Your guide to the Geopark Festival
We all know that Torbay is a pretty special place. But did you realise it has international status? This month’s Geopark Festival (26 May to 3 June 2018) aims to teach us all a thing or two about our brilliant Bay
Say the word ‘Geopark’ and most of us think of that amazing playground on Paignton seafront, where the kids can go wild and grown ups can enjoy a coffee. But the swings, the climbing net, the roundabout and the rest are part of a much, much bigger picture. In fact, the whole of Torbay is one big Global Geopark, classified by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).
It means this part of South Devon with its striking red cliffs and rich history is massively important on a worldwide scale because of its geology, environment, culture and history. Torbay is one of only seven places in the UK and 140 sites across the world able to class itself as a Geopark.
It’s pretty impressive stuff and deserves to be shouted about, which is why this week sees the launch of a festival, designed to get us all talking about what makes our area so special.
The week-long event kick starts on Saturday (26th May) with a Rock Stars Trail and Stone Age Cave Painting by torchlight at Torquay Museum. Other highlights include Street Art Fossils at Torre Abbey (26th-27th May) and a Sculpture Trail through Cockington Court (from 27th May).
“It’s a great way of showing that we are part of this global network,” says Melanie Border, coordinator of the English Riviera Global Geopark and festival organsier. “UNESCO is a highly regarded organisation and they recognise this area as a place with unique features things to share – that is definitely something to feel proud of.”
Since it was awarded its prestigious Geopark status in 2007 – the first urban area ever to be classified - Torbay has been attracting visitors from all over the world who want to come and explore our coastline and places such as the prehistoric Kents Cavern, Berry Head nature reserve and Torre Abbey.
“It’s the combination of everything that makes Torbay special: its heritage, environment and culture,” says Melanie, adding that Geopark status is not all about rocks – although they are one of our best features.
“The headland cliffs of our Bay that gives us our microclimate, they started life south of the Equator and are formed of tropical creatures,” she says, admitting that geology is ‘at her heart’.
“The red rocks that everyone is so familiar with – they were formed in a desert south of the Equator. This is stuff that people see everyday and don’t take in but it’s affected the development of the Bay.
“Early settlers at Torre Abbey went there because of the fertile soil and the proximity to the stone, so they didn’t have to transport it far.
“You start picking out all these elements and you can see how the whole story fits together.”
This month’s festival promises to help raise awareness of Torbay’s Geopark status and encourage local people to take a new sense of pride in the place we call home.
Through family events, also featuring a Wildlife Tracker Quest at Occombe Farm (26 May - 1 June), Ice Age Sessions at Kents Cavern (27 May-2nd June) and Fossil Frenzy Fun at Luton House (1st June), it’s hoped children and adults will be able to learn more about why Torbay deserves to be internationally recognised.
“Admittedly, there is a lot of confusion about it because I think people see the Geopark as the playground in Paignton,” says Melanie, who is also chair of the UK Committee for UNESCO Global Geoparks. “Or they think it’s just about the rocks. But it’s actually picking up on all aspects of the Bay.
“How many areas can boast that they have a scheduled ancient monument?” she says, referring to our very own Kents Cavern. “Whenever people think of early man, they think of Stonehenge but Kents Cavern was around much earlier.”
Telling Torbay’s story and making it fun for all the family is a key part of the Geopark Festival. Melanie says she hopes the variety of events and activities on offer will attract lots of visitors and encourage us all to protect and promote the Bay.
“I’m really looking forward events like the Stone Age Cave Painting by torchlight at the museum and the Street Art Fossils at Torre Abbey,” she says. “There are also things like the adventures at the Fort Apache and Wild Fox playgrounds that are free.”
No excuses then – go and play in the Geopark!