Sidmouth is a pretty, regency seaside town in East Devon, UK. As a child, I lived on the outskirts for about seven years during the 1970's.
Located at the mouth of the river Sid, the town's population is between 14 and 15 thousand. This increases significantly every summer with the arrival of holiday makers. Older tourists enjoy the quaint shops and cafes, beautiful gardens, and the promenade. Younger families enjoy the beach especially the strip of beach known as Jacob's Ladder just west of the main town because at low tide there is a good size strip of sand and rock pools to explore.
The beach in front of the main town is mainly made of pebbles.
Over recent years, a number of sea defense schemes have been
constructed to protect the traditional beach front hotels from
flooding and also to stop the degeneration of the beach itself. At low
tide a strip of sand appears at the west end of the beach.
To the east, the town is sheltered by Salcombe Hill, a large wooded hill separating Sidmouth from the village of Salcombe Regis. The relatively famous Norman Lockyer observatory and donkey sanctuary are located on top of the hill. The old observatory is regularly open to the public, having been saved from demolition by local enthusiasts.
Mutters Moor and Peak Hill guard the west of the town and a short walk westwards from the top is Ladram Bay, a holiday caravan park situated in a small cove.
There are two main roads into Sidmouth, Station Road and Sidford Road. The two roads form a rough triangle with the A3052 that runs across the top of Sidmouth. Of the two Station Road is the better as it avoids the town centre. The A3052 links the town to Exeter, the nearest city with its airport, M5 motorway junction, and mainline railway station. The Sidford Road route is better only if you are aiming for Honiton to link up with the A303 one of the main routes into and out of the South West or the A35 that takes you eastwards along the coast into Dorset and beyond.
Sidmouth is a relatively conservative place with a gentle pace of life and numerous quaint shops and old fashioned tea houses. It is popular with retirees, with about 60% of the population being over retirement age. However, for one week every year everything changes and the town bursts into life for the annual folk music festival. The normally sleepy town is filled with the sights and sounds of folk musicians, dance troupes, jugglers, stilt-walkers and fire-eaters, etc. that descend on the town from all over Europe. Many participants and spectators camp in the fields on the outskirts of the town. Events are held at different locations all over town with the main arena at the Knowle Hill. The sea front hosts a continual stream of impromptu and informal performances.
The other thing that brings an influx of young people to
Sidmouth every year is the popular international school.
From the east end of the sea front at Sidmouth, you can
out of town avoiding the town centre by turning into Ham Lane. Once
past the indoor swimming pool and the car parks, Ham Lane becomes
York Street that in turn quickly becomes Mill Street. At the end of
Mill Street you drive through the river Sid at the old ford,
something that always delights the kids, and up to the gardens
called the Byes.
If you can find somewhere to park, the Byes provides a beautiful riverside walk that slowly narrows to a footpath eventually emerging at the recreation fields in Sidford. Alternatively, once out of the ford, you can either take the Fortescue road that brings you out just east of Sidford on the A3052, turn right and climb up Salcombe Hill, or turn left to rejoin the high street opposite the Radway cinema.
The Byes Gardens
At the other end of the main beach, on top of the red sandstone cliffs that separate the main town from Jacob's Ladder, lies Connaught Gardens. One of my favourite spots in Sidmouth, the views over the town on one side and over Jacob's Ladder beach on the other are wonderful. The gardens themselves are beautiful, and if you time it right, you can sit in a deck chair on the lawn in front of the bandstand eating an ice cream and enjoying an outdoor concert. Connaught gardens also provides an excellent spot from which to watch the impressive annual Red Arrows display during Sidmouth regatta week. It was from here I watched in 1984 as one of the jets ditched in the sea. It had suffered a rotor blade failure in the low pressure compressor so the pilot flew the aircraft a safe distance out to sea and ejected.
Connaught Gardens and the Byes are just two of the parks and gardens in which Sidmouth quite rightly takes considerable pride. The town has won a number of accolades over recent years including several Britain in Bloom awards. Blackmore Gardens situated next to the health centre are another good example, and if you prefer you can avoid the short uphill walk to Connaught Gardens and instead sit in a deck chair and watch a game of cricket at the ground located on the sea front.Sidmouth is twinned with Le Locle, Switzerland.
