Walk - Sampling Salcombe Hill

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

This short, level walk on mostly very good surfaces explores the National Trust land on Salcombe Hill providing extensive views of Sidmouth and the Jurassic Coast. There's plenty of seats along the route. There is a section with a gradient of 1:15 rising to 1:11 for about 40 metres. Motorised wheelchairs should have no problems. There's an option to follow the South West Coast Path for a short distance to take in even more glorious views. On a clear day you can see. forever... well, the Isle of Portland, at least!

The National Trust Car Park on Salcombe Hill is opposite the Norman Lockyer Observatory on the Sidmouth to Salcombe Regis road.

The Norman Lockyer Observatory is owned by the East Devon District Council but is operated on a voluntary basis by and for the members of the Norman Lockyer Observatory Society. Its principal facilities include three Victorian refracting telescopes and two modern reflectors, a planetarium, equipment for amateur radio reception and transmission, a meteorological station, an exhibition area, a library and a lecture theatre.

The Observatory is not constantly manned but is open to the public at listed times (mainly on Saturday evenings and Wednesday afternoons) and for prearranged visits by schools and other groups. There are guided tours of the telescopes, with observing when the conditions are suitable, and presentations of the planetarium. There are occasional special events and an annual Astronomy Fair, with trade stands and lectures by eminent astronomers as well as tours and planetarium presentations, in early August. There are charges for these visits and events.

Norman Lockyer was a Victorian amateur astronomer who became the director of the Solar Physics Observatory at South Kensington and the first professor of astronomical physics in the Normal School of Science (now the Royal College of Science) in 1887. He was knighted in 1897. His second marriage in 1903 was to a widow who had inherited land in Sidmouth where they built a retirement home in 1910. On the suggestion of Francis McClean, the son of the wealthy amateur astronomer Frank McClean, Lockyer obtained support in 1912 for the building of the Hill Observatory on the hill above the Lockyer house. McClean donated a telescope from his father’s observatory at Tunbridge Wells and Lockyer obtained a telescope that was no longer required by the Solar Physics Observatory, which was to be moved to Cambridge. They and others also donated money and other equipment. The Hill Observatory Corporation was established in 1916.

  1. From the Car park take the exit signposted to the Coast Path. Follow a wide tarmacced road until you reach a post and gate. Fork right through the gate and follow the path to the cliff edge and the coast path.

In summer the area is filled with wildflowers, like fox gloves and buttercups, which in turn attract an array of butterflies.

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. 

  1. Turning left, go through the one way latched gate following the optional route along the eastward bound South West Coast Path. Continue along this until you reach another latched gate. If you wish to go through this for another 20 metres there is a glorious view over the Salcombe valley and even a seat from which to admire it!

Red sandstone cliffs rise high above the picturesque Salcombe Regis Valley. At the valley bottom there is a footpath to Salcombe's pebble beach at Salcombe Mouth.

  1. Eventually, turn back until you reach the one way latched gate.
  2. Follow the path that runs parallel to the cliff past the toposcope. Here the path runs down and up a slight gradient but nothing too challenging to pushchairs or wheelchairs giving lovely views of Sidmouth and the Jurassic Coast.

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.

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 1819-20.

  1. The path continues ignoring the South West Coast Path as it turns left down into Sidmouth. Eventually you reach the outward path once more. Fork left and follow the path back to the car park.

Nearby refreshments


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