Just once in a while it's nice to do without the car and make the most of public transport. It allows for a whole different type of short break.
Take the train to Torquay, capital of the "English Riviera" on Devon's south coast. Torquay is a nice, traditional coastal resort, with an attractive harbour surrounded by restaurants, bars and decent shopping. In the warmer months, there are also a number of beaches to enjoy.
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Right opposite Torquay's rail station, but also right on the seafront, you'll find the delightful Grand Hotel (part of the Richardson group of quality hotels). Being right on the seafront, it would be a lovely place to stay in Summer, but also in the Winter months it's an ideal spot from which to watch the crashing waves outside from the comfort of the warm and welcoming lounge area. The hotel also has a decent indoor leisure complex with a smallish pool, jucuzzi and sauna. We didn't eat dinner in the hotel, but breakfast is a very extensive and enjoyable buffet.
The centre of Torquay is a pleasant 15-minute stroll along the seafront promenade, passing some nice gardens, Torquay Marina and the Princess Theatre. If you don't fancy the walk, there are busses running along the seafront from right outside the Grand Hotel every 10 minutes or so.
In addition to a wide range of shops, you'll find plenty of choice for eating and drinking. The official English Riviera website is a useful information source.
So, back to Torquay's railway station. It's handy for getting to Torquay in the first place, but is also good for getting around the area on your car-free break. You can easily get to Paignton (just 6 minutes), or to Totnes, Exeter, Newton Abbot or Plymouth. It's worth just taking the short trip to Paignton, which has a slightly scruffy town centre but a well kept seafront including colourful beach huts and a charming pier.
We find qjump a useful site for planning rail journeys around the UK.
If you really want to make the most of a car-free break in the Torquay area, you might also want to take a trip on the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway, which starts from Paignton station. The Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway features steam trains running for seven miles in Great Western tradition along the spectactular Torbay coast to Churston and through the wooded slopes bordering the Dart estuary to Kingswear. The scenery is superb, with seascapes right across Lyme Bay to Portland Bill on clear days.