9. *East Devon: Sidmouth Circular Walk via Salcombe Woods - 4.5 miles - OS Explorer map 115
Steep going in places. Connects to walk 8 if you fancy a longer slog.
AN O/S map of this area can be found here Salcombe Hill to Sidmouth circular walk | National Trust It includes a walk similar but missing out a glorious stroll by the Sid river and an ancient wood-topped hedge.
Start at the eastern end of Sidmouth promenade by the River Sid, England's shortest river at 6 miles. Plenty of car parks thereabouts. Enjoy the view of the sandstone cliffs and debris dangling from what were gardens before yet another chunk of cliff collapsed in a roaring red cloud.
The beach beneath is where the gulls gather to rest in the evening after a day of mugging for ice creams and chip. Hard to imagine this little river outlet was once a harbour large enough for King Edward III to demand it supply three ships and sixty-two men to fight the French in 1346. Silting up saw the end to all that.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a curious seal pop its head up beyond the narrow concrete breakwater to your right.
Head inland along the Ham (the stretch of grass with a kids’ play area at the end). It ends at Riverside Road. Follow this until you come to Mill St. Turn right here to a ford. Cross over the footbridge turning left into Milford Road. This soon ends at a road junction. Ahead, across the road, is the entrance (by a quaint toll house) to one of Sidmouth’s gems: The Byes.
It may look like your standard town park from here, but The Byes a nature reserve stretching all the way to Sidford. Along the way there are secluded riverside tracks where you can do a bit of wild water splashing in the Sid.
Entering the park, follow the Sid to your left. Many of the trees here are labelled, so, if you can’t tell a chestnut from a tulip tree from an oak, now’s your chance to learn.
Before long you’ll come to a footbridge across the river. Cross this or the next to follow the river from the other side. When the river veers away and disappears, keep an eye out for a gate on your right into Margaret’s Meadow (it’s signposted). This is the first divergence from the O/S walk.
Head across the field toward trees at the far side. That's where the river is. There are gates in the fence leading to dirt tracks that weave through the trees and follow the river. Head to your left with the river to your right. Leaky damns create perfect pools for a bit of wild paddling. It's delightful here and my partner once spotted an otter, so keep your eyes open. As you can see from the picture, my grandkids' love it, too.
All too soon, the track returns to the field and you’ll have to make a reverse, going diagonally southwest across the field to find a gate back onto the path/cycle track. From here turn right. After a few yards there’s a cycle sign for Fortescue. Follow it back to the river and a bridge into this oddly named stretch of suburbia in the countryside. (In the distant past, Honourable Lady Fortescue of Salcombe Regis gifted this land to a poor local boy she took a fancy to. Maybe this was Jimmy's way of saying ta.)
Coming out at the main road, turn left and, after passing a phone-box library, turn right at a footpath sign into Griggs Lane. Ahead is a steep slog, turning from tarmac to dirt path as you climb Soldiers Hill into lovely old birch, holly and maple woodland. In 1859, with Napoleon III saber rattling, a Volunteer Artillery and Rifle Corps was formed to man Sidmouth’s little castle, and they trained on this hill, poor sods. Still, it probably helped them fit into those natty red waist length jackets and impress the ladies at parties. There was bugger-all fighting to do.
The path begins to level out at a raise hedge and gate. A few yards further along you'll see a footpath sign pointing right to Milltown Lane. Follow this keeping straight ahead as it leads into a field.
The path end at track. Turn right and follow the sloping track down past an atmospheric bank (see top picture) topped with ancient and towering Birch (I think - no leaves on it when I passed).
Keep ahead, ignoring smaller paths leading off to your right, and eventually you’ll emerge at Salcombe Hill Road. Turn right and, ignoring the first footpath sign, go left at a private driveway (Seaward) with a footpath sign against it. Turn off at a footpath sign, taking the left of two options into younger woodland. Small trees. Maples mostly. In bluebell season this area is stunning.
Head along keeping ahead and, eventually, down into a field overlooking Sidmouth. Follow the signs back to town through well-to-do houses, some with blue plaques celebrating previous notable owners - although not so notable you’ll have heard of them.
Crossing the bridge over the Sid, ahead there’s a blue painted wall. A sea mural, its the back of a fishmongers selling the local catch. I recommend their crab sandwich. You’ve earnt it. If you fancy a beer, Dukes, a little further along the prom always has a good selection. For tea, I prefer sitting outside the Elizabeth next door. You get free shortbread biscuits!