Explore The Charming Teign Estuary

Illustration: Tom Jay

A pair of twins on opposite sides of South Devon’s River Teign, Teignmouth and Shaldon offer a mix of boats, lively beaches and good-value Regency homes. Words: Lesley Gillilan Illustration: Tom Jay

Teignmouth is not as well known as its neighbouring estuary hotspots (Salcombe, Exmouth or Dartmouth). Even pronouncing the name is a challenge (it’s Tinmuth). But for those in the know, there is nowhere better. Vintage railway posters called it ‘the gem of South Devon’, and although it has suffered a period of decline, the town is on the up.

‘There’s a real charm to the place, and a real soul, too,’ says local artist-illustrator Laura Wall, a self-confessed ‘seaside addict’. ‘Of all the places I’ve lived, it’s the one that’s really grabbed me. There’s so much going on – even in the winter.’

Between Torquay and Dawlish, on the eastern edge of Dartmoor National Park, Teignmouth sits on a spur-like peninsula that tapers to a sandy bar, known locally as ‘the Salty’. There is a pier, a port, parks, a handsome Regency seafront and views across the estuary to pretty Shaldon village.

Linked by a road bridge (or a foot ferry), both places sit against a backdrop of farmland, framed by lofty sandstone cliffs, trimmed with terracotta beaches and laced with narrow streets of Georgian houses – Teignbridge (the local collective name) has been a popular holiday resort since the early 18th century. ‘There’s no end to the beautiful things that inspire me to paint,’ says Laura, whose ‘Love at the Seaside’ scenes invariably feature the area. Born in Kent, 31-year-old Laura moved to Kingsteignton in Devon six years ago; last year she opened her own gallery in Teignmouth (laurawall.com) and now she and her husband Dave are looking for a home in the town.

The attractions, she says, are the beaches, the sense of history, ‘the vibe’, the little streets that veer off the seafront, and the wide variety of independent shops and galleries. ‘It’s a very welcoming place,’ she says. ‘Brilliant for live music and the arts, and very creative. Like St Ives, there’s something about the light that draws artists.’

For Laura, the heart of the place is Back Beach, a jumble of sea-dog huts, boats and fishing nets, and gatherings of locals. ‘It’s all about children and dogs and barbecues and people playing guitars,’ she says. ‘There’s a very strong community here, and a sense that everyone wants to live life to the max.’

With its narrow Georgian streets, town beach and village shops, Shaldon is the hotspot and has most of the prime properties. However, average house prices in Teignmouth are almost half that of its smaller neighbour; and the views are arguably better from Teignmouth, which also hogs the evening sun. In Shaldon, hunt for cottages and fine Regency houses on Marine Parade, the Strand or the Green, or for large 1930s houses look high up on Teignmouth Road. Suburban Teignmouth is largely made up of 20th century housing (lots of post-war bungalows) but the centre and the seafront are a mix of Georgian and Victorian. Look at the streets around Northumberland Place, Den Crescent, leafy Landscore Road or the Eastcliff area.

There is a River Teign Rowing Club (the local speciality is the four-oar ‘Seine’ boat), as well as facilities for kayaking, diving and windsurfing. Walkers can try the four-mile railway-coast path to Dawlish. Teignmouth has the Grand Pier, the Den – a long stretch of green space that runs along the seafront between the Salty and the Lido (with its heated outdoor pool), the Ice Factory studio theatre and the fresh-seafood Crab Shack on the Beach (crabshackonthebeach.co.uk). Shaldon has the Wildlife Trust’s zoo (think meerkats and monkeys), botanical gardens and the award-winning ODE café and microbrewery at Ness Cove; part of a local, sustainable food enterprise, it’s run by Devon chef-entrepreneurs Tim and Clare Bouget who also run the more formal ODE restaurant close to Shaldon beach (odetruefood.com). Local events include September’s Taste of the Teign Festival. For more, see visitsouthdevon.co.uk.

With a history of fishing and ship-building, Teignmouth still has a small industrial port. Otherwise, the majority of jobs are in tourism, local services 
and the public sector. Devon’s capital, the city of Exeter, is within a viable commute (about 25 minutes by car or train). And Teignmouth station has a direct link to London via the mainline route between Paddington and Penzance. The journey to London takes around three and a half hours. The nearest airport is Exeter International.

The only local secondary is Teignmouth Community School, rated by Ofsted as Good.

Teignmouth looks dated and a little shabby in places, but don’t judge the town on first appearances: it is younger and livelier than it looks. Shaldon is picture perfect but parking is an issue (there is limited street parking for the smaller cottages that don’t have private spaces). In both places, swimmers and rowers should beware of the estuary’s strong rip tides.

Teignmouth is on the up, partly due to a local regeneration initiative, which was the driver behind this year’s opening of the Pavilions, a new seafront arts space and cinema. An emerging ‘arts quarter’ is re-invigorating a tired corner of the town centre. And Teignmouth is also benefiting from a £1m upgrade of the Fish Quay, designed to boost fishing and leisure industries.

Teignmouth has provided the setting for forthcoming movie The Mercy, a biopic about local yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, starring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz, and due for release in January 2017.

Teignmouth: £281,687
Shaldon: £408,915
Devon: £278,968
UK:  £297,959
Average house prices: [July 2016]. Source: Zoopla (zoopla.co.uk).

Coastguard Cottage (01803 213814, discoveryholidayhomes.com).

This traditional Shaldon cottage has been given a modern makeover to provide a roomy home-from-home with open-plan living space, three bedrooms (including a king-size master suite and bunk beds for two children), two bathrooms and a sunny courtyard. The décor is light, bright and nautical with tiled floors, natural wood, a sleek kitchen and a cosy wood-burner. The village beach is a one-minute walk from the front door. From £220 for two nights for two people, £319 for a family or from £580 for a family for a week.

Find more inspiration for moving to the coast here, or pick up a copy of the magazine.

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