I live in Torbay (Brixham) and really love it - lovely seaside, amazing views, have spent the day at the beach hut, friendly people, nice houses. Up and coming (gawd we are getting a sushi bar...)
I have also lived in Ashburton so... depending on what sort of thing you are looking for, and bearing in mind DD is 20 months so I know nada about schools...
I think you are either a 'Moors' person or a 'Seaside' person. Ashburton ('Moors') has come up lots in the last few years. It's a very 'nice Market town' with a couple of delis,a very nice restaurant, no nice pubs though, and really close to some amazing walks on Dartmoor. Right by the A38, so a 20 minute commute to Torquay I think. Although there is a BITCH of a road from Newton Abbot to Torquay which can hold you up for bloody ages. DH and I didn't love living there, it just wasn't 'us'... maybe a bit insular?
Totnes - one of the 'grooviest places to live in the Uk' i believe. VERY arty, hippy vibe. It's a touchy feely organic, quite wealthy town. Very pretty, lots to do and loads of places to eat and drink. Mainline train to London. Property is pricey in comparison to Torbay, parking is bad. You either love Totnes or hate it. The bell ringing hippies on the corner get you going, or send you mad. Good sec school I have heard - very arty if that's your thing
And Torbay, well, as I said I love Brixham. Torquay? lovely houses, can look like Cannes in the summer, can look like shit in other times. Poor Torquay, it's a bit stag and hens and a bit depressed but there is something rather beautiful about it I think. Paignton? Kiss me Quick, squeeze me slow. Pier, fish n chips, nice beaches, but has a down at heel depressing feel to it.
So this isn't much help really - if you let me know what sort of lifestyle you are after I can guide my advice more???
we lived in ivybridge and it wasn't our scene at all. dull dull dull. i like that totnes is lively and has lots going on, and cafe's and restaurants and a swimming pool. we're not hippy. actually DH is. i'm not really, but we do like the festival scene. we're not steiner heads, but are friends with some. i used to love a day out in totnes having a nosey round the shops and galleries. and the vintage clothes shop.
i don't know anything about the schools though. i'd like this move to be long term, so somewhere the kids can go right through to secondary and have access to good schools, not shitty ones.
i'm due to be working in the whole of torbay, so sometimes torquay and sometimes brixham. i was thinking totnes was placed to make that easy and to miss out the traffic from newton abbot. (you are not the first to mention this to me). what do you think?
we just got back from goodrington, which was fun for the kids, but not really what i'm looking for long term. liking the retro seaside thang for a day out.
I think, then, that starting your search in Totnes might be a good bet! I think as children get older there is more for them to do there than in Torbay, and transport links are better. Guess it might boil down to property, then, as you will get a lot less for your money in Totnes than in Torbay ('Burton in the middle - I think you might find Burton like Ivybridge). Hopefully someone with a knowledge of the schools will come along - but if you want a day trip to Brixham to check it out I will happily escort you and show you its many hidden charms!