Oasis of peace close to busy town centre

Torbay Weekly

Today we take a stroll around what was once the back garden of a famous early wildlife conservationist.

Herbert Whitley (1886 -1955) was a millionaire and animal breeder who established Paignton Zoo on his Primley estate in the 1920s.

He was a contemporary of people such as Sir Peter Scott and opened Paignton Zoo, originally his private collection, to the public in 1923.

It was one of the earliest combined zoological and botanical gardens in Britain and the first to be opened with education as its mission.

When Whitley died in 1955, the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) was set up to continue his work. WWCT is now known as Wild Planet Trust.

Since 2003, the trust has owned and operated Newquay Zoo and the former Living Coasts.

His estates also included the site of several local nature reserves in Devon, including Slapton Ley, now also run by the trust.

Primley Park Nature Reserve opened to the public in 1996 and you will find the entrance on Totnes Road opposite Collingwood Road where you will see an information board which includes a map of the walks available.

The name Primley comes from the term 'Prime Lea' or 'best meadow’ and the meadow which comprises grassland, scrub and specimen trees was used for grazing until recently.

The park is edged with trees sheltering it from the town and providing an oasis of peace despite its close proximity to the busy town centre.

You can follow the clearly defined footpaths to make this a circular walk and although sloping in places it is a moderately easy one for all ages and abilities providing the underfoot conditions are dry.

Primley Woods are carefully managed by the zoo rangers and are home to mature trees, many of which are estimated to be almost 200 years old.

There is a mix of natives such as beech, oak and sweet chestnut, but also some more unusual specimens such as the monkey puzzle tree from Chile and cork oak from the Mediterranean area.

The exceptional spring display of bluebells and wild garlic is well past its best now but buttercups currently provide a splash of colour in the predominantly lush green landscape.

From its highest point, the walk presents panoramic views over the rooftops to the Bay.

Look out for glimpses of Whitley’s former abode, Primley House, now a nursing home.

It was previously home to the Belfield family, who lived in Paignton from the 1550s.

The Reverend Finney Belfield, vicar of Torre, retired to Primley House in 1825. He restored the late medieval pulpit in the Church of St John, Church Street.