Walk - Sidmouth - Valley, Ridge and Jurassic Coast
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Start the walk on the sea front at the Bedford Hotel, at the end of Station Road. This is a short distance from Sidmouth’s bus terminus at The Triangle. Keep the sea on your right and walk along the Esplanade.
Sidmouth is an attractive seaside town on the coast of East Devon. Situated on the floor of the valley of the River Sid where it meets the sea, it is flanked on both sides by high ridges which both contain the town and give it its scenic backdrop.
In addition, the coastline of East Devon is part of the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site. This is England’s first World Heritage Site, putting it on a par with features such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon as one of the wonders of the natural world. The World Heritage Site as a whole stretches from Studland Bay in Dorset to Orcombe Point near Exmouth, and is often referred to as the “Jurassic Coast”. Its importance is that it shows the natural geological progression over 185 million years of earth history in just 95 miles, all of which can be accessed via the South West Coast Path.
This walk includes 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.
Sidmouth began to develop as a destination for “discriminating visitors” around 1800. Its popularity was a result of its climate and surroundings, and this was heightened when the Napoleonic Wars meant that the well-to-do could not do the European “Grand Tour”. Its reputation was enhanced by the stay of the Duke and Duchess of Kent and their infant daughter, the future Queen Victoria, in
Many of Sidmouth’s early developments are along the Esplanade – look out for the blue plaques erected by the Sid Vale Association showing their history. Particularly of note are the Bedford Hotel, originally the Royal Marine Library and dating from 1813; the Kingswood Hotel, formerly the Marine Brine Baths; the Mocha, which dates from 1809; Beach House, probably the first building on the sea front (c.1790) and the Royal York, Sidmouth’s first hotel (1810).
- Keep walking to the end of the Esplanade to arrive at the mouth of the River Sid.
Various attempts to build a harbour here all failed because of storms and during the 19th century the fishing trade continued to decline. In the medieval period Sidmouth had been a port of some importance.
The lifeboat station houses the community funded Inshore Rescue Service. Sidmouth's Lifeboat is not part of, or funded by the RNLI, During its Victorian heyday, Sidmouth was home to an RNLI Station. From 1869 to 1912 the Lifeboats “Rimmington”, followed by the “William & Francis” saved a total of 38 lives. Howver, following a decline in activity the service was withdrawn in 1912. In 1968 Students from the local secondary school formed a surf life saving organisation. In the late 1970’s the level of cover gradually increased until in 1982 Sidmouth Inshore Rescue Service became a declared rescue facility with the Coastguard and made available for callouts 24 / 7.
The Esplanade forms part of the South West Coast Path. From the mouth of the river a splendid view eastward along the coast is possible, the geological variations of the Jurassic Coast showing up well.
- At the turning circle at the end of the road leave the Coast Path and bear left and inland, along the tarmac footpath alongside the play area. Keep ahead at the end of this path and follow the little road, Riverside Road, to a junction. Turn right here.
This is Eastern Town, the oldest part of Sidmouth and the site of the original fishing village. Riverside Road was built for artisans in the early 19th century on former swamp land.
- Cross the footbridge over the River Sid (or if really adventurous, use the ford, but be very careful) and continue alongside the river to another junction.
Opposite is a toll house. This was built in 1817 for the bridge built over the river at that date. Previously, the ford was Sidmouth’s only access from the east below Sidford. The toll gate now hangs at the entrance to the Byes, the parkland alongside the river.
- Cross the road and enter the Byes. This parkland was created by the Sid Vale Association in the late 19th century.
- Follow the riverside footpath ahead then bear off left to cross the first footbridge.
- At the main road at the top turn right along Temple Street then take the first left, Brewery Lane. Follow this road uphill.
This road gets its name from a brewery that used to be situated on the right, near the bottom, until it was redeveloped in the mid-20th century.
- Walk uphill, continuing ahead at the junction by the seat. Cross the main road at the end and continue up the road opposite, Broadway. Keep uphill on this road, passing St. John’s School.
The school was originally a convent, built in the later 19th century.
