Kents Cavern

Bears, Hyenas and Scimitar Toothed Cats…the rowdy mob have been coming to Torquay since pre-history.

Today started as a visit to the local play-cafe. You know the sort of place; dozens of kids charging about exercising their lungs, great castles of garish plastic architecture and Dad’s with a compromised look about them, (there’s a pub next door).

Fortunately for me the place was packed to capacity on account of the appalling weather, (a grey damp sky that seemed to be sat on the floor), so after a quick tour of Torre we left.

On our ‘visit list’ is Kents Cavern the famous cave network up in the all together posher Wellswood. They must think we are posh too; they’re charging for parking in a largely empty car park. No thanks, I parked on the road for free, (details of that below).

Gambling with Huey’s sleep (a long shot with frankly shit odds), we make the last tour of the day at 3.30pm. Our tour guide is a friendly chap called Simon who takes our tickets with a smile then takes us underground…

The first cave is a wide open space where Simon introduces you to the history of Kents Cavern set to a light show. It’s kind of cool and our small group dutifully stand listening and snapping pictures. I’m keen to get going though as I’m just beginning to wonder what Huey will make of this subterranean disco if he wakes up!

The caves are a beautiful, fascinating affair as you’d expect and Simon tells a good story that is a mix of legend and science. He points out a ‘flow-stone’ that with a little imagination is a huge face revered as a God by Roman visitors on account of the coins and valuable left here. Then he goes on to explain how the flow-stone forms; the constant, steady flow of water depositing calcite over the years.

We eventually reach what I’d think of as the classic cave; the postcard shot full of impressive Stalactites and stalagmites. Simon invites us to tell him if we know the difference between the two and in response our little group, rather smug with our completed secondary education, are all quietly muttering, ‘tites are the ones hanging tight’.

What he says next though gently breaks our smug spell and he has our full attention. Those ‘mites and ‘tites are rather old. Not decades old, not even centuries old, but old, old. If I’ve heard this right, he informs us it takes a thousand years to grow a few centimetres. The impressive stalactite to our left standing about 3ft tall has taken over 50’000 years to form…

I’m having one of those mortal moments we all get from time to time whilst looking at the night sky. That feeling that your time and existence here is virtually nothing in comparison to the universe. This rock formation doesn’t care if it’s a mite or a tite, it doesn’t care for presidential inaugurations or World Wars, it doesn’t even care for global climate change as it certainly wasn’t bothered by the last Ice Age.

This mighty ‘mite was here before the earths plates shifted and gave us the English Channel. The group is indifferent or tuned into this fact, either way they are all silent taking this in. Drip, drip, drip….for 50’000 years. The timescales here are literally counted in geological ages.

During this time Simon explains the caves have had successions of inhabitants. He describes the Hyenas, Lions, Bears and big cats that all lived here. He shows us reproductions of actual bone remains that have been excavated and found.

Coming back to recent times he introduces the idea of man living here and it turns out that Kents Cavern has been put on the ‘archaeologically important’ map. A jaw bone fragment found here from modern man, us, has been dated to be 40’000 years old. This turned out was some 30’000 years older than the original timeline for Homo sapiens living in this part of Europe. I imagine it caused quite a stir.

On the way out there’s a little exhibit of cave-men sat around a fire. Bec’s points out that they have a baby with them and is aghast trying to imagine how hard life could possibly have been. They are working with flint stones, catching their food and trying not to become food to the Hyenas…we can’t imagine. Later we look up how long they lived for; a lucky lifespan of 25 years.

For all that though, I am struck by a thought on our exit. Despite all our modern distractions and comforts, the bricks and mortar, the heating, the internet and iPad we chose to come here today. We have chosen to do exactly what our prehistoric ancestors did on a shit-awful January day. We’ve gone to the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs looking for shelter in the caves.


Free parking for Kents Cavern, Torquay

You can find this right on Ilsham Road outside the car park for the caves. We’ve been through here dozens of times and always seen spaces.

Head for postcode TQ1 2JF.

Is Kents Cavern suitable for a baby?

We managed perfectly well with Huey in a sling. A small narrow pushchair would be O.K not a big stroller. Best bet is the sling. The ground is firm and stable if a little damp in places.

Beach Hut

Family day out at Meadfoot’s modern take on the seaside chalet…

beach chalet views meadfoot beach
room with a view

I’ve noticed certain activities that the residents of tourist towns tend to partake in, only when visitors are staying over. Ferris wheel rides, open top bus tours and the local site seeing tram all come to mind.
For me, the guilty pleasure I have been waiting to indulge is the hiring of a beach hut. A lot of the Torbay beaches have them and for many weeks I have been the passer-by, nosily peering inside to check out the interiors.

With grandparent’s keen to visit this was all the justification I needed to get on to Torbay Council and hire a hut. During the phone call I quickly learnt that they are not huts at all, but beach ‘chalets’. I couldn’t contain my grin, but instead of laughing fell in line with the correct vernacular, ‘yes please I’d like to hire a beach chalet!’

Having now been I would like to say I believe they are worthy of chalet status as these are no tatty, shed-on-sea. The chalets at Meadfoot Beach were completely rebuilt I believe in 2015, at a cost to the council of 1.6 million pounds, some serious investment. They are a modern, heavy duty affair set in two tiers that follow the lovely, natural curve of the coast wall. A detail I particularly like is the use of colour. Bucking the usual multi-coloured trend the Meadfoot chalets have been painted in a restricted pallet of random blues, reflecting of course the adjacent sky and sea. Genius.
The exact chalet I booked was located on the upper deck. These are up above the main thoroughfare and as such have the effect of a private balcony. For the labour of climbing another set of stairs you also get better views. Entering from the back, these are presented to you only as you open the doors from the inside and they really are, magnificent.

Please click the pictures below to load in full size:

To begin with, the 5 of us shuffle out to the balcony and quietly take in the scene in front of us, for late September its pretty spectacular. Then, without introduction or guidance we are busy collectively doing what chalet residents do best, making ourselves at home and getting the kettle on. These views are best appreciated from the deck chairs (provided) and with a cup of tea.

Huey is also a happy chappy. He has grandparents as captive play friends and a bag of toys soon strewn about the chalet and balcony floor. Having spent a fair bit of time with them before our move he is clearly very comfortable in their company allowing Mum and Dad to go for a swim!

Hiring the chalet turns out not to be a self indulgence but a really lovely day out for everyone. The shelter, privacy and home comforts make it a unique day at the beach, a day with an end that comes too quickly…Who is coming to stay next?


How to rent / hire a chalet at Meadfoot Beach…

From the Torbay.gov.uk website it seems some people have these hired for the whole season. A number are also available for day hire at £28.oo a day, in my opinion, a real bargain.

email beachhuts@torbay.gov.uk

or call to book on 01803 208024

There is limited free parking along Meadfoot Beach Road and we have never had a problem getting a space here.

Other facilities nearby…

If you’ve not come prepared with food and drink, there is the lovely Meadfoot Beach Cafe along the same promenade.

There is also decent, clean public loo’s located on the roadside just above the cafe.

Watcombe Beach

This beach is minutes from Torquay but for some reason it’s taken us a long time to check it out. When we finally do go, it’s late in September and the ‘end of season’ feeling is extraordinary.

watcombe beach torquay devon
sea glimpses on the descent

As we reach the final turn bringing the beach into view it’s evident that its completely deserted, save for a couple who are changing into wetsuits to swim. The silence and desertion is eerie, especially in contrast to the ‘standing room only’ we witnessed only a week or so ago at Maidencombe Beach.

Continue reading “Watcombe Beach”