Babbacombe Cliff Railway carries one millionth passenger: We examine its astonishing revival
PUBLISHED: 16:43 13 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:58 13 September 2019
As Babbacombe Cliff Railway marks ten years of community ownership on 1 August by carrying its one millionth passenger, NICKY ALLEN tells the story of its revival
Originally built in 1926 Babbacombe Cliff Railway is not only a tourist attraction, it is a feat of engineering, a means of transport and a part of the community.
Situated on the South West Coast Path, the railway transports passengers from the beautiful Babbacombe Downs to the stunning Oddicombe Beach and back. The area is truly spectacular and the railway is at the centre of that.
Ten years ago, in 2009, the community took over ownership of Babbacombe Cliff Railway.
That community takeover was in the form of a Community Interest Company (which has recently become a Community Interest Organisation) with a board of voluntary directors to oversee the running of the railway and ensure that it is managed in a way as to safeguard its future.
There is a team of paid staff who run the railway on a day-to-day basis and a host of volunteers. Although no longer in existence mention should also be made of The Friends of Babbacombe Cliff Railway, which was set up in 2005 and a huge part of the successful takeover of this amazing railway.
Over the past ten years Babbacombe Cliff Railway has been lucky enough to have an amazing team of passionate, dedicated people who have all been committed to their role as custodians of this historic piece of engineering and who have also been determined to ensure that the railway thrives and that its future is safe.
With traveller numbers of around 90,000 in 2009 and over 130,000 in 2018 the increase in popularity is obvious and the railway has now transported over one million passengers since the community took over.
During the decade of community ownership there have been many changes and huge investment. In 2017 brand new carriages were installed at a cost of over £100,000. This kind of investment is vital if the railway is to continue to thrive for future generations.
The railway now boasts a Visitor Centre down on Oddicombe Beach which is free to look around. This mini museum has story boards charting the history of the railway, interesting exhibits and a film to watch. Manned entirely by volunteers, the centre is open from early spring right through until the onset of winter.
One of the main driving forces of Babbacombe Cliff Railway over the past ten years was CIC Chairman, John Ayres. He was responsible for so much of the development and he brought many new people and ideas to the business.
John's passion was second to none and he made sure that he surrounded himself with people that he believed would bring skills and, most importantly, their passion, to help him in his bid to ensure that Babbacombe Cliff Railway grew and thrived and was always a part of the community for locals and holidaymakers alike to be able to use.
Among many other projects, along with his wife Judy, John founded the Babbacombe Ukulele Festival. Very sadly, John suddenly passed away in 2018 and the event was re-named as The John Ayres Ukulele Proms, in his honour. This year's event took place in June and saw over 20 bands playing live music in the Music Marquee on Oddicombe Beach to an audience of hundreds.
Over the past decade Babbacombe Cliff Railway has done so much more than run up and down the cliffs, putting on a range of great events to entertain locals and holidaymakers alike. For some years it was also a registered premises for weddings and a very popular one at that. It turned out that getting married on Babbacombe Cliff Railway was exactly what some people were after.
All in all, the future's looking bright for this icon of the area. Hopefully, it will remain in safe hands and be available for all to use for many, many years to come. In the near future, and still to come this year, is the increasingly popular Last Team Standing on Saturday, 14 September which is great fun to both participate in and to spectate. Give it a go if you're in the area.
Over the past decade
- Over one million passengers have travelled on Babbacombe Cliff Railway.
- There have been six Ukulele Festivals.
- There have been five Murder Mysteries as part of the Agatha Christie Festival.
- This year will see the fourth Last Team Standing competition take place.
- There have been two Cliff Railway Days.
- There have been parties, Christmas celebrations, Hallowe'en horrors and Easter eggsgtravaganzas, along with a host of other fun, family-friendly goings-on.
- After the storms of February 2014 devastated the takeaway on Oddicombe Beach, the premises was taken on by new owners and Three Degrees West (a bar and bistro) was born which caters for locals and holidaymakers that visit all year round.
- Babbacombe Cliff Railway and Oddicombe Beach have gone from part-time to full-time destinations.
Babbacombe Bay is on the outskirts of Torquay but jam-packed with independent shops, businesses, attractions and with so much going on it is an increasingly popular holiday destination boasting some beautifully appointed hotels and guest houses.
A walk along Babbacombe Downs is how to arrive at Babbacombe Cliff Railway Top Station. Babbacombe Downs is a stunning oasis on the top of the cliffs, with delightful flower beds and a host of great bars, cafés and restaurants dotted along its route.
Babbacombe Downs is also home to Babbacombe Theatre - a fabulous venue, celebrating its own 80th anniversary this year. The theatre has variety shows on all year round and a huge number of well-known names offering some amazing nights out.
Just a short walk from the railway is Babbacombe Model Village and Bygones Museum. Then a stone's throw in the other direction towards Torquay, takes you to Kents Cavern.
Babbacombe really does have more than its fair share of superb scenery, amazing places to eat, drink and be merry and fabulous family-friendly attractions.