The first stop on our Devon adventure: and it’s all aboard the Babbacombe Cliff Railway

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.

Intrepid mother-and-daughter duo about to embark upon a very special train ride

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.

7 comments

    • You should definitely do so the next time you find yourself in Devon: it’s great fun. What’s also lovely is seeing Torquay undergoing something of a renaissance: I think it’s fair to say that the British seaside fell out of fashion for a while, but that seems to be changing and new hotels, shops and restaurants are springing up all over the place. Really good to see.

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      • It was some years ago now and we stayed in The Grand as it said it was Agatha Christie’s favourite hotel in Torquay, unfortunately it wasn’t as grand as we were expecting. One assumes they must have sold off land as there was limited car parking which is not good for me, especially if I take the old car and was looking a little shabby inside. They were doing deals for coach parties which meant we were inflicted with drunken revellers doing the conga through the bar, I imagine Agatha Christie would not have been amused. I haven’t however written the place off entirely and am willing to give it a second chance. I like Devon and Cornwall and would love to stay at The Burgh Island Hotel but it’s a little expensive for a visit this year as I have too many trips booked already.

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      • I’m certain Agatha Christie would have been distinctly unamused, especially as she was teetotal! But in fairness, I stayed at The Grand recently and had quite a good experience: I agree that it doesn’t quite live up to its ‘grand’ name (what a curse that must be), but parts of it have been refurbished, there’s a nice bar & dining area, the bedroom was clean & comfy and the pool area is lovely (admittedly, we were lucky with the weather). I would go back, especially as it’s so easy to reach by train (the parking remains limited).

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