, prettiest walk in the Goodrington area is the coastal path to Broadsands and, eventually, Brixham. Time it well and you may spot an old steam train chugging beside you, operating the popular local route between Paignton and Kingswear.

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