Who doesn’t love a train? If it was practical, I’d use that mode of transport everywhere I went – and happily dispense with cars.
So, there was never any question that I wouldn’t investigate Babbacombe Cliff Railway – especially when I discovered it was located just a few hundred metres from our Devon base. Even better, the railway runs down from the top of beautiful Babbacombe Downs to Oddicombe Beach, which we spent some very enjoyable time exploring, culminating in a delicious lunch at Three Degrees West.
What we also discovered about Oddicombe Beach is that it plays host to an excellent Visitor Centre telling the story of Babbacombe Cliff Railway, which will celebrate its centenary in seven years’ time. Free of charge, it’s exactly the kind of quirky and informative resource that I enjoy exploring.
Strange to say that there was much public resistance when the idea of a funicular railway was first mooted – and rejected – in 1897. Indeed, one of the local papers opined “A considerable section of the public, who look upon the preservation of Nature’s beauty as of greater importance than the savings of one’s legs and shoe leather, will inwardly rejoice at the decision”.
The suggestion for a funicular railway had been put forward by Sir George Newnes MP, a very successful publisher of magazines who spent his winters in Torquay. Having financed the construction of Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway, which opened in 1896, he was keen to fund a similar railway in Babbacombe – at his own expense. However, the local Council rejected his proposal.
By the 1920s, attitudes were changing and, following a public inquiry, Royal Assent was achieved; construction began in 1924. The project was in good hands, being run by George Marks, the man behind the Clifton and Aberystwyth funicular railways – and Babbacombe Cliff Railway opened on 1st April 1926. Its first passenger, Mayor Alderman Taylor, was presented with a ticket set in a silver block.
Needless to say, the Railway has experienced its fair share of triumphs and challenges over the years – and I loved the collections of press clippings and postcards on display in the Visitor Centre, which date back to 1897 and describe the railway’s history far more eloquently than any blog post could ever do. Unsurprisingly, World War II was a particularly difficult time and in 1941 the Railway was closed due to wartime restrictions.
At the close of the War, an inspection found there had been considerable deterioration in the condition of the cars and the operating equipment. It wasn’t until 1951 that the Railway reopened.
These days, Babbacombe Cliff Railway transports around 125,000 people every year, providing its passengers with stunning views of the English Riviera. Having undergone a complete refurbishment in 2005, the Railway was taken over by Babbacombe Cliff Railway Community Interest Company, who describe themselves as “committed to the preservation and protection of the Railway to ensure it will continue to be a community asset for current and future generations of tourists and residents to enjoy”.
And that’s one of the nicest things about Babbacombe Cliff Railway: it’s loved and used equally by visitors and locals. An integral part of the Torbay landscape, long may it continue to weave its way up and down those picturesque cliffs.