Originally a small market and fishing town, Sidmouth became a popular holiday venue in the late 18th century due to its pleasant scenery and mild climate. With the growth of Torquay in the mid-19th century as a result of the coming of the South Devon Railway (which reached Torquay in1848, and was amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1876) Sidmouth was somewhat bypassed and its rate of development slowed. Early plans for a branch line to Sidmouth were abandoned, and the town not linked to the main line until 1874, by which time Torquay had become Devon’s premier seaside resort and holiday destination. But in some ways this delay was very much to Sidmouth’s advantage, in that today much of the beautiful Georgian architecture remains, unaffected by later Victorian building work.
Considering the civilised nature of the town, it seems fitting that this walk should provide a peaceful, gentle way in along the River Sid, at just over 6 miles (9.7km) in length said to be the shortest in Devon. Surfaced easy-access walk- and cycleways now thread the Sid Valley between Sidford and the coast.
Sidmouth is full of lovely buildings, and the town is justifiably proud of its architectural heritage. The Toll House, passed on Point 4, was built for the Honiton & Sidmouth Turnpike Trust in 1817, and controlled the eastern approach to the town. The original crossing point of the Sid was the ford, just downstream. On the promenade look out for Beach House, the first house to be built on the seafront in 1790; the thatched open-fronted building attached to it at that time – the Shed – became a popular meeting place. The latter is now much changed and occupied by The Mocha Restaurant. Connaught Gardens was originally part of a private estate, known as Sea View, and given to the public by The Duke of Connaught in 1934.
Sidmouth takes on a different persona for one week at the start of August, when it hosts the world-famous Sidmouth FolkWeek. The event started in 1955, and grew to international proportions as the Sidmouth International Folklore Festival. Many devotees were relieved when, in 2005, the festival returned to a more manageable but still resoundingly successful format.
From the car park pass through the gate and follow the walk- and cycleway past the sports field.
Reach a crossroads of tarmac paths (Fortescue left) and keep ahead. Escape the cycles by turning left through a gate into Gilchrist Field; turn right along its edge. At the field end follow the field-edge left (passing a gate) towards the River Sid. At the end turn right through the hedge into Margaret’s Meadow. Keep along the left edge, passing The Golden Copse (planted in celebration of HRH The Queen’s Golden Jubilee) to regain the walkway.
Turn left to cross a footbridge and follow the river. At the wooden footbridge turn left across the river, then right to enter The Byes, parkland with splendid mature trees – lime, holm oak, sweet chestnut, sycamore, willow and copper beech. Keep straight on, passing two footbridges.
Just after the next weir leave The Byes by a white metal gate to meet the road by the early 19th-century Greek revival style Byes Toll House. Cross over and down Millford Road, over the river via a wooden footbridge at a ford, and down Mill Street. Turn first left (Riverside Road); when that turns sharp right keep straight on past the playground to the seafront.
Turn right along Sidmouth’s seafront past delightful Regency terraces. The tourist information centre is signed right (at the swimming pool). The long boulder banks offshore were constructed in the early 1990s to prevent beach erosion. Pass The Bedford Hotel, on the right, and carry on to the end of the promenade.
Follow signs for Connaught Gardens along The Clifton Walkway at the back of the beach. (Note: In heavy sea conditions leave the seafront and continue uphill to reach Connaught Gardens on the left.) The walkway leads under the marl cliff to overlook the beach at Jacob’s Ladder. Climb the white-painted steps up the cliff. Bear left, then right into Connaught Gardens under an arch (The Clock Tower Tea Rooms).
From the gardens emerge on to the road, turning right downhill to rejoin the promenade. At The Bedford Hotel turn left along Station Road; turn first right towards the Church of St Giles & St Nicholas. Pass through the graveyard, left of the church, and keep ahead past the bowling green. Turn right into Blackmore Gardens, and follow the path left. Leave the gardens and keep ahead to the High Street; turn left.
Opposite the Radway Cinema turn right down Salcombe Road to the Toll House, passed earlier, and turn left to retrace your steps to Sidford.
Good level paths or pavements
Meadows, town park and seafront
Dogs should be kept under control at all times
AA Leisure Map 22 Exeter, Sidmouth & Torbay
By Sidford Social Hall, Byes Lane
Sidmouth seafront, town centre and Connaught Gardens
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
With magnificent coastlines, two historic cities and the world-famous Dartmoor National Park, Devon sums up all that is best about the British landscape. For centuries it has been a fashionable and much loved holiday destination – especially south Devon’s glorious English Riviera.
Close to the English Riviera lies Dartmoor, one of the south-west’s most spectacular landscapes. The National Park, which contains Dartmoor, covers 365 square miles and includes many fascinating geological features – isolated granite tors and two summits exceeding 2,000 feet among them.
Not surprisingly, in Dartmoor the walking opportunities are enormous. Cycling in the two National Parks is also extremely popular and there is a good choice of off-road routes taking you to the heart of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Devon’s towns and cities offer stimulating alternatives to the rigours of the countryside.