Originally Sidmouth was a fishing village dating back at least as far as the Doomsday Book where it is listed as Sedemuda. Fishing boats still sail from the east end of Sidmouth's beach. However, Sidmouth has substantially been a tourist resort for well over a hundred years. The villas and mansions built by 19th century gentry are now holiday hotels but little of their character has been lost. A harbour at the east end of the beach was blocked by landslips during a particularly nasty period of stormy weather in the 15th century. Attempts to rebuild the harbour in the early 19th century failed but the remains of the railroad and rock tunnel that were to be used to bring in the stone needed by the project can still be seen today.
A regular railway to the town was finally built in 1874 but the station was deliberately located a mile from the sea front to deter day trippers. Sidmouth had become a select resort and wanted to remain so, an attitude that continues to a certain extent even today. Located at the top of Alexandria road the station is ironically perfectly located for the main annual folk festival site but never had the opportunity to transport train loads of folk music fans because it did not survive the branch lines closures of the 1960's.
The cricket club was founded in 1823. As well as enjoying significant success in the Devon League and Senior Cup in recent years, the club boasts a 'claim to fame' that it was in its pavilion that the famous Somerset County Cricket Club was formed in 1875.
The Simouth Town football club plays at the Manstone recreation field. This is just around the corner from where I lived as a child. As it is a public recreation field, my friends and I regularly played our smaller versions of football there when the pitch was not being used by the club. We always considered it a treat if the goal-posts were left up for a while after a match instead of having to use sweaters to mark out the goals. In the long, hot summer school holidays of 1976 it seemed like we played soccer all day every day. I was hooked, and started seriously following the fortunes of Manchester United. As there were no big local clubs at the time, my school-mates and I at St Nicholas Junior School (now the Woolbrook site of the amalgamated Sidmouth Primary School) supported either Man Utd or Liverpool. There was one or two brave individuals who opted for Arsenal or Spurs but such non-conformity was generally frowned on by their peers.
The rugby club, located at Blackmore, Heydons Lane, was founded in 1884. In 2008, Sidmouth RFC won promotion from the Western Counties West League to the South West One West League. I started playing rugby and fell in love with the game on starting at The King's School, Ottery St. Mary.
I was at Kings because it was the local grammar school. Children from Sidmouth that passed the 11+ exam were bussed the seven miles through narrow, high-hedged country roads to Ottery each day. Children from Ottery that did not pass the 11+ exam were bussed in the opposite direction to the Sidmouth Community College. Unfortunately for the local education authority at that time, St Nicholas was an excellent school and many pupils passed the 11+ exam while Ottery St. Mary Primary school was less successful academically. This meant paying for several buses and coaches to ferry children in both directions each day. This ludicrous situation was finally addressed a few years later so that pupils simply attended their nearest school, nearly all of the schools having been converted to Comprehensive School status.
By the time it came for me to pick a Colts (youth) club side to
family had moved to Ottery. Despite and probably because I had lived in
Sidmouth, I decided to play for Honiton RFC instead of Sidmouth and
always relished the chance to play and beat old
I only once had the privilege of playing at Blackmore because
the pitch there was usually reserved for the senior teams. The colts made do
with the pitches at nearby Sidford recreation fields, a location that
was also familiar not only from school matches between Kings and
Sidmouth schools but from much earlier when my family used to live around the
corner in South Lawn Terrace in Sidford. These days, I'm back at the Sidford pitches once or twice a year to watch and shout at my three sons renewing the rivalry with Sidmouth as they play for the various junior teams of Exmouth Rugby Club. Facilities
at Sidford have greatly improved with a small club house, changing
rooms and hot showers, none of which existed when I played there.
Famous PeopleSir Edmund Leach, the English social anthropologist was born in Sidmouth.
Other famous people that have lived in Sidmouth include Edward and Victoire, Duke and Duchess of Kent, the parents of Queen Victoria, and the astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer who retired there in 1911.
Many other celebrated persons including Jane Austen and members of royalty have holidayed in Sidmouth. Therefore, if you choose to visit you are following in some famous footsteps.
Northern Tasmania, Australia, has a Sidmouth too. This is located about half-way between Devonport and Scottsdale. There does not seem to be much to this Sidmouth but it is located on the intriguingly named Batman Highway close to the Batman Bridge.