Visit Devon: Happy Valley
PUBLISHED: 09:32 24 June 2014 | UPDATED: 09:32 24 June 2014
In the latest feature in our series during a year-long Devon Life partnership with Visit Devon to boost tourism in the county, we turn our attention to Sidmouth and its surroundings
Visit Devon is the voice of tourism for Devon working with the local authorities, the Local Enterprise Partnership and Visit England. Throughout 2014 Devon Life has teamed up with Visit Devon in a joint initiative to promote the county.
If you think you know Sidmouth then think again! Poet Laureate, John Betjeman described it as “the town caught still in a timeless charm”. And whilst the charm remains, there’s always something new to appeal.
Nestled beneath mighty red cliffs and the green hills of the glorious Sid Valley, Sidmouth occupies a stunning position on the World Heritage Site - the Jurassic Coast. And now there is the breathtaking Valley of a Million Bulbs to visit this summer.
With beaches, coastal walks, gardens, a theatre and cinema, stylish eating places, and some of the best shops in East Devon, Sidmouth appeals on many fronts.
The town’s Millennium Walkway passes beneath vivid red Triassic sandstone cliffs, scoured and sculpted into fantastic shapes by the passage of ancient rivers. From here you can climb the South West Coast Path to Ladram Bay, with its magnificent red rock chimneys visible in one direction, and picturesque Branscombe in the other.
Lovely restaurants, bars and cafés await those looking for a bite to eat. Dukes, a contemporary inn on the esplanade, is close to the sea, offering relaxed and informal dining.
If you fancy a spot of al fresco dining, then Harding’s restaurant at the Sidmouth Harbour Hotel lets you soak up the sun and take in the views from the terrace. Their traditional Devon afternoon tea, with homemade sandwiches, chef’s selection of cakes and a pot of tea served with warm scones, strawberry preserve and clotted cream, earns rave reviews.
Looking for an unusual gift or perhaps designer clothing? Then the town’s array of shops should meet your needs.
History and architecture buffs will be kept busy. With over 500 listed buildings, a liberal sprinkling of blue plaques testifies to Sidmouth’s heritage. A host of famous visitors, including Princess Victoria, the Grand Duchess of Russia, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, have fallen for the town’s charms in previous times.
Sidmouth Museum, housed in a delightful Regency cottage near the Market Square, is the place to go to find out about the town’s history and connections, and is also the starting point for town tours.
Sidmouth sits within delightful countryside. To one side lies the dramatic heathland of Mutters Moor, home to the elusive nightjar, while on Salcombe Hill, the space age domes of the Norman Lockyer Observatory are an unexpected sight, offering regular open evenings and the chance to marvel at the night sky through powerful telescopes.
Most recently you will be amazed by the beautiful fields of daffodils springing up all over Sidmouth, part of the Valley of a Million bulbs, which are a result of the very generous gift made to Sidmouth and the Sid Valley, by the late Keith Owen.
He asked the Sid Vale Association ‘to think outside the box’. Whilst encouraging conservation and natural heritage, he said: “Think big! Plant a million bulbs! Get everyone involved.”
The Donkey Sanctuary in nearby Salcombe Regis is a great, free, family-friendly, attraction. The charity works worldwide to protect donkeys and promote their welfare and is in fact the largest sanctuary of its kind in the world. It’s also probably the only such sanctuary with a maze! With donkeys to adopt and a fascinating nature centre, it’s yet another part of the wonderful Sidmouth offering.
Events to look out for
The holiday season brings with it all manner of activities and events in and around the town. From 10 to 14 June the Sidmouth Amateur Dramatic Society will be putting on a performance of Straight and Narrow at the Manor Pavilion Theatre.
From 26 to 30 June people can visit the many hidden gardens of Sidmouth, an open event organised by Sidmouth in Bloom.
Every Sunday throughout the summer months, the Sidmouth Town Band Concert plays at 8pm in Connaught Gardens.
The Sidmouth Society of Artists present their annual exhibition in The Arts Centre, Manor Pavilion, from 10 to 23 July and on the 20 July the Sidmouth Lions Great Duck Derby takes place on the River Sid in the Byes.
In August the town comes alive during its famous week-long, Sidmouth Folk Week, a scintillating blend of music and dance that draws thousands of visitors each year. This year the festival is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Martin Carthy, festival favourites Oysterband and BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Duo winners Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin are among the highlights of a programme that includes music, storytelling, dances, crafts and a busy children’s festival.
Beautiful gardens and leisurely walks, Regency history and fine hotels, clean beaches and friendly shops…it’s all here in this lovely seaside town.
A walker’s paradise
From expert ramblers to total beginners - there is something for every walker in Sidmouth.
2014 sees the introduction of a brand new Walking Festival in Sidmouth during September. The new walking festival runs for six days with a choice of two walk lengths each day around the town and along the stunning Jurassic Coast in East Devon.
All walks will be free of charge, but numbers will be limited and they must be booked in advance through the Sidmouth Information Centre, Ham Lane, Sidmouth, Devon EX10 8XR. Tel : 01395 516441
Walking with Llamas
Local walking attractions, Peak Hill Llamas and the Donkey Sanctuary, offer their own-guided tours around Sidmouth with their friendly animals, treking vallys, hills and coastal paths. Walks include a sample of Sidmouth and the River Sid as well as one of the town’s neighbouring ridges, and links the two elements via the Coast Path which gives superb views along the Jurassic Coast.