Brixham makes a great stop off on your way west after leaving Portland with a sheltered wide bay, dramatic headlands at Berry Head and a choice of two marinas.
The South Coast’s most productive fishing port fills up the western corner of Tor Bay, sheltered by its long breakwater, nodding over to the resort town of Torquay, with its stylish old villas punctuating the cliffs and an hourly ferry connecting the two.
We arrive and are shown to a visitor’s berth at MDL’s marina. They also own Torquay Marina, so you can decide which suits your needs, or wind direction. However, I want to get over to the huge fish market, built some five years ago and dominating the right hand side of the harbour where the trawlers and smaller fishing boats take pride of place.
We arrive early so head off to find a decent cup of coffee having been tipped off that there are at least 3 good independents. Closest is Millie and Me, then the West Country Deli or the newer kid on the block, but a bit further to walk, is Bay Coffee & Cake Company.
MILLIE AND ME
Sophy runs Millie and Me, which is in King Street conveniently tucked behind the recently refurbished New Quay Inn, overlooking the harbour, but bizarrely not open until 5.30pm. Locals tell us it is a good stop off for a pint or glass of wine before heading over the street to Simply Fish for supper.
We share a bacon butty and I try the flat white. Sophy and a friendly couple at the next table put me straight about where I should head next.
But before I hit the deli I fancy the walk out past the marina to Berry Head as it is still early and a glorious sunny morning. Brixham has some lovely smugglers’ alleys and we sneak along Newquay Lane walking along the quay, past the marina and straight into an RNLI fundraising day.
On to the little beach, with immaculate Ikea photo fit flat pebble discs, the most perfect skimming stones ever, before climbing the concrete steps up to the street that is signed Berry Head and Shoalstone Lido, which I have been watching on Twitter.
A fabulous local project to update one of our rare seaside swimming pools, with gorgeous retro imagery and a cracking view as you plough up and down to keep warm. Yes, it is refreshing and I note it is the hardy mature mermaids in their cossies and the kids in wetsuits.
BERRY HEAD HOTEL
Berry Head Hotel beckons as I pass some intriguing new builds on my left that would not make Kevin McCloud blush, and along the lush drive to the hotel, which has magnificent views out to sea and over Tor Bay to Torquay. This makes a delightful lunch or dinner date, as you have walked just far enough to tackle the local Moules Mariniere, or possibly the smoked haddock and Applewood Cheddar fish cake whilst enjoying the Mediterranean view from the terrace.
Did you know? The hotel was built at the start of the 1800s as a military hospital, serving the Napoleonic forts at Berry Head. Later Henry Francis Lyte lived here and wrote ‘Abide with me’ just four months before his death in 1847, inspired by his surroundings and perhaps suspecting something was up?
Our old mate the SW Coastal Path runs along these wonderful cliffs and you can go all along the River Dart if so inclined. We rounded Berry Head, passing the somewhat squat Lighthouse before wending our way back into Brixham, bacon butty walked off, but too early for Berry Head high tea, served between 2.30 and 6.30.
Back in Brixham the dilemma is lunch. I have three recommendations; Simply Fish, at the base of Fore Street, across from Millie and Me, Bistro 46, family owned and producing some creative and unusual cooking from a tiny kitchen, but I am whizzing along to Mitch Tonk’s Rockfish.
This lovely light barn of a room, with open rafters and gleaming copper bar is my sort of a place. The big deck wraps round the building, so plenty of room, choice of sun or shade and looks out over the fleet of working boats to the heritage sailing trawlers, ferries and leisure boats. A feast for the eyes, but what shall I chose for my plate?
Gosh – Rockfish Fritto Misto – red gurnard and monkfish filets with calamari and prawns too? Delightfully and lightfully battered and unlimited fresh cut chips to go with the tartare.
Then I saw tempura fried oysters and by now you might know that I have to have these little crisp gobbets of sea fresh phlegm whenever I see them on the menu, which is rarely, but Rick Stein often complies. Rockfish serve them sitting atop their shell which is filled with a vibrant green cucumber relish, which really works and is fresh, not fiery and also good with the chips. My pal has a very generous portion of super fresh, nice and plump, cod goujons with the same unlimited chips, for just £7.95.
Now back to the fish market. I had thought I would be able to go in and look round the morning catch as you do in every French town that has a daily fish market, but no, the only glimpse I get is through a little side door halfway along the building where a man is collecting his purchase. On questioning further I’m told I need to return for Fishstock in September, when they open it up to the public.
Now I still need to visit West Country Deli and am so glad I did as I load up with great local cheese and eggs and have a quick cortado whilst reading the menu. This is a great quick lunch stop and the platters look tempting. A very friendly couple Jo and Mark run this outfit and have chosen their own blend of organic, fair trade and Rainforest Alliance Certified beans – try it.
Brixham Tourism: englishriviera.co.uk
Simply Fish: 01803 883858 (they do a full take away service too)
Bistro 46: 01803 858936
Berry Head Hotel: 01803 853225
Millie and Me: 01803 858488
West Country Deli: 01803 855775
Brixham Harbour Office: 01803 851854