Sidmouth: wild gardens, quaint hotels, drunken yobs, crumbling cliffs, festive folkies and Britain in Bloom - we have them all! And we have contrasting examples of rip-off Britain. In January 2007, the wreck of the Napoli became an added local attraction. The last section of the Napoli was removed in July 2009.
Sidmouth is located within the World Heritage Site of the so-called "Jurassic coast". This led a few councillors to claim that East Devon was therefore now on a par with such tourist attractions as the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef. It is not. We have some pleasant countryside, far too much tourist traffic and some old fossils. The old exposed rocks further along the coast have been attracting visitors for decades. One of the town's principal attractions is 'Folk Week' in August - some photos follow. After a 're-start' around 2005 the future of the festival now seems assured in the longer term.
Driving a car into Sidmouth - let alone parking it - can be a nightmare. Advice on parking is available and is especially important in folkweek - additional guidance for newcomers to the event is here.
By good fortune, the wreck of the Napoli caused few long term environmental problems. At the time, local government leaders were quick to bestow praise on their 'disaster management strategies'. In reality, the unfolding of events owed everything to good luck, competent salvage crews and good weather and little to local bureaucracy. However, residual problems on local beaches especially to the east of Sidmouth continued for years. Assorted debris including hypodermic needles were washed up from time to time but local people continued to undertake 'voluntary' beach cleaning.
As of 2016 the event has been all but forgotten but general beach debris remains a huge issue and one of world importance - the campaign group surfers against sewage organise regular beach-cleans in the south west of the UK but their efforts can be compared to someone rearranging a few sandcastles as the tide of pollution washes towards them. Nevertheless their well publicised campaigns may have some educational benefit, but maybe not for the majority of the population.
The majestic red cliffs of Sidmouth, a quintessentially 'English' resort town.
A study of the town was published by the 'Vision for Sidmouth' group - a copy of their 2006 report is here
First, a few words about Sidford village (home to this website) - or you can skip to hotels.htm for details of where to eat and stay.
Sidford lies at the intersection of the A375 and the A3052 coast road.
We have a bridge dating from Norman times and from which you can admire the view down the river. This might be much the same today as it was then, almost 1000 years ago. We also have some quaint seventeenth century cottages but they are ruined by speeding vehicles, traffic fumes and overhead wires. The bridge is reputed to be the site of a skirmish in 1644 during the English Civil War.
As of 2016 the major issue is the proposal by a local company, Fords of Sidmouth, to build a 12 acre industrial/office park on the flood plain of the river and in the AONB, just to the north of the village along the A375. Google 'Sidford business park' if you want the details. The principal beneficiaries will be Fords (of course) and the landowner Sir John Cave who has done nothing notable to earn his 'Sir'.
He is increasingly held in disrespect locally and is the newly enabled 'Sir' Hugh Swire the local MP.
The view down the river Sid and St Peter's Church, both in Sidford.
Many years ago, Sidford became famous for having not only probably the worst designed set of traffic signals in the country but also the Sidford Wild Garden. This was featured widely on BBC radio and television between 2000 and 2002 as a part of long running dispute with Britain in Bloom and a few wilting town and district councillors. Sidford is also home to a two roomed brick and wooden 'shack' that was featured in the national and international press (and on CNN) as an example of property prices gone mad. £60,000 (about $100,000) for a shack measuring just 15 by 10 feet and next to a noisy road junction! In mid 2003 it was featured again in the national UK press.
Sidford is also home to one of the first 20 mph zones that includes a busy main A road. Overall it has been a spectacular failure with vehicle speeds hardly influenced at all. Probably over a million drivers have passed the Speed Visor sign at an excessive speed since it was installed in April 2004, yet there has not been a single prosecution. The sign was removed sometime ago (maybe 2013?) Compare that with the impact of speed regulating traffic signals that are used so successfully in Spain and Portugal! In September 2016 a traffic monitoring device was installed along the A3052 to monitor vehicle numbers and speeds - it is just a black box on a lamppost yet collects a vast amount of data - you are being watched......see the roadhumps page for details
The bridge and the famous wooden shack at Sidford Cross.
