The 'hidden' Devon village with its own beach that locals love

Lucas and Chloe Vandeweghe in Maidencombe
-Credit: (Image: DevonLive)

The trouble with telling people about a ‘hidden gem’ like Maidencombe is that everybody will inevitably want to visit. They’ll want to feel the coarse red Devon sandstone between their toes, sample the fantastic beach cafe, take a cliff walk, or just amble around and smile.

Pretty soon you won’t be the only person sagely praising the seclusion and picturesque charms of the village by the sea on the edge of Torquay.

“Don’t tell anybody it’s here,” one beach-goer smiles “I like it peaceful. I come down here in the morning sometimes really early when nobody else is around and take a swim. At this time of year the sun rises over there in the east and stays pretty much for the rest of the day. I would rather keep it to myself.”

The truth, of course, is that Maidencombe has never really been hidden, just a little overlooked.

The village itself is mentioned in the Domesday Book, so somebody must have heard about it. The exquisite natural cove surrounded by towering cliffs has geology stretching back millions of years and the beach has long held a pretty good claim to being the best in Torquay - at least the best that you haven’t visited.

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Dez Collings and Linzi Cox in Maidencombe
Dez Collings and Linzi Cox in Maidencombe -Credit:DevonLive

Even a sample selection of people pottering around on the beach seem surprised to have found themselves in this seaside Brigadoon. "We’ve had a magical day," says Justine Rowe, who is on holiday from Bristol.

"It was very unexpected. We were camping on Dartmoor and just decided to go to the nearest beach.

"So we came this morning and went for a swim. It was just fantastic, the sea was pretty clear. Then we had some lunch at the cafe which was marvellous."

She has a wistful, end of holiday regret in her voice. "The only problem is we’ve got to go home today. I’m already thinking of coming back."

Keith and Rosie Baxter moved to the village three years ago from Surrey. They had no plans to put down roots but were blown away by what they found.

“I love it here,” says Rosie. “We weren’t intending to move here but we saw the view down the valley. We couldn’t believe that Maidencombe basically has its own beach.

Keith and Rosie Baxter in Maidencombe
Keith and Rosie Baxter in Maidencombe -Credit:DevonLive

“It feels like a lovely, forgotten spot. We know people who have lived here for 40 years and they say they’ve never been.”

The location of the village might explain some of that. Maidencombe is about four miles away from the centre of Torquay - about as far as you can go before heading across the boundary into Teignmouth and Shaldon.

You’ll find it down a steep hill that takes you to the heart of the village. A short walk away through shaded woods takes you to the top of the cove. The big reveal comes as the beach steps descend and the magnificent shoreline comes into view.

Linzi Cox gets to work here every day. There are worse places to earn a living.

Maidencombe Torquay
Maidencombe Torquay -Credit:DevonLive

She runs Cafe Rio and has done so for the past three-and-a-half years. She's open 9am-4pm during the week and until 6pm on weekends, serving hot and cold snacks, meals, coffee, ice cream and sometimes pizza.

If you spend a day at Maidencombe beach you'll get to know Linzi pretty well. There isn't much to do except wander to and from Cafe Rio and that's just how people like it. There can be few better places to be on a lazy, warm June afternoon than the terrace overlooking the beach.

She says: "It’s hard work but when you look at where we are and the view I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else," she says.

"We're known as a hidden gem but we are becoming more popular. We do a lot of social media posts to build the reputation. We’ve got a lot of locals as customers, lots of regulars and people who live just outside the village who come to visit us.

Fergus and Claire Mitchell
Fergus and Claire Mitchell -Credit:DevonLive

"We want to be a place that people, once they have visited, come back."

The start of the year has not been the easiest, she admits, but things are picking up. Everything looks better in the sun, there just hasn't been much of that about until now.

"It was the longest winter ever," says Linzi. "Easter wasn’t where it should have been and the weather hasn’t been there. Half term was more like what Easter should have been. The industry as a whole has been suffering. But it's been really busy today, quite hard work. We like to open on a Monday because lots of other places are closed."

