Built in 1926, Babbacombe Cliff Railway has been ferrying holiday makers and local residents up and down the cliff face to and from Oddicombe Beach for nearly 100 years. In 1923 the Torquay Tramway Company announced its intention to install a lift up the side of the cliff face to assist with easy access and in December 1924 construction work started taking two years to complete at a cost of £15,648. The track runs for more than 200 metres and the ride removes the need for a steep and arduous walk.
On April 1, 1926 the Mayor of Torquay, Alderman John Taylor, made the maiden trip in the lift car and he was issued with the very first ticket which was put in a silver frame and presented to him by Mr H Thomas, the lessee of Oddicombe Beach.
In 1935 the Cliff Railway changed hands and Torquay Corporation took over operational duties at a cost of £18,000. It was closed in 1941 due to war time restrictions that also saw the beach sealed off. The railway reopened in June 1951. Since it first opened millions of people have used the line and it has had an excellent safety record.
At the end of every working day a ship’s bell is rung to signal that the rail lift is closing. The bell was salvaged from the Scandinavian vessel the ‘Talga’ and the ringing signifies the last lift cars are about to finish for the day. The lift cars are licensed to hold civil wedding ceremonies and are popular with local people as they offer a unique and interesting alternative to a traditional venue.
Visitors get a fantastic seascape view from the lift car as it descends from the top of the cliff and Oddicombe Beach is very popular with tourists. It is a shingle rather than a sand beach but visitors can hire deck chairs and the facilities are good.
However, the area is known for coastal erosion and in 2010 and 2013 part of the beach had to be closed as thousands of tons of red earth and sandstone came crashing down taking with it whatever stood in its way. The cliffs and sea defenses are regularly inspected by engineers because of the terrain. Property owners in one of the most expensive parts of the UK are aware that they face losing their homes if they are too near the cliff edge.
Oddicombe Beach is a “Blue Flag” beach which is largely seen as the ‘best’ standard afforded. It has also been awarded a ‘Quality Coast’ Award. Few UK beaches receive the Quality Coast Award and they are given for meeting global standards on quality, sustainability and the best destinations for nature, culture and the environment. There are 105, ‘Quality Coast Awards’ in the British Isles all meeting a stringent criteria.
The route of the cliff railway follows a natural gulley in the cliff face that leads from the beach to top. It’s believed that this was once a secret, if difficult, route used by smugglers to bypass the revenue men that watched the more accessible paths. Babbacombe was well known as a haven for smuggling from the early 1700’s to the end of the early 1900’s due to its position opposite to the Channel island of Guernsey. The village is said to have numerous secret tunnels and hideaways that are still being rediscovered today.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Dartmouth Road, Stoke Fleming, Dartmouth
Devon, England, TQ6 0RF
+44 (0)1548 580 538
- Address: 11 Babbacombe Downs Road, Torquay, Torbay TQ1 3LF, UK
- GPS: 50.48106461694789,-3.517765784655694
- Phone: 0044 (0)1803 328 750
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: 3LF, UK
- Entrance Fees: Charges Apply
- Disabled Access: Good
- Visibility from Road: Good (Top Station)
- Image Credits: Ian Woolcock