DEVON: Sidmouth

Big sky lr
L-R: A sky you can lose yourself in, bluebells and daisies

By Tim Saunders

In 2009 over £1m was raised to save a dilapidated Regency mansion in the heart of Sidmouth.
Today, Kennaway House stands proud in Coburg Road where it has become a heart of the community and is now used to host an array of activities from weekly yoga classes to Chinese brush painting, wedding ceremonies and art exhibitions.
“The property, which was built in 1805 – the same year as the Battle of Trafalgar - has elegantly proportioned rooms - the oak floorboards alone cost £5,000,” reveals Dr Michael James, chairman of Kennaway House, who played a key role in raising the money to rescue the historic property. “It was a difficult job to convince the Heritage Lottery Fund that we actually needed the money because they all thought that there was great affluence in Sidmouth,” he adds. The town itself has experienced its own difficulties in recent years but there is now a good feeling about the area with few empty shops and it is clearly a popular tourist destination as countless coaches stop on the seafront to drop of visitors.
During our trip to Kennaway we visit the Creative Coverage Open Exhibition where more than 100 works of art by 29 selected professional artists and craftspeople are on show. “I don’t usually bother going to exhibitions, which often have no more than six artists showing their work at a time,” says Adam Edsall from White Sails Gallery in Dartmouth. “It can easily be a waste of my time but when I received the invitation to this event I was intrigued by the fact that there were so many professional artists exhibiting in one place and I had to visit.”
There are some enjoyable walks to be had around Sidmouth too, not least along the seafront and up the hill to Connaught Gardens. Indeed the strong sea breeze is just what’s required to send little three month old Henry off to sleep.
We stay at Oakdown, the five star touring and holiday park, just 10 minutes away from the town by car. It was the AA Campsite of the Year 2015. “The AA annually awards the title of national and regional campsites of the year to sites in recognition of exceptionally high standards, service and presentation,” according to the AA website. “To shortlist a potential award winner the inspector looks at recent improvements and innovations that make the park stand out from the crowd, as well looking at the overall quality of the park.”
Whether you wish to camp or pitch a caravan or something a little more luxurious such as a pod, Oakdown has great variety. We opt for a leisure lodge which comes well equipped with all the mod-cons required for a comfortable self catering stay. Most importantly it is warm and the beds are really comfortable. There is peace and quiet and we sleep really well. We would have slept all the way through if little Henry hadn’t woken up for feeding every few hours. All bedding and towels are provided which is a great help. I do find though that the microfibre towels are not as user-friendly as traditional cotton towels because they don’t seem to be as absorbent.
Oakdown is literally next door to the Donkey Sanctuary and it is possible to walk there cross country. On an early summer’s evening this is a wonderful way to wind down, savouring the big skies that doubtless inspire countless artists, together with the picturesque views across the rolling Devon countryside. There is a pleasant tree lined pathway which forms a lasting memorial to those who once enjoyed visiting the Donkey Sanctuary. This does stimulate quiet contemplation.
This part of the world which oozes history combined with its magnificent landscape and beaches, cries out to be revisited.

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