Cary Arms Hotel, January 2013 by Patrick Goff

The past is alive and well in Babbacombe

Babbacombe is just along the road from Torquay - so close in fact that some people class it as Torquay suburbs, but it is not. My mother's family are from around here and I played on the beach as a child, so the England deliberately evoked by this hotel is the England of my childhood. It is the England of childhood adventure and sophisticated adult pleasure. Classy and authentic, the hotel summons an English vernacular in a down-to-earth manner.

Owned by the de Savary family, the hotel is expanding with additional bedrooms being built and the spa expanded, but the existing 1920's building has the grace of a bygone era; it serves cream teas, local ales and local foods.

The small harbour nearby shelters yachts and fishermen bring their catches straight to the hotel kitchens. It's a place of cliff walks and choughs, seals and sailing boats, sand and ice-cream. What could be more English?

"...the existing 1920's building has the grace of a bygone era..."
The relaxed interiors reflect the nautical traditions of Devon, and posters and imagery play shamelessly on the collective memory that pretends the past is a better place than the present. Maintaining these myths is not easy alongside the demands of the 21st century traveller, but the Cary Arms performs the trick almost effortlessly.

This Anglo vernacular is exploited unselfconsciously with the skill of a master magician's conjuring trick. The innocence of Devon perhaps, from whence local people drive to London and naively expect to be able to tour around the capital and park their car to view the attractions. Maybe the past is not being recreated here but is actually still alive and well? With it comes relaxed standards of service, staff that smile a great deal and have pride in place.

This is a place to have pride in too. Not only does it have the location in classical Devon seaside landscape beloved of the Pre-Raphaelites, a funicular railway to the cliff top along the beach, but it has the cliff walks, seals in the harbour, yachts and views, all of which have probably been largely unchanged since the hotel opened. Sensibly the owners have built on that foundation, respecting the past and building 'with the grain' both inside and outside the hotel.
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