Beside the Seaside, Beside the Sea


One of Babbacombe’s last  fisherman, Bill Burgoyne, was guaranteed to make every one laugh with his tales:

Bill recalled how he and another fisherman scrambled down the cliff at Walls Hill one day in great turmoil.  Apparently there was a body washed up on the rocks below, but on reaching it they discovered it was a dressmaker’s mannequin!  Not to let an opportunity go by, however, they took the mannequin back to the beach, dressed it up and strung it up on the end of the pier, causing much astonishment to passengers in the pleasure boats rounding the point ………… had John Lee met his end on the gallows at last?!

On another occasion, Bill had landed a basking shark, which as was customary, he laid out on the beach but overnight it disappeared.  Evidently some students had taken it and the next day it caused much consternation when it was discovered in a horse trough in the main street of Exeter!

Rest in peace Bill, you are missed.

When I was about 13 years old, I was very intrigued with under-water spear fishing, which had been in films I’d seen.  I decided to make one ….. and a face mask ….. no need for a snorkel, I just held my breath!!  Duly armed, I set off for Little Oddicombe and proceeded to try out my new gear and skills.  Whilst everything went to plan and all worked O.K.  I didn’t catch a thing!  Perhaps, because I only swam in about five feet of water ….. well within my depth!

Jim Gill

When my son became interested in fishing we used to spend all weekend on Babbacombe pier.  There were quite a group of regulars who all had favorite positions on the beach and pier.  We would get to the beach by 9am and usually stay until 9pm.  Car parking was free then and without time restrictions.  On one particularly hot day, one of the anglers caught a fish and placed it on the pier stonework.  The sun and the concrete were so hot that it started to cook but no-one tried to eat it.

Verna Stuckey

One summer day in Torquay

(a real live Enid Blyton story) by Sylvia Lee

Memories of childhood beside the sea in Torquay reflect the way of life during the late forties and fifties when children explored their surroundings to entertain themselves.  The countryside and the numerous beaches located along the coast offered opportunities to experience nature in beautiful surroundings.  Thanks to our parents allowing us the freedom to venture independently they trusted our judgement to explore the coastal areas within expected limits ensuring a safe return to our home at the end of the day.  These summer outings were common during the school holidays on days when our parents were busy with their work and other activities.  Week-ends were more often than not reserved for family outings and picnics on Dartmoor or visits to small towns along the coast.  So one day long ago with a knapsack of cucumber sandwiches and lemonade we set out early in the morning, a group of friends anticipating the day with a spirit of adventure.

During those years adventure stories by Enid Blyton provided popular reading for us and as a group we were inspired to create our own real life experiences exploring the coast and giving names to beaches and coves, caves and cliffs in the area.  There were four of us keen to bring our imagination to life and so one day on Walls Hill we decided to climb down a steep incline to a promontory jutting out towards the sea concealing a large cave which was accessible during low tide.  As we made our way towards the incline across the grass covered hillside, laughing and chatting, we clambered over rugged rocks momentarily stopping to pick wild flowers growing beside small trees swaying in the breeze.  Gulls cried overhead diving towards the sea below.  The thrill of adventure and exploration inspired us to climb down the steepest part of the incline not heeding the slip of a foot as we descended closer to the cove, the cave visible by this time.   A small beach covered with white pebbles enabled us to walk into the cave.  We named the promontory “Seagull Island” not an island as such but at that time it was right for our imagination.

Hurrying across the beach we scrambled over large rocks eager to reach our destination unaware of the incoming high tide which would ultimately almost trap us inside.  Our voices echoed as we entered the large rocky chamber peering into the interior hoping to find some secret passage-way which led to yet another unknown adventure.  Sitting cross-legged on a ledge we ate our cucumber sandwiches and drank our lemonade, ravenous following our challenging decent to the promontory.  As the tide turned and the waves lapped against the side of the ledge where we were sitting the sea level was rising rapidly inside the cave and suddenly we became aware that it was time to leave.

So our adventure that day came to an abrupt end as we quickly paddled and splashed our way towards the beach jumping onto the promontory as the waves rippled towards the cove.  Scrambling towards safety clambering over large boulders we assisted each other to climb the steep incline breathless but happy to have achieved our adventure together arriving home safely with plenty of stories to tell about our day.

Growing up in Torquay we were fortunate to live in an area well known for the beautiful countryside and scenic beaches located along the coast of Torbay.  There were no computers or television at that time so it was natural to create our play in the nature around us. In recent years, the age of technology, children prefer to sit at the computer and surf the web looking for new and exciting things.  Playing outside and exploring nature is a pastime long forgotten and yet is there now a void in the lives of children?  Many believe that exploratory play in the nature is an essential part of child development as it nurtures creative skills and develops respect for the natural environment.  No doubt the opportunity to explore the beaches and countryside of Torbay when we were young contributed to an inherent love for nature.

