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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Babbacombe Cliff Railway

Originally published on Blogspot by Gethin Thomas on 1st January 2022

So here is the Landmark Thing I mentioned in my last post and if you are not into cliff railways or railways in general then by now you are disappointed. We knew it was there but had not visited it until some friends recently went and waxed lyrical about it. To wax lyrical is one of those really strange English terms that one uses but never really gives thought to. Until now.

To Wax Lyrical - to talk in a highly enthusiastic and effusive way. Chiefly British, informal. It dates from the latter half of the 19th century.

In this instance wax has nothing to do with bees or candles or smooth chests, but is used in the arcane sense, as to grow large, as in the waxing and waning of the moon or to grow towards. So one grows towards the act of being lyrical. Other than use in this term and the waxing of the moon the word is obsolete.

Wane is still used however, as in good manners are on the wane. Which they are, particularly on Social Media, where a simple question about rooks making a noise can lead to armed warfare about speeding traffic, two streets away. That actually happened. Apart from the armed warfare bit, it was more of a heated debate with little or nothing to do with rooks and a lot of waning good manners. I would like to blame the mass insanity on Covid restrictions but I think it predates them.

But I digress. Having had a great breakfast (you need to see the other post) here we are at our destination Landmark Thing.

Babbacombe Cliff Railway is a funicular railway in the town of Torquay in the English county of Devon. It links Babbacombe Downs with Oddicombe Beach. The line runs every day, with a closure period in winter for maintenance.

In February 1923, the Torquay Tramway Company commissioned Waygood-Otis Ltd with the engineering and construction of the railway. Construction started in 1924, and the line was first opened on 1 April 1926. The line cost £15,648 to construct.

That is £642,489.67 in today's money which makes the £2.90 return fare look like a bargain. In 1926 that would also have bought you 47,418 days of skilled labour, assuming those skilled labourers weren't on strike.

The 1926 general strike in the United Kingdom was a general strike that lasted nine days, from 4 to 12 May 1926. It was called by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in an unsuccessful attempt to force the British government to act to prevent wage reductions and worsening conditions for 1.2 million locked-out coal miners. Some 1.7 million workers went out, especially in transport and heavy industry. There was little violence and the TUC gave up in defeat.

But I digressed again.

The tramway company continued to work the line until 13 March 1935, when it was taken over by Torquay Borough Council. The line was closed in 1941, due to World War II security restrictions.

Presumably someone realised that Nazi hordes could potentially land on Oddicombe beach and for just the equivalent of £2.10 in today's money (because they would only have been interested in a one way ticket) could have launched a mass invasion of Britain, 40 soldiers at a time, forty being the load limit of the carriages.

It reopened in 1951 after modernisation by Messrs J & E Hall of Dartford. The railway underwent further refurbishment in 1993 and a three-year programme of renovation commenced in November 2005.

I have to say it looks absolutely perfect and is immaculately looked after and unlike some other Cliff Railways I have ridden on, gives no hint of wanting to plummet you to your death before the day is out, which frankly was part of the appeal of them, that "is today the day" feeling, a bit like skydiving.

There is a distinct Art Deco feel to the whole thing, which is a design aesthetic very much related to the seaside in Britain. Another major attraction nearby is the equally British genteel seaside pleasure of wandering around a Model Village which I will cover another time. What better way to spend your annual holiday than strolling through a picturesque Devon village where the chimneys reach the dizzying heights of your kneecaps and the pasties are mere thumbnails of meaty flaky pastry goodness.

On April 1st 1926 the then Mayor of Torquay, Alderman John Taylor, made the first trip. His ticket, number A000, was framed in silver by Mr H Thomas, the lessee of Oddicombe Beach and presented to the Mayor.

In 1935, 192,000 people used the railway, which gives some indication of how long a potential Nazi invasion could have taken, forty men at a time. The toilets down below at thirty pence a go would not have been able to cope with all the waiting troops.

Affectionately known as the ‘Jewel in the crown of the English Riviera’, the beach resort of Babbacombe includes a great range of things to do and see in a quiet, laid back setting. Despite being right next to the vibrant Torquay, you’ll find that Babbacombe is amazingly secluded, and with picturesque views and warm weather all year round it’s the ideal location to enjoy the best of South Devon.

