WHILE some towns boast of having an arboretum, Sidmouth is one.
With an abundance of heritage species including ironwood, cypress, myrtle, copper, beech and red maple, the River Sid valley it sits in proudly claims to be the UK’s only “civic arboretum”.
And there is surely no better time than autumn to explore the russet reds and golden yellows in this corner of Devon.
I stayed a few miles out of town, at Cuckoo Down Farm, which is a luxury yurt and safari camp on a working sheep farm.
When I arrive, the resident cat is busy keeping an eye on the chickens in their coop, while owner Becky Sheaves is saddling up a pony to take a young guest for a ride.
The camp is spacious, with my nearest neighbour a reassuring 50 metres away,
And the yurt is wonderfully cosy, furnished with colourful throws and cushions and boasting a double bed and wood-burning fire as the centrepiece.
I also have a private loo in a nice little shed.
Tramping through the adjacent private oak wood, I see a fox run past to tease the flock of Suffolk cross sheep who are grazing in the fields.
It’s the kind of place you can imagine never leaving — but I have the seaside town of Sidmouth to explore.
There’s nothing remotely kiss-me-quick about this resort, which remains as elegant as when it first became popular in Regency times.
Its impressive seafront is lined with listed buildings — pop into the tourist information centre or museum for a blue-plaques guide.
Croquet and bowls are in play on immaculate lawns and at low tide families poke around the rock pools on the Blue Flag beach, with sands as rusty-red as the Unesco-protected Jurassic cliffs above.
You can rent kayaks and paddleboards from Jurassic Paddle Sports or go on one of their e-bike tours, but beyond that the activities are pretty gentle.
I go off to explore the cliff- hugging path to Jacob’s Ladder beach — where manoeuvres for the D-Day landings were practised.
The beach is named after the wooden staircase that has been a feature here since 1871.
At the top is the Clock Tower Cafe, housed in a 19th-century pseudo-castle, where I stop for a cream tea — remembering that in Devon it’s the jam that sits on top with the scone.
From nearby Salcombe Hill, there’s a rollercoaster of a National Trust trail, with giddying coastal views as it dips down to Weston Beach and then steeply up to Dunscombe Cliff.
From here, with only cows for company, I walk through pretty pasture past The Donkey Sanctuary before reaching the village of Salcombe Regis.
It’s as quintessential an English village as they come, with a Norman Church — if open, pop in to see the 15th-century, eagle-shaped lectern — and rose-gardened thatched cottages bordered by stone walls.
If glamping isn’t for you, then Sidmouth’s Dukes Seaside Inn is a lovely option.
It has contemporary decor, and a first-class restaurant serving what has been dug up, farmed or fished locally.
On its sunny terrace, I order the catch of the day, hake, with a chive- and-mushroom sauce — and enjoy a sundowner of local Sidmouth Seashore gin.
With such little light pollution, East Devon is considered prime stargazing territory, so a visit to the Norman Lockyer Observatory is a unique evening treat.
Founded by Norman Lockyer, the UK’s first astrophysicist, its 60-seater planetarium is the centrepiece — but the collection of Victorian telescopes, still in working order, are the showstoppers.
Back at Cuckoo Down Farm, I continue my stargazing searching for the constellation of my star sign Gemini — with a Thatchers cider and campfire for company.
It’s just one more mellow autumn pleasure to be savoured, in a pocket of Devon that has many.
STAYING THERE: One night’s room only in a luxury yurt at Cuckoo Down Farm is from £42.50pp based on two sharing. See cuckoodownfarm.co.uk
One night’s B&B at Dukes Seaside Inn is from £55pp based on two sharing. See dukessidmouth.co.uk
OUT & ABOUT: For details of kayak, paddleboard and e-bike trips, see jurassicpaddlesports.co.uk
GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL email@example.com