Down the River Sid into Sidmouth in time to take afternoon tea at Connaught Gardens.
Distance 3.7 miles (6km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Good level paths or pavements
Landscape Meadows, town park and seafront
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 115 Exeter & Sidmouth
Start/finish SY 137891
Dog friendliness The only thing to look out for is other dogs, of which there will be plenty!
Parking On roadside near phone box at Fortescue
Public toilets Sidmouth seafront, also at Connaught Gardens
1 From Sidford on the A3052 follow signs for Sidmouth and Fortescue. After a few minutes park safely on the broad road near the phone box on the left. A footpath sign ahead directs you right, down a path to a kissing gate into the grassy meadows by the Sid. Cross the river via a wooden footbridge, then turn left. The path veers away from the river, passes through a kissing gate, and along the field edge to a cross-roads of footpaths. Go left to pass a beautiful wildflower meadow on the left. This is Gilchrist Field Nature Reserve, owned and managed by the Sid Vale Association, who aim 'to protect the natural history and wildlife of the area'.
2 Follow the path on to rejoin the river by a small weir. Just past some pretty cottages (right) cross the wooden footbridge over the river and turn right to enter The Byes, parkland with splendid mature trees - lime, holm oak, sweet chestnut, sycamore, willow, copper beech - ideal for a Sunday afternoon stroll to feed the ducks. Keep straight on, passing two footbridges. Just after the next weir leave The Byes through a white metal gate to meet the road by The Byes Toll House, built in early 19th-century Greek revival style. The original toll house controlled the eastern approach to the town. 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 children's playground to the seafront. There's an invigorating, salty air here - you can buy fresh local seafood - and glorious views.
3 Turn right to walk along Sidmouth's seafront past delightful Regency terraces, bedecked with hanging baskets in summer. There's a tourist information centre behind the Port Royal (Sidmouth Sailing and Sea Angling Club). The long banks of 'boulders' rising from the sea here are part of Sidmouth's sea defences, constructed in the early 1990s to prevent further storm erosion. Pass the Bedford Hotel, on the right, and carry on to the end of the promenade.
4 Follow signs for Connaught Gardens along the narrow Clifton Walkway at the back of the beach. Note: Don't walk here in heavy sea conditions; leave the seafront and continue left uphill away from the town to reach Connaught Gardens (left). The walkway leads under the edge of the marl cliff to overlook the beach at Jacob's Ladder, with lovely views to Peak Hill.
5 Turn round and almost immediately climb the metal-railed and very steep steps left up the cliff. Turn left up more steps into Connaught Gardens under an arch. Originally part of a private estate, these gardens are a delight all year round, and have won many floral awards. Here too are the Clocktower Tearooms.
6 Walk through the gardens away from the sea to the road, turning right downhill to rejoin the promenade. Wander back along the seafront, left up the river, over the footbridge at the ford, and back into The Byes. For a change of scene cross the first footbridge and walk up the left bank of the Sid. Go straight past the bridge on which you originally crossed the river and retrace your steps to your car.
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 the rate of Sidmouth's development decreased, so that much of the 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. The alternative on foot is along the coast path, which is pretty hard work - the cliffs here rise to over 500ft (150m)!
Sidmouth has its own (if smaller) version of the London Planetarium. The Norman Lockyer Observatory on Sidmouth Hill, which rises to the east of the town, was founded by Sir Norman Lockyer as an astrophysical research centre in 1912. Since the 1980s it has been run on a voluntary basis. You can go there to learn more about the solar system, carry out your own research, or simply watch the stars - on a clear night, of course.
Sidmouth is bursting with a great range of pubs, cafés and takeaways. The Bedford Hotel, situated towards the end of the promenade, has a welcoming atmosphere, good food and an enviable position. The bar overlooks the sea and the views are terrific at all times of year - and in all types of weather. If you're feeling thirsty when you reach Connaught Gardens you can stop for tea in floral surroundings at the licensed Clocktower Tearooms (open 364 days of the year, 10am-5pm). There's also a refreshment kiosk at Jacob's Ladder beach.