Car-free adventures aroundTorquayDevon
Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890 and the town’s landmarks feature in her mysteries. The palm trees and art nouveau pavilion, the elegant hotels and seaside promenades all feel like something from a novel. With a balmy south-facing microclimate in the shelter of Dartmoor, the area is known as the English Riviera and tropical plants flourish in the Victorian villa gardens. Torquay is an ideal staycation town for a car-free holiday, with buses, boats, a mini-train, some fabulous walks, and two railway stations – with a great scenic ride along the coast on the way. Scroll to the end for tips on bargain bus tickets and handy places to stay.
1. The Agatha Christie Mile
The first of our Torquay car-free adventures. Along Torquay’s seafront, between the Grand and Imperial Hotels, this short literary trail with seven plaques takes you past city sights relating to the queen of crime’s life and works. Agatha Christie spent her honeymoon night at the Grand Hotel on Christmas Eve 1914 and Archie had proposed to her after a Wagner concert at the Pavillion. She roller-skated on Princess Pier and swam at Beacon Cove.
- The Grand Hotel is a minute’s walk from Torquay Railway station. Turn right towards the seafront and you’ll see it ahead. Guests can still stay in the Agatha Christie Suite.
- Turn left towards the big wheel. The Princess Gardens below the wheel feature in The ABC Murders and the Imperial Hotel in three different novels.
- Don’t miss the bronze bust of Agatha Christie on Palk Street, near the Pavilion. It was created in 1990 to celebrate the centenary of her birth.
- Torquay Museum on Babbacombe Road has the UK’s only dedicated Agatha Christie Gallery – it’s on a mezzanine on the second floor, between displays about nearby Kent’s Cavern and the Egyptian galleries upstairs.
- Greenway, the Christie family’s 1950s holiday home is not far from Torquay – get there by steam train from Paignton or by ferry along the River Dart.
- Visit the camellia-filled wooded gardens and the boathouse, murder scene from the Poirot mystery Dead Man’s Folly.
- Anyone trying to drive to Greenway has to pre-book a parking slot; it’s much more fun to use green ways to get to Greenway. You can get there by steam railway or sail from Dartmouth or take the wooden ferry from Dittisham.
- The pretty town of Paignton is five minutes by train or fifteen by bus (12 and 122) from Torquay. Catch a steam train from Paignton to the request halt at Greenway, where there’s a shuttle bus or half hour walk through the woods. The steam railway links into some fabulous train-boat-bus itineraries that mean the adventure could easily last all day.
2. Take the Land Train to Torre Abbey
There are several easy ways to get to this monastery-turned-art gallery in subtropical gardens backed by sand and sea. And it’s a great place to get coffee and cake if you need to wait for a train.
- Torre Abbey is a three-minute stroll from Torquay’s train station and several seafront buses stop nearby, between Abbey Meadows and the long sandy beach.
- Or you can hop on Torquay’s little Land Train, which passes several local hotels and stops at Torre Abbey, where you get 40% off entry when you show your Land Train ticket. The train runs from 9.30am and the full route takes 45 minutes.
- The abbey’s museum has several floors – start at the top with 800 years of the history (twelfth-century Torre Abbey was one of England’s richest monasteries) and work your way down through the eclectic art galleries and grand halls to the medieval undercroft.
- When you need refreshments, the café is a superb place for lunch with tables on the sea-facing terrace and armchairs inside by the fire. Try the orange and poppy seed cake!
- Don’t miss Torre Abbey’s gardens, with a palm house full of creeping colour and an Agatha Christie-inspired poison garden.