Brixham on The English Riviera of Torbay

The Harbour Wall at Brixham, blue skies and boats

Brixham is in the Tor Bay region of South Devon, the 22 mile stretch of coastline has been known as The English Riviera since the Victorians discovered its charm and tropical vibrance, which was often described as being like the French Riviera.

The warm climate here allows for more sub-tropical plants to grow and palm trees are a common sight along the Tor Bay coast. The main four Riviera towns of Torquay, Babbacombe, Paignton and Brixham all have stunning qualities.

All along the coastline are little gems, such as beautiful coves, rocky scenery and picture-perfect villages. Brixham has a spectacular harbour and sheltered marina which we found time to admire on our walk around the harbour wall on our short spontaneous trip some years ago.

Harbour Wall at Brixham

I can understand why the Victorians loved the English Riviera so much, with such a refreshing coastline and quaint cottages beyond the harbour in Brixham there’s a lot to fall in love with here in Devon.

Brixham Town

The town is very hilly, you will find that all the roads here are dramatically steep. I was quite surprised just how much of a gradient the roads are when we visited Brixham for the first time, better make sure your car brakes work well and your legs don’t mind the climb back up the hill if you park up at the top.

The town is built around the harbour with the streets radiating outwards from the bay, as you can see from the photos, the cottages close to the bay would have been fishermen’s homes and the fishing trawlers still dock in the harbour to this day, a thriving occupation.

RNLI Lifeboat at Brixham Marina

We enjoyed watching the boats coming and going on our walk along the wall. The lovely colours of the rows of houses in the harbour area are so beautiful, and on such a blue-sky day as this was, a joy to see the views from the top and looking down on the harbour.

This first known permanent settlement at Brixham comes from the Saxon period, with settlers most likely arriving by sea from Hampshire as early as the 6th century. The town was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, but with only 39 residents.

English Riviera Brixham

The town grew throughout the medieval period and eventually became the largest fishing port in the south-west of England. Was ‘Abide With Me’ composed in Brixham? Yes, Rev HF Lyte composed the lyrics to the hymn Abide With Me while staying at the nearby Berry Head House, which is now a hotel. Rev Lyte served as a vicar for St Mary’s church, built around 1360 to replace a Norman church, itself a replacement for a still earlier Saxon building. 

Harbour 

Brixham harbour is a bustling place, from the early morning fish auctions right through the day. The seafood restaurants in the area have the most delicious local produce direct from the fish market.

The harbour is on the south side of Tor Bay. It has one of the largest fishing fleets in the UK today, with over 100 fishing boats made up of large beam trawlers and the smaller day boats plus has its own thriving fish market.

Walking along the Harbour wall Brixham Devon

The harbour is also home to a fleet of heritage trawlers, which are all restored by enthusiasts to a high standard, and they offer chartered voyages. Hundreds of ships have been wrecked on the rocks around the town. Brixham fishermen have always known the dangers of going out to sea, but they were astonished by a terrible storm that blew up on the night of 10th January 1866.

The fishing boats had only sails back then and could not get back into harbour due to the gale-force winds and the high waves that forced them back. To exacerbate the situation, the beacon on the breakwater had been swept away, so in the total black darkness they could not determine their position. According to local legend, their wives brought everything they could possibly carry, including pieces of furniture and bedding, to make a big beacon on the quayside to guide their men home, the bonfire was said to be so high that there would be no doubt of where to land the vessels.

Sadly, fifty vessels were wrecked, and more than one hundred lives were lost in the storm; when dawn broke, the wreckage stretched for miles along the coast. Did King William lll land at Brixham Harbour? Yes, William of Orange, soon to become William III of England, landed at Brixham in 1688 on his way to London and his coronation.

The Golden Hind

Sir Francis Drake’s vessel has been a feature of picturesque Brixham harbour for over fifty years, it has been entertaining and educating thousands of visitors about life aboard a 16th Century sailing ship.

The Golden Hind has also been featured on lots of television programs and films. The Golden Hind is a full-sized replica of one of the most iconic ships from the age of exploration and is a museum ship for all ages.

Replica of Sir Francis Drakes Golden Hind in Harbour

The original Golden Hind was a galleon captained by Sir Francis Drake in his circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580. She was originally known as Pelican, but Drake renamed her mid-voyage in 1578, in honour of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose crest was a golden hind (a female red deer). Hatton was one of the principal sponsors of Drake’s world voyage.

Pirates

Brixham is well known worldwide for its yearly pirate festival where they try to fill the town with just about as many pirates as they can, all shapes and sizes of pirate attend the event and much fun is had.

The Brixham Pirate Festival began in 2002 when members of the community decided to create an event to liven up May bank holiday which was always one of the quietest of the year and it certainly livened that up. It has become one of the biggest pirate gatherings in the world and attracts people from all over the globe.

Unfortunately, due to Covid there will be no festival in 2021. 

Marina

Brixham’s Marina is sheltered from the south-westerly winds and has safe access in all weathers and at all states of the tide, the 485-berth moorings, the perfect place to start your sailing adventures.

The yachts and boats of all sizes are so photogenic as seen from the harbour wall, especially on beautiful sunny days that are so special in Devon and in this lovely warm climate on the English Riviera, a wonderful place to be, whether on a yacht or taking time out meandering along the harbour wall just watching the boats go by and winding down in peaceful tranquility.

Marina at Brixham on a calm day

We enjoyed watching the fishing boats with a following of seagulls behind them, a feathered fan club following behind them in hope of a smakeral of a fishy snack. 

Our small spontaneous day trip to Brixham has been such a lovely memory and hopefully when it is possible to do so, it would be wonderful to return to explore more of Brixham and the English Riviera.

It would be good to take more photos to compare with these ones that I took a few years ago to see how much change there has been since our last adventure. Perhaps in another year or so the pirate festival might draw us back for a fun filled weekend away.

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2 Comments

  1. Jean Thomas says:

    You are right about Brixham. Amazing place. I was bought up in Brixham and even though I worked in London for years, I had to come home to get my dose of ozone, the salt, sea and fish smell from Brixham Harbour and all my stresses just floated away. Friends who came down with me could never get over the quality of the air, they said it was almost chewy, it was so thick but it made them so hungry and sleepy. Perfect place my lover. Xxx

    1. Janine Moore says:

      Hi Jean,
      It is a wonderful place and I felt that stresses went away too while I spent time there. Amazing sea air. What a lovely place to grow up. Sounds like you have some great memories. Thank you for your insights.
      Kind regards
      Janine x

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