A quick flight from Norwich unveils a haven in the West Country
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 December 2016 | UPDATED: 09:18 24 December 2016
The Cary Arms
The Cary Arms may be a small inn but it offers huge views of the expanse of sea and sky on its doorstep.
Tucked into the curve of Babbacombe Bay, Devon, it is no surprise Agatha Christie was born just two miles away in Torquay, as the rugged bay is exactly what could be imagined in the writer’s epic crime stories, many of which were set around the West Country. A trip of this distance might normally be reserved for more than just two nights, but with FlyBe offering flights from Norwich to Exeter six days a week - all year round - it’s easy to pop down to the coast for a quick getaway. Flight prices vary, but if you’re willing to travel hand luggage only, and are flexible with your dates, deals can be had for as little as £15 each way.
It may not be the most eco-friendly way to travel, but it is cheaper than the train, or petrol costs, and takes a fraction of the time.
At the other end, a taxi from the airport will take around 25 minutes and cost about £30, and as you draw closer will wind you down the narrow, spindly, and very steep roads to the entrance to what, at first, looks like a typical English pub.
The ride - a white-knuckle one for my mother who I brought along for the weekend - soon proved to be worth it though, as we took in the Jurassic landscape, juxtaposed by the cosy hotel. As you enter through what seems like a side door, you’re greeted in a stone clad bar with a hard-wearing wooden floor. But the traditional feel soon changed to one of chic luxury, when we were taken to our room, one of the Cary Arms’ new beach suites.
The de Savary-owned hotel has recently undergone a £2m expansion, and unveiled six boutique beach huts and two beach suites, to add to their existing ten rooms and cottages.
Set a stone’s throw from the crashing waves, the suite had that traditional seaside charm with a stylish, contemporary feel - but it was the small touches which really made the stay feel special. From the Plymouth sloe gin and champagne on arrival, and strawberries to snack on, to the hi-tech fireplace and built-in sound system.
The turn-down service before bed added an extra element of really being looked after, as did the included dressing gowns and slippers.
But before we got our heads down for the night there was dinner to sample and history to discover.
The hotel is named after the influential Cary family who have been part of the area’s history since 1662,
And Babbacombe Bay first found prominence when the Whitehead family moved into a large house right on the beach.
Mrs Whitehead attended the baby princess Victoria and was a lady in waiting to the princess’s mother, with the young princess being driven out from Torquay to visit her in 1833.
While she was queen, Victoria visited the bay twice, once in 1846 when she did not land, and again in 1852. This time the queen was taken close to the shore in a rowing boat so that she could admire and sketch the scenery.
We learned the fascinating past of the inn from the newspaper cuttings and documents which adorned the wall - not only in the bar where dinner was served, but in the residents’ lounge too.
The roaring fire gave it even more gravitas, as it set the scene of the 19th-century building, jutting out on the coast, which Victoria would have seen from her boat.
The Cary Arms’ specials menu changed daily, and there was a clear focus on local produce throughout the main menu too.
We opted for a crayfish and crab stater, a chicken pie and mushroom risotto for main, finished with a creme brulee.
Other offerings included Devon beef, Lyme Bay lobster and line-caught seafood, which from the look of others plates looked just as delicious and have earned the Cary Arms a place in The Good Food Guide and in the Michelin Eating Out Guide.
Visiting in a chilly November, we appreciated being tucked up next to the log burner but in the summer diners can move outside and take in the view.
Across the bay is Oddicombe beach, a short walk and popular with dog walkers, and a funicular railway will take you further afield and into Babbacombe in daylight hours for just £2.
The vista stretches to Portland Bill in Dorset and takes in the pink-soil cliffs of the English Riviera and an old pier where both seals and locals like to fish.
There’s even a bell to ring if you happen to spot a visiting dolphin, and you could easily spend time over breakfast - also served in the bar - staring into the bay.
Admittedly there is not an overwhelming amount of activities to spend your time on nearby, although a short trip to Torquay would not take long.
It is easy to see why an escape to the coast - a different coast to our own - could blow away the cobwebs and as we drifted off to sleep the waves hitting the rocks outside sounded as if they could be right outside the door.
The Cary Arms offers a little bit of indulgence nestled between the rocks. And although we were slightly disappointed that the under-construction, glass-fronted Cary Spa was not ready when we visited, the attention to detail in every other aspect of our stay made it feel like a treat.
• Reach the Cary Arms from Norwich in around 45 minutes by plane, five and a half hours by car or six hours by train.
• Children and dogs both welcome.
• Three, four or five bedroom holiday cottages are available.
• Moorings are available for those arriving on boat.
• Breakfast included, with lunch and dinner options also available.
• Overnight stays at the beach huts cost from £375 per night, beach suites from £475 and luxury doubles in the main hotel from £245 per night. For bookings and further details: www.caryarms.co.uk or 01803 327 110.