Students Chloe and Lucas Vandeweghe are down on the beach. They were brought up in Hong Kong but now call the village home.

"Maidencombe is lovely," says Chloe, 18. "We didn't know the area at all before moving here and then found this beach one day after walking from Shaldon. It's quiet and secluded and we just come down here to relax."

Val Bourne in Maidencombe
Val Bourne in Maidencombe -Credit:DevonLive

"I suppose it is quite quiet," says Lucas. "Maidencombe is quite far from anywhere. I would say the only downside is that public transport is pretty poor and the buses are not very frequent."

Local vet Fergus Mitchell has a day off work. He's the outdoors type and is relaxing on the sand after a strenuous trek along the coast path with mum Claire, who is visiting from Newbury.

He discovered Maidencombe beach almost by chance. "It's beautiful down here," he says. "I'd spent a lot of time walking the coastal path and almost dropped across it. It's relatively quiet compared to other places and that is one of the attractions.

"We started out today at 10am along the coastal path from Watcombe and circled back from Labrador Bay. It isn't an easy walk, really quite testing."

Claire says: "He sent me a photo of the beach last year and I thought, 'ok, very nice, maybe seven out of ten'. But when you are actually here you realise the picture didn't do it justice, I'd give it a ten."

Starson Trepess is down from Bristol with his family, including young daughter Skara. "We don't have beaches like this in Bristol," he says. "I've been to Torquay before when I was little but I haven't been down to this part really. It's really picturesque.

"We've been staying in Christow but nobody has ever told us about this beach before. It's nice and quiet. His sister Hannah Caitlin adds: "I've been in the water for a swim, it's a bit nippy to be honest. But it is just lovely here."

Ziggy Austin has lived here all his life and now runs a successful coasteering business called Rock Solid. Coasteering - in case you don't know - is basically a fusion of swimming, jumping, hanging off cliffs and investigating caves.

"Maidencombe is unique," he says. "People just love coming here. There is so much history in the rocks. This stretch of coastline is a UNESCO Global Geopark because of its spectacular geology."

Though the beach is far from being one of the busiest in Torquay, locals will tell you it does get hectic during the summer holiday season. There has been some argument here about new parking restrictions designed to stop visitors leaving their cars outside properties.

"I feel sorry for the holidaymakers," says one local. "There are a few busy bodies who have made a fuss about parking and they have put some new parking bays on the road. But the signs aren't clear and visitors are getting tickets.

"Personally, I love it when people come here on holiday. It gives everyone a boost to see them enjoy it so much. The beach is wonderful and the pub is fantastic. I think a number of people are now getting caught out by the parking though and it will put people off."

The one and only public car park, though large, only takes cash due to the lack of signal to read cards. While cars cram along the roadside the designated bays are largely empty.

One supporter of the new restrictions said: "We are not NIMBY's, I assure you. They have nothing to do with residents not wanting cars parked outside their properties and everything to do with allowing traffic to flow through the village. Visitors constantly parked in the passing places which meant that emergency vehicles, refuse collection vehicles and some delivery vehicles couldn't get through."

Val Bourne is sat on a bench in the tranquil village green with Joe Kirby. The renowned gardener and author is catching her breath after a trek along the coastal path. "I've given up," she says. "It wasn't easy at all. There were people older than me who seemed to find it much easier but it was a challenge."

They are visiting from the Cotswolds, seeing as many gardens and wildlife spots as they can. "We're escaping from work," she says. "We've both been writing and have broken free from the computer to visit Devon. It's all come as a bit of a shock but it's been wonderful."

The couple are staying at a castle in the South Hams - not theirs - which she likens to something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Like many visitors, they have ended up in Maidencombe today without particularly intending to.

"It's perfect here," she says. "There is amazing wildlife and plants on the cliffs. We saw some wonderful orchids over at Berry Head."

There are bigger beaches in Torbay with more people and more man-made amusements. But only a select few combine rugged nature with the gentle village vibe and hidden charm of Maidencombe. Just don't tell too many people.