Boys rock

Little Oddicombe and Boys Rock (the gentlemens bathing place) was where the “boys” would gather for a swim.  Some of the more daring lads, would climb up the cliff face and jump into the sea ….. and one lad would swim out to the big rock, just off the shore and jump from its’ highest point.  Not for me …. I didn’t have the nerve.

Jim Gill

…… there must be many who remember diving and jumping off “Boys Rock” or the Gentlemens’ diving platform at the Petitor end of Oddicombe beach.  Unfortunately there were rare accidents sometimes either due to low water or a slipped footing at the wrong moment  and very occasionally an ambulance had to be called.

Verna Stuckey

We’ve had many early-morning swims with our children over the years.  Once, I was dared by our three little ones to streak into the sea.  (It was at the time when it was happening at the big cricket matches, ect.)   No-one else was about.  So I did ….. to their amazement!

Jim Gill

Our three beaches

(A Boys Own story) by Peter Biggs

These are just a few of my recollections of times spent on our three beaches.  Access to the beaches was rather difficult during the war years but, as soon as the threat of invasion was over, we would go mostly to Babbacombe beach where we all quickly learnt to swim.  A good test of proficiency was to swim from the Pier to Oddicombe, the better swimmers swam back again whilst the remainder took the alternative route of scrambling over the rocks back to Babbacombe.

The Pier was a magnet in the summer evenings because the sun had gone from the beaches but still shone on the Pier.  Jumping and diving from here was great fun in the warm sunshine, I can remember the braver ones diving off Red Rock but only at very high tide.

Provided we were prepared to do little tasks for the boatmen and fishermen we were allowed to go out in the rowing boats free of charge so long as holiday makers didn’t want to hire them.  I remember one occasion when one of the lads acquired a very large wooden canoe, it was ceremoniously carried across Walls Hill and down to Redgate beach.  We had several trips out in it but, as it leaked rather badly, one of the occupants always had to do the baling out rather furiously.  However it soon became damaged and unusable.

Whilst I was still at school I got a job on Oddicombe beach at weekends.  Here there were almost 40 rowing boats, two Motor Cruisers and a Speedboat all run by Stan Oldham.  Stan was a very kindly man who had served in the Royal Navy in the first World war at the battle of Jutland.  I was never lucky enough to be employed on the motor boats but sometimes I can still hear the shouts of ‘Trip around the Bay’ or ‘Last boat to Torquay’.  Our job was to look after the rowing boats, assisting passengers in and out which was a difficult task if the sea was a bit choppy.  At the end of the day we had to pull all the rowing boats up the beach to above the water line, not easy as the beach was nearly all pebbles.

After I had left school and started work, I still worked on the beach in the evenings as well as the weekends and when we finished we always had a swim in the sea possibly out to one of the rafts, moored approximately 50 yards out to sea, before going home.  What blissful memories of those happy, sunny days and balmy evenings!

Oddicombe and Babbacombe

In 1940 my Mothers’ youngest sister and her baby son were evacuated from the London bombings to stay with us in Hartop Road.  My uncle was in the navy so my cousin Brian and I were like brother and sister for about three years and we were taken to Oddicombe and Babbacombe almost every day during the summer.

  Mary Gill

In my mid teens, I went with friends for an evening dip on Oddicombe.  The sea was very rough and we should not have gone in but, we saw no danger, only fun.  One big wave sucked me under and tossed me up onto the beach like a bouncing ball.  I never went into a sea like that again.  A lesson learned!  Jim Gill

Sometimes, we went to the small cove around the corner from Babbacombe beach we called it “Little Babbacombe”….. took a little stove and frying pan and had a cooked breakfast after our early morning swim.

Mary Gill

When we were kids, if the weather was good, mornings were spent on the beach.  Usually we went to Corbyn’s Head.  As a very small boy, I used to run unaccompanied between Corbyn’s Head and the ponds at Torre Abbey, where I used to sail a toy yacht.  These days, no parent would let a small child cross those roads, but there was less traffic then.  Sometimes we would go to Oddicombe, but we always felt cheated because there was no sand there!

Anon for obvious reasons

Ansteys Cove and Redgate Beach

It was in the 1890’s that Jonathan Thomas’s poem first appeared at Ansteys Cove

“Picnics supplied with hot water and tea,

At a nice little house down by the sea,

Fresh crabs and lobsters every day,

Salmon peel sometimes red mullet and grey,

The neatest of pleasure boats let out to hire,

Fishing tackle as good as you can desire,

Bathing machines for ladies are kept,

With towels and gowns quite correct,

Thomas is the man who provides everything,

And also teaches young people to swim”.

I am sure there are many that remember working for Mr Thomas on his boats and other enterprises on the beach.  Many of the local boys would do this for a summer job.

Verna Stuckey