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Tuesday, February 19, 2013
If there is a more peaceful and calming way to fall asleep than listening to the waves lap against the shore, I have yet to find it.
And the effect is enhanced on a cold winter night –cosy and warm in your bed with a robust gale conjuring up breakers on the rocks outside. That, above all else, is my abiding memory from my stolen weekend nestled at the Cary Arms in Babbacombe Bay.
And a relaxing break was certainly just the tonic – booked as a treat to get away from a hectic month spent first buying, and then redecorating, a new house.
A few weeks spent amongst half unpacked boxes and endless rolls of wallpaper, and tempers were beginning to fray at Dean Mansions.
On top of a hectic workload it was all getting a bit too much – and to no one’s surprise I nearly missed the train – running at full tilt down platform one of Paddington station and hopping on to the carriage at the very last minute.
From there it was plain sailing. The First Great Western train had us at our destination in a couple of hours, and with London already fading from our minds we descended the unfeasibly steep hill to our hotel.
The Cary Arms has stood proud on the cliffs of Babbacombe Bay, a secluded little beach on the outskirts of Torquay, since the 1800s.
It occupies a part of coast with the rather grand title of the English Riviera, and while it may not quite have the majesty of it’s French cousin, its certainly a thoroughly pleasant part of the country. While I suspect it is a belter of a getaway in the summer, on our January visit it really was the last word in winter warmth.
It was a thoroughly miserable night on our arrival, but after a couple of looseners by the roaring fire the world outside soon melted away.
And the restaurant is no slouch either – chef Ben Kingdon has created a simple, but effective menu full of local ingredients, most notably from the sea, which lurks a mere stone’s throw from the kitchen.
The smoked salmon was firm and tangy, while the mussels were done to perfection in their garlic, cream, shallot and white wine broth. And just to prove the red meat is up to scratch, we had the duck and the sirloin, both cooked without frills to a very high standard.
The best part was that, replete after a good meal and plenty of wine, a mere stagger took us to our room where, with the door ajar to hear the aforementioned waves, a deep and restful sleep was soon upon us. It’s hard to impart how peaceful this little corner of Devon is. As dawn broke we watched the fishermen go about their day from our terrace as the gulls wheeled and called out in the brittle blue sky. A long soak in the elegant free standing tub, then a delicate salmon and eggs breakfast and coffee, poring over the papers, and it was easy to forget the bruising commute of the morning before.
Out of season, Torquay seems to be populated by quite a few folk of the older persuasion, which was all right by us and we embarked on a bracing stroll from Babbacombe to Oddicombe beaches, admiring the views over the sea and nodding warm hellos to octogenarian dog walkers.
From there, with the singular cliff railway system closed for the winter, it was a not insignificant hike up the steep hill and through the forest to town – worth it for the stunning vistas at the top, however.
Despite the town’s attractions – predominantly a model village and a Bygones museum – we wilfully resisted and browsed some impressive vintage shops. My girlfriend picked up some crystal cut wine glasses for a song, while persuading me not to part with £900 for a decommissioned Polish WWII service revolver.
A stroll back down Babbacomde Downs is a treat – manicured grass lawns with plenty of benches, bordered on one side by a series of watering holes and on the other by a sharp drop to the sea.
It was the kind of day that demands an afternoon nap, and with this in the bag we popped to the on-site treatment rooms for a half an hour back rub apiece. Bliss, I think, would be an accurate description.
With the rain still holding off, we thought an evening in the town might be in order, although the solitary road that leads to the Cary Arms is so steep we decided to call a taxi. It was nice to get out and about and we found the locals a congenial bunch, befriending some while we munched on a cracking curry at a restaurant called Himalaya, of which we had heard great things.
By this time the heavens had truly opened, and we huddled en masse down to the Babbacombe Inn, on the front, as we heard there was entertainment.
As someone who has spent a while in old people’s homes, the scene on the dancefloor was not unfamiliar, nor were the crooning tones of the singer. It was all good clean fun and we bid goodbye to our new-found friends and headed out into the windswept night.
The next day, after a post- breakfast stroll on the beach, it was a wrench to leave this tranquil idyll and head back to London’s maelstrom.
But we were recharged and refreshed, in the knowledge we could return in the summer to recharge again.