- Immediately after St. John’s School turn right up the narrow Bickwell Lane. As the lane climbs it emerges into open countryside, giving pleasant views over the Bickwell Valley on the left. Bickwell Farm, first recorded in 1260, is especially obvious. Take the third of three tracks leaving the lane on the left, signposted as Higher Greenway Lane.
- A short way along this track take the public bridleway which leaves to the left. Climb this path then, shortly after entering the woodland, fork right along the public footpath. The hill above and to the left is Bulverton Hill, a prominent landmark overlooking Sidmouth. The path continues along the edge of the woodland clothing Bulverton Hill, giving extensive views over Sidmouth and the Sid Valley. Follow the path as it passes the back of a house. A little later it arrives at an obvious junction above another house.
- Turn left and back here, uphill into the woodland on Bulverton Hill. Leave the path by turning right, up some steps, as waymarked, and at the top turn left along the path. About 70 yards along turn right at another waymark and follow this path to a wide forest ride. Turn left here and follow the ride until it descends gently to a junction. Turn right to arrive at a major junction of tracks.
- Turn left at this junction.
This is known as Salter’s Cross, and has always been an important junction, even more so in former times when these tracks were much more used as highways. The height that has been gained can be seen from the view through the trees by the seat.
- Follow the clear track and after about 50 yards bear left at the obvious fork, signposted to Peak Hill, 1¼ miles. Keep ahead at a number of junctions, along the clear ridge-top track.
This ridge route is almost certainly of great antiquity. Such routes were the main roads of prehistoric times, when the woodlands and swamps of the valleys made progress almost impossible at lower levels. This route leads to the coast at Peak Hill, where there was a prehistoric hill fort, so it must have been especially important.
This hill-top area is known as Mutter’s Moor. It is said to be named after Abraham Mutter, a colleague of the notorious 18th century smuggler Jack Rattenbury. Mutter was a turf cutter who cut turf for fuel on these heaths and hid brandy in the loads which he carried down to the nearby towns.
The trees thin out as the track crosses Mutter’s Moor. It eventually emerges at a car park at Peak Hill.
- Walk ahead to the road, cross and follow the path ahead over the field to the coast.
The prominent pointed shape of High Peak, the summit of Peak Hill, can be seen ahead and to the right. This was the location of the prehistoric hill fort and was later occupied during the Roman period and in the Dark Ages.
Beyond High Peak is a superb coastal panorama stretching over the western end of the Jurassic Coast towards the mouth of the River Exe and then beyond to Tor Bay.
- On reaching the Coast Path at the far side of the field turn left through the kissing gate and follow the path as it descends quite steeply and then via steps to a road. Turn right and follow the road downhill.
On the right is the picturesque Peak Cottage. Originally a farm cottage, it was embellished as a well-to-do residence in the 19th century. Bear right to follow the old road parallel to the coast. This was abandoned in the 1990s following cliff falls and the new road built further inland.
- Immediately after rejoining the current road, bear right through a kissing gate and continue downhill over the grassy area. Superb views open up over Sidmouth and further lengths of the Jurassic Coast beyond. The grassy area leads to Connaught Gardens and Jacob’s Ladder.
Originally there was a donkey track from the beach to the cliff top here, where there was a lime kiln. The track was washed away and replaced by steps which also eroded away and so in turn were replaced by a ladder in the late 1800s. The ladder was itself replaced by a substantial staircase, of which the present structure is the third replacement. The current tarmac footpath on the right was made in the 1950s.
The old lime kiln at the top was increasingly embellished until it became the Clock Tower and incorporated into Connaught Gardens, laid out for public use in the 1930s. In the Second World War the Clock Tower was used as a lookout and a gun pillbox erected.
- Follow the path down to Connaught Gardens and bear right, past the pillbox, to the top of Jacob’s Ladder. Go down the ladder then turn left and follow the walkway along the base of the cliff to the end of the Esplanade. Continue ahead to return to the starting point at the Bedford Hotel.
Sidmouth has all facilities; there are shops at Temple Street and a café at Jacob’s Ladder.