The river Sid was here long before the Romans came. If it lasts for another 10,000 years, it might even witness the advent of open government in Devon. In the meantime, it supports rainbow trout, herons, dippers, kingfishers and several types of wagtails and dragonflies. we also have abundant growths of Japanese Knotweed courtesy of a local landowner who can't be bothered to address major infestations on his land (add links and photos) The kingfishers especially are mostly frightened away during the summer by rampaging tourists. So if you visit the Sid valley, please treat our wildlife habitats and especially the river with respect. The wildlife lives here, you don't.
The kingfisher is an occasional visitor to the Sidford Wild Garden, perching on a branch and watching the river for a meal. These rare birds nest in at least two places along the river Sid (but we don't tell people where). One of the more stupid proposals from our councillors (and from the Vision for Sidmouth group in their 2006 report) was to locate a cycle path close to the river - ensuring the birds and other sensitive wildlife such as otters would probably be frightened away.
One of the main attractions of Sidmouth is the Byes - and area of level parkland ideal for the elderly visitors that the town attracts. The waterfall on the river Sid is worth seeing on a bright sunny day (we do have them sometimes!)
Have you discovered the famous Sidmouth folk festival yet? If not, do so soon! Ideal for families, the friendly and well behaved atmosphere on the campsite and in the town has to be experienced to be believed, and all amidst Regency surroundings. There are no noisy 'amusement arcades' but we do still have lots of traffic fumes and speeding vehicles along the Esplanade to spoil what could otherwise be a wholly delightful resort town. One day, if sensible local and district councillors are ever elected, we might have the seafront area largely pedestrianised!
There is already an alcohol ban, but it is little enforced and what could be the quiet ambience of the Esplanade is often further ruined by older youngsters 'cruising around' in high powered cars with their stereo systems blaring. The neighbouring larger resort town of Exmouth (west of Sidmouth) has suffered from a substantial problem for years. Despite adequate legislation being in force, the police and local councils do little or nothing to stem what is a continuing and dangerous nuisance. Strangely the 'downmarket' town of Seaton to the east seems to have fewer problems.
Sidmouth's 'Folk Festival' attracts performers and visitors from around the world. Some return every year for decades. 'Folk week' is disliked by a minority of residents - some even leave town. Young musicians (and some not so young) perform for the crowds. Some collect money for 'good causes'. Click here to view more photographs from the 2003 festival.
Come and enjoy a fantastic week of music and dance. It used to be a world famous international festival but because of many problems it became a much smaller affair. As of 2010 onwards it recovered markedly, but will never be as it once was. You will also be able to admire the dotty floral displays of Britain in Bloom. In 2005, Sidmouth suffered several months of a mini-crime wave. The vandalism even extended to burning boats on the beach. Things are quieter now (in 2009 only a few deckchairs were burnt!) but alcohol abuse continues to be a major issue and a detracting factor for Sidmouth's traditionally staid summer visitors.
Sidmouth is also the home of the Sid Vale Association, which was the first Civic Society in Britain - founded in 1846. The SVA gave their own verdict on town planning in Sidmouth recently. See townplanning.htm for a few choice words about bureaucrats. Further details about Sidmouth generally are on the official website. The new-look folk festival also has its own website - and long may it continue.
Sidmouth is also home to two starkly contrasting displays of 'rip-off Britain' - in one case Goviers of Sidmouth - a well established shop selling grossly overpriced fancy china. It is sold as 'collectable', but if you have ever tried to sell any pristine pieces you soon discover they are worth about 5% of their purchase price - if you are lucky. (give examples and photos).
The other more recent store is 'Another Man's Treasure' a second-hand shop in a prime part of town that sells the most appallingly rubbish at high prices. You can buy new good quality tools at LIDL for less than the price of old rusting relics that this shop sells to gullible customers. Likewise cheap dry-cell batteries sold for £1 in Poundland stores are sold here for £4 or more. (add photos and examples). The psychology is interesting - some people just need to spend surplus money on 'nice but useless things' (hence Goviers stay in business) and some people think that anything from a shop selling second-hand goods must be a bargain. Charity shops have better quality goods on offer and often at lower prices than does 'Another Man's Treasure'.
As they say in Yorkshire (or they were allowed to say before the age of political correctness) "There's nowt so queer as folk".
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