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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Torquay Part 5 Beacon Quay

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JUNE. 30, 2021


Part five of my walk continues into Beacon Quay, where I run out of sea front and return back the way I have come on a slightly different path. This post will only feature Beacon Quay, which is where boaters can launch small boats and where diners can sit overlooking Torbay.


Beacon Quay in Torquay is important historically for a major event in the twentieth century, the largest seaborne invasion force in history. From this quayside and many others along this coast, 129,400 soldiers departed for the beaches of Normandy in France.


My close up photo and the fact that I was kneeling on the ground to take it, make this sign appear huge and unavoidable. It is actually quite small and easy to miss. I spotted it because I was in the process of photographing all the signs I could find as a record of information.

"Vanishing Point" achieves a rare distinction of being a major art work which both dominates the public space in which it is set while at the same time being virtually invisible to all who walk through it.


At some point in art history, the concept took the place of the artwork itself. As the final art piece became more removed from reality and more tied to an idea, the concept over time became the artwork. Conceptual art was born. Because you cannot monetise and deal in concepts, there is no market for buying and selling a concept the residue of the project itself became a commodity as something tangible was needed for the collector investor.


Many years ago, I remember walking around a top art gallery and seeing an "artwork" which was several standard sheets of paper, with the concept typed on them, but still framed as artworks and hung on a wall. Concepts and ideas in print, used to be bound together and read as books, now they were split up and framed as art.

When I was an art student forty three years ago my tutor, who is now a world renowned artist, was critiquing my work and we were discussing how art is seen by the viewer. This tutor was pointing me in the direction of conceptual and abstract work, whereupon I asked this question, "But what will the public think of it?", whereupon I got the killer answer "It doesn't matter what the public think".

So there you have it. The people being made to pay for the art don't matter, they are there to be educated, the experts know what is good for the proles.


As far as I could tell, I was the only person who noticed the sign for "Vanishing Point" which explains the concept. Sadly, if you don't notice the sign you certainly don't notice the artwork. I doubt a single person on the average day walks through that big white ring with any idea of what it is supposed to represent. As for the large cross in the ground that aligns with it all, I couldn't find it at all, until I left Beacon Quay. The Morse code lights in the decking just look like a proprietary row of decking lights.


I was struck this week by a news headline on the BBC website which gleefully announced that the populist party in France had not won the expected victory that was predicted. The establishment candidates all swept the board. Buried in the article was an extraordinary fact that should have been the main story. The turnout of voters for this election was 35%. Think about that. 65% of the electorate didn't bother to vote at all and for the establishment BBC that was worth celebrating if it meant the establishment candidates won. "It doesn't matter what the public think". The public not voting can only be a good thing.


Below is the empty aviary of Living Coasts. Living Coasts was an enclosed coastal wildlife show piece which didn't survive the long Covid shutdown. It was emptied of all wildlife a year ago.

A property agent is inviting proposals for the former Living Coasts attraction on Torquay seafront. Bettesworths says serious potential occupiers for the site of the closed marine wildlife attraction should get in touch with plans for uses or development by Friday, July 16.


It is advertising the property as a world class location with an outdoor landscaped area of 4,600sq m (50,000sq ft) and a substantial restaurant "with unrivalled panoramic sea views". The commercial property agent says the site has “scope for an enormous range of possible uses”. It is asking for expressions of interest from "viable parties" rather than ideas from the general public. "Our clients respectfully request for it to be made clear that this is not an invitation for suggestions or wishes from members of the general public. (Devon Live)


Got that? It doesn't matter what the public think. The client is Wild Planet Trust, a registered charity, that means they are tax exempt, unlike the rest of the public. On the website of Wild Planet Trust it says this under fundraising. "This charity raises funds from the public"

At the end of Beacon Quay is the open sea of Torbay, and the shorter Haldon Pier. The cormorants have chosen this rock below, on which to sunbathe and dry off their wings after diving for fish.

Looking back from Haldon Pier below you can see the two concrete slopes which are the original slipways for the gathering of the D-Day invasion force in Torbay. There is a similar slipway at Brixham at the other end of the bay. The forces that assembled here were the U.S. 4th Division.


It is beyond me why, when you have the original massive slipways still present, dominating the harbour, you would think an artwork was needed at all to commemorate the events that happened here, particularly in my opinion, an artwork as ineffective as this one.

© Encyclopedia Britannica


The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived in the town from 1837 to 1841 on the recommendation of her doctor in an attempt to cure her of a disease which is thought likely to have been tuberculosis. Her former home now forms part of the Regina Hotel in Vaughan Parade, below.

Beacon Quay leads to Haldon Pier jutting out into the bay. In the distance is another beach, lined with beach huts. This beach was in the opposite direction from my walk on this occasion. I will visit this beach on a later date.

As in most places, when outside in sunny weather it is easy to forget briefly the restrictions we are still living under, until small signs like this remind you.

The UK was declared rabies free in 1902 but there were further outbreaks after 1918 when servicemen returning from the war smuggled rabid dogs back to Britain. The disease was subsequently eradicated and Britain was declared rabies-free in 1922 after the introduction of compulsory quarantine for dogs.


Growing up in India we learned from a very early age to avoid all stray dogs and were taught to seek refuge indoors should any dog approach, in particular, if it was demonstrating strange behaviour, like frothing at the mouth. We came back to the UK in the 70's so it was certainly nothing unusual for us to experience incredibly strict anti Rabies rules whenever we travelled to Europe.


It was probably thirty years after returning to England that I first started to allow myself to pat dogs I didn't know, and let them sniff my hand. All dogs were to be strictly avoided at all costs and it is difficult to unlearn that. Even dogs I know really well that belong to friends have only recently been trusted by me enough to go anywhere near my face.


Dogs used to have to be quarantined for six months to be brought into the UK. This system was relaxed in 1999. Today with vaccines, testing and microchips, animals carry their own pet passports.

Living Coasts was a coastal zoo at the site of Torquay Marine Spa. It was owned by South West Environmental Parks as part of the Wild Planet Trust. It was a registered charity, based around seabirds and other coastal wildlife. The site had a covered giant aviary which included several animal enclosures and habitats including an artificial tidal estuary, a penguin beach, a tropical mangrove swamp, and underwater viewing areas. Living Coasts was also home to the oldest African Penguin in the UK, named Pat, before he was euthanized in 2015 at the age of 37. Living Coasts was Britain's first and only coastal zoo.


It is interesting that the exhibit included an artificial tidal estuary when right outside is a tidal harbour that now has a barrage across it to stop it being tidal. Human beings are strange creatures indeed.


This is a weathered boat cover below, on a boat that looks as if it has not been to sea in a long time.






There follow some close up details of the D-Day slipways.


At the bottom of the slipways were what look like some of the largest oysters I have ever seen.


And here it is, the Cross element of "Vanishing Point" below, which is supposedly aligned with the big white ring, through which you imagine the departing troops headed out to sea. I did eventually find it. Unfortunately Torbay Council having paid £25,000 for "Vanishing Point" subsequently decided to place large concrete planters and a palm tree slap bang in the middle of the carefully planned alignment, thus destroying the whole concept. I can only presume that once installed it had such an impact that everyone forgot it was there.


In Part Six I will walk along the South Pier on my return journey, crossing the barrage of the Inner Harbour.


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