So atrociously bad has education now become in the Western World that the following description can "basically" be found "like" in an online guide. "Babbacombe is basically an area of Torquay, just a mile from the harbour, but it does have some individual attractions." That's right, "The Jewel in the Crown of the English Riviera", "is basically an area of Torquay". No doubt some millennial is in thirty grand's worth of debt, having spent their best years quivering in fear at the thought of other people's disturbing ideas, in order to come up with that sentence. I normally put a link to my research references but in this case it could be deemed cruel. "Only a quarter of a mile away is the pretty town of St Marychurch where there is a pedestrianised precinct with banks, cafés, pubs and more shops. St Marychurch is mentioned in the Doomsday Book."

More shops? I must go, I wonder if the shops are listed in the Doomsday Book?

The bays along the English Channel are often home to passing traffic in the busiest shipping lanes in the world. They are a bit like taxi drivers hovering outside in the street because they are a bit early.

This ship is the Mittelplate and was at anchor here in Lyme Bay just off Babbacombe. The wind was Southwesterly at force 6 Beaufort. The vessel was en route from Dunkirk France to Eregli Turkey in the Black Sea. It is a general cargo ship built in 2009 and registered in Gibraltar. All of this information is readily available on Marine Radar, a free app that I always use in cases like this. A year ago there were up to six of the largest cruise ships in the world at anchor here at different times, all laid up for the pandemic.

Oddicombe Beach is a popular beach, noted for its interesting breccia cliffs, below the Babbacombe district of Torbay, Devon in England. The beach includes many facilities which include a cafe, beach hut and deck chair hire, a beach shop, trampolines, motor boat hire, pedalo hire and kayak hire. Those Breccia cliffs seem to be making their own way down to the shore as you can see from those enormous Breccia boulders, the size of a moderately priced Babbacombe bungalow, heaped at the bottom, right next to the two people who have ignored the "Danger, Do Not Enter" signs to go and have a closer look. Being Britain there were more people on the other side of the sign than there were on this side of it. It makes you proud to be a member of such a fearless obstinate race. It was probably seeing those signs that actually prevented those cowardly Nazis from landing at Oddicombe.

Imminent - About to happen. "they were in imminent danger of being crushed to death." late Middle English: from Latin imminent- ‘overhanging, impending’, from the verb imminere, from in- ‘upon, towards’ + minere ‘to project’ See? Even the dictionary says "overhanging" and "to project". It's overhanging that precedes falling. They've even got it in pictures so illiteracy is no excuse. That is an internationally recognised picture of falling boulders that perfectly matches the actual fallen boulders, although admittedly the real ones are more angular than round. Not only is there a picture, a fence, the word Danger in big letters and lot's of red on three separate signs, they even go into a dissertation on geological problems, explaining it all in great detail. It's like they started at the top and kept adding signs in desperation. They are running out of space now, there's just enough room at the bottom for what next? I know a corpse, a warning corpse, with recorded screams. But I digress yet again. What I really wanted to say was, who hires deck chairs any more? Every petrol station in the land sells those miracle chairs now, for about five pounds each. They come in a tiny nylon bag and you slide them out, pull at the corners and Hey Presto! There is a comfortable chair with two cup holders and no broken fingers like you get erecting deck chairs. They are the magicians bunches of flowers of the chair world. Of course, they never ever fit back in that nylon bag no matter how hard you try, I mean, have you ever seen a magician put the bunch of flowers back up his sleeve? But what do you expect for five pounds, Salome on a Rock Cake? Don't ask. I never in years of pleading ever got an adequate reply to the question why "Salome on a Rock Cake", from my grandmother, who for some reason was convinced that this was the ultimate over aggrandisement "Who does she think she is, Salome on a Rock Cake?"

It looks suspiciously like they built the base of the railway station out of breccia too, although at least someone had the foresight to stick it all together properly with breccia coloured mortar.

The sand on the beach is suspiciously Brecciaish as well, everything seems to be the same shade of red in Oddicombe.

Just out of sight on the right is the next beach along, Babbacombe beach. If the surf is not too rough you can walk along a path to get there.

At the end of the working day, a bell is sounded at the lower station to advise intending passengers that the last lift is about to leave. The bell has an interesting history rescued from a Scandinavian vessel Talga. The bell is rung by the operator in the bottom station 30 minutes and 15 minutes before the last trip.

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