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A sanc­tu­ary from city life in Bab­ba­combe Bay

It’s the mid­dle of win­ter, and I’m feel­ing blue. Lon­don is cold, and ev­ery­one’s skint and even more mis­er­able than usual. A week­end away is just what I need – so when an op­por­tu­nity to get out of the city and fill my lungs with sea air comes knock­ing – I’m there.

Just two hours from the cap­i­tal by train, Bab­ba­combe is a sleepy sea­side vil­lage on the English Riviera, famed for its model vil­lage, dra­matic sea views and fish and chips. De­scribed as South Devon’s most beau­ti­ful bay, we’re ex­cited to see what it has to of­fer. My wife and I ar­rive late on a Fri­day evening, so it’s too dark to make much out as we make our way in a cab from Torquay sta­tion, but as our taxi snakes its way down the cliff-side to our ho­tel, I make a note to make sure I’m up early enough to catch the sun­rise.

We’re stay­ing at the Cary Arms and Spa, a gor­geous de Savary bou­tique ho­tel on the wa­ter in the peace­ful and se­cluded bay. The man­ager takes our bags when we ar­rive, show­ing us to our home for the week­end – one of their highly sought-af­ter beach huts. As soon as the key turns in the lock and we step in­side this sanc­tu­ary, I know I never want to leave.

Fit­ted with all mod cons, in­clud­ing a Sonos sys­tem, un­der­floor heat­ing and a smart TV, these stylish beach huts are en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly and cool, cosy and chic. Each one is uniquely dec­o­rated to the high­est stan­dard and there are plenty of lit­tle touches that make it feel re­ally spe­cial in­clud­ing a de­can­ter of sloe gin that’s re­filled in the evening, a fully stocked com­pli­men­tary mini bar and a stick of rock on your pil­low.

We some­how man­age to tear our­selves away from our new home, and up to the ho­tel bar, where de­spite miss­ing din­ner, the kitchen have pre­pared a de­li­cious mid­night feast for us of salmon and cream cheese sand­wiches, crisps and salad, washed down with a lovely glass of Chilean mer­lot. Back in the beach hut, we have a lit­tle gin whilst lis­ten­ing to the crack­ling of the fire (not a real fire but a dig­i­tal one, we re­alise, af­ter an em­bar­rass­ingly long amount of time), and very soon we head up to bed to


find an­other sur­prise wait­ing for us – a hot wa­ter bot­tle.

Af­ter the best night’s sleep in I can’t even re­mem­ber when, I’m wo­ken by light stream­ing in through the small port­hole style win­dow in front of the bed, and re­alise I’ve missed the sun­rise. But once I catch a glimpse of the sand­stone cliffs and the sea, all is for­got­ten. I run down­stairs like a kid at Christ­mas and fling open the doors, in­hal­ing deeply and tak­ing in all the sea air my body can han­dle. The views from our deck are noth­ing short of breath­tak­ing, blues and greens danc­ing to­gether, and I sit a while, feel­ing time slow down as I watch the waves come and go. In the sum­mer, it’s quite com­mon to spot a va­ri­ety of wildlife in the bay, in­clud­ing dol­phins, seals and seabirds, but de­spite watch­ing in­tently, I don’t see more than a fish­er­man and a cou­ple of seag­ulls.

I man­age to tear my­self away from dol­phin-sur­veil­lance for a quick shower, and then Sarah and I head to the main build­ing for break­fast, stop­ping to take a few pic­tures along the way. We fill our bel­lies with hot cof­fee and toast and but­ter, but save room for the main event – the clas­sic full English, mi­nus the mush­rooms for me and black pud­ding for her.

Once break­fast has set­tled, Sarah heads up to the newly- opened spa for a tailored full-body mas­sage with Han­nah, while I sit in the lounge lis­ten­ing to Devon-born singer-song­writer Soak and catch­ing up on some read­ing. I don’t of­ten get time these days to read for plea­sure, so this feels like a real treat. Sarah, a mas­sage con­nois­seur, looks bliss­ful when she re­turns, and says it’s one of the best she’s had. Suit­ably re­laxed, we head back to our hut to get changed, then set off to ex­plore the sights and sounds of Bab­ba­combe.

A short 15-minute walk along the coastal path takes us to Od­di­combe Beach, where we skim stones across the wa­ter and try to de­cide which dog we’d like to steal. The beach it­self is busy with fam­i­lies and cou­ples en­joy­ing the win­ter sun, and there are even some brave souls out on the wa­ter pad­dle board­ing.

There’s a cliff rail­way here, built in 1926, to take vis­i­tors up and down the 240 feet from Bab­ba­combe Downs but it’s closed for the win­ter, so we brave the rather steep climb to the top, stop­ping to ad­mire the views (and catch our breath) sev­eral times on the way.

Af­ter a stroll around Bab­ba­combe it­self, ad­mir­ing its colour­ful prom­e­nade, shops and tea­rooms, we de­cide to walk to Torquay, which takes about 30 min­utes. The town is very dif­fer­ent to Bab­ba­combe, bustling with shop­pers and tourists, de­spite be­ing out of sea­son, and we en­joy pot­ter­ing around the ma­rina and the ar­cades, but it doesn’t take long be­fore we’re robbed of all our small change, and we leave, poorer than when we went in but cer­tainly cheer­ful.

For lunch, we head back to Bab­ba­combe to try the fish and chips we’ve heard so much about, but Han­bury’s – the most fa­mous in town – is closed. Down but not out, we try Drakes on Bab­ba­combe Road, and we’re not dis­ap­pointed. We find a spot on the nearby Downs, over­look­ing Od­di­combe Beach and tuck in, shield­ing our chips from the noisy seag­ulls who cir­cle over­head.

The glo­ri­ous sun­shine from the morn­ing has been re­placed with a light driz­zle, so we fin­ish up our food and head past Bab­ba­combe Theatre and down the cliff-side, back to the ho­tel for an af­ter­noon nap. Be­cause all of this re­lax­ing is mighty tir­ing!

The ho­tel restau­rant is bustling when we go along for din­ner, and there’s a great at­mos­phere as a ta­ble be­side us cel­e­brates a 60th birth­day, ev­ery­one join­ing in when it comes time to sing happy birth­day. Sarah and I study the menu in­tently, and dis­cus­sions over whether we’ll be able to try each other’s dishes is more fraught than Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions. But even­tu­ally we de­cide on scal­lops and ham ter­rine to start (del­ish), fol­lowed by guinea fowl for her and duck for me (also del­ish). De­ci­sions over pud­ding are just as tough, but Sarah has the panna cotta, while I go for the earl grey creme brûlée, both equally dreamy.

Hap­pily stuffed, we wan­der back to our beach hut, where we curl up on the sofa to watch a film with a glass of sloe gin. It’s not the most rock and roll week­end I’ve ever had, but it was cer­tainly one of the best.

Time slows down as I watch the waves come and go from our beach hut deck

Every­thing’s beachy: Devon’s Cary Arms ho­tel of­fers guests a fresh take on sea­side chic

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