Take a short drive from the far Western end of Sidmouth Esplanade to climb Peak Hill and enjoy sweeping views across the Otter Valley. Narrow winding country lanes lead you down to Otterton with its working water mill and then on to Budleigh Salterton at the river mouth. Further up the valley you’ll discover beautiful botanic gardens at Bicton and the market town of Ottery St Mary.

Otterton village and mill

Otterton is just 15 minutes drive from our Sidmouth holiday cottage and is the classic Devon village with pretty thatched cottages and a stream running through it.

The Otterton working water mill

There has been a working mill at Otterton since Norman times. The buildings fell into disrepair in the 1960s but were sensitively restored in the 1970s so that the mill could continue to work up to the present day. It has also become established as a thriving centre for arts and crafts. On certain days you can still see the traditional water wheel powering the mill to produce the renowned Otterton stoneground wholemeal flour.

There is a cafe, restaurant and, of course, a bakery which produces fresh bread, cakes and scones seven days a week to enjoy at the mill or take home. On Thursday evenings the mill and restaurant are open for music nights (booking is essential).

Margaret H wrote “Otterton Mill was interesting & it was milling day. Although we didn’t eat here, the food looked lovely & scones were huge! (My friend who lives here said the food is delicious & all baked on site using flour from the mill)” August 2018.

John A wrote “Otterton Mill worth a visit” after their stay at Chandler’s Cottage in September 2015.

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Budleigh Salterton

Budleigh Salterton sits at the mouth of the River Otter, 20 minutes drive from Sidmouth. The village has a charming high street with an interesting mix of independent shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants leading down to the sweeping bay with a pebble beach flanked by distinctive red Devon cliffs. At the Eastern end of the beach is a large car park and from here you can walk up the Otter Valley towards the mill at Otterton.

The village has plenty of places to eat and a small collection of independent shops and galleries.

There are weekly antique and flea markets as well as a farmer’s market on the morning of the last Friday of each month.

The local Museum is housed in a striking Grade II listed thatched building and worth a visit, although it tends to only open during the peak holiday season (April to end of September).

Photo: The mouth of the river Otter

Budleigh Salterton Festivals

Budleigh hosts several notable festivals, the first is a Festival of Music and Drama, usually held in July and which features free lunchtime classical concerts on most days, walks, talks, exhibitions and events for children.

The touring society of the Musical Theatre Society of Imperial College London have been visiting Budleigh Salterton every year since 1968, usually the last last week in July and the first week in August. During the fortnight stay they present ten performances in the town’s Public Hall, as well as organising a charity concert in St Peter’s Church.

For several years Budleigh has also hosted a literary festival in September with readings and talks from authors and other literary events.

Bicton botanical gardens

Bicton covers over 60 acres with a mixture of formal gardens, open parklands and an arboretum. It has it’s own woodland steam railway to help visitors get around (at an extra charge).

Bicton caters for families with a large outdoor play area as well as indoor soft play barn, mini golf and nature trails, note that there are extra charges for the play barn and mini golf.

The countryside museum and small classic car collection will appeal to anyone with an interest in vintage machinery and rural memorabilia. If you’re lucky you may find one of the staff available to bring some of the antique pieces back to life with hands on demonstrations.

There is, of course, a gift shop and also a restaurant in a stunning location with a terrace over looking the Italian gardens and ornamental lake (although when we visited in spring 2013 the food was fairly average fare). If the weather is fine, then there are plenty of beautiful places to picnic around the gardens.

At the time of writing it costs around £12 for an adult ticket, and around £40 for a family of four (over £47 if you include a train ride). If that seems a little pricey then get organised and save 10% if you buy tickets in advance through their website. Or, really plan ahead, and use your Tesco club card points to buy tokens towards the entry fees.

Photo: Bicton gardens lake and fountain

Wildwood Escot

Wildwood is a ‘back to nature’ outdoors experience run by a conservation charity. At Escot children can play in the woods and see some native British wildlife from the past and present in natural surroundings, with no theme park style rides or interactive displays in sight. It’s mainly aimed at families – we found that our children enjoyed it the most when they were primary school age. We hid their mobile phones and put them in trainers (or wellies if there’d been rain recently) and prepared ourselves for bringing home exhausted, muddy, and, importantly, happy children.

Before you go in, check the feeding times at the walk-through red squirrel enclosure, outside of the main park. Then you can come back and get a rare close up look at these endearing creatures and learn more about them from their knowledgeable keepers. There’s also a very pleasant wetlands trail in the same area.

Note that the café is also outside the park, inside there’s only a kiosk selling snacks and a vending machine. The café gets very busy around sunny lunchtimes so we’d recommend planning an early or late lunch to avoid the queues or bring a picnic.

Inside the park check the times for the falconry displays (from March to October) and then explore the woodland trails where you’ll find wild cats, wolves, wild boar, otters and birds of prey. You can get lost in the excellent maze, try letter boxing or take the Forest Leap – an outdoors drop slide (not for the fainthearted). There are climbing frames, tree swings and an unusual woodland pavilion inspired by termites! There’s also a small play barn which is, by all accounts, getting a bit tired, but it does offer something to do indoors if it rains.

At the time of writing entrance costs £9.50 for an adult and £33 for a family of four, although you can access the café, wetlands and red squirrel enclosure for free.

Photo: One of Escot's rare red squirrels

Walks along the River Otter

The Otter Valley attracts a wide variety of migrant birds and a walk by the river gives you the opportunity to catch a glimpse of some unusual visitors as well as the resident kingfishers. The river is, of course, home to otters, but also, more unexpectedly, a family of England’s only known wild beavers.

From Otterton Mill there are very pleasant walk along the banks of the River Otter in both directions. For short walks you can park in the Mill car park. If you are likely to be out for more than 30 minutes there is parking available in the village. Alternatively, you can start your walk at the sea side car park on the East side of Budleigh Salterton and walk up river to Otterton (pausing for a well-earned cream tea before you return). Allow about two hours to walk from Budleigh to Otterton Mill and back.

Walking trails around Budleigh Salterton

The South West Coast Path web site features a walking trail Budleigh to Otterton via coast path which can be turned into a circular walk if you return via the river valley walk instead of by bus as they suggest.

Treasure Trails publish a murder mystery walking trail of Budleigh which is great way for families with children to explore the town.

Chandler’s Cottage guest recommendations:

Margaret H from Rochester recommended the Slice of Lyme Bistro in Budleigh Salterton after her visit in August 2018. Find it at 1 Rolle Rd, EX9 6JZ and online at www.sliceoflyme.co.uk.

“We loved the circular walk along the Otter to and from Budleigh Salerton – the Salterton Arms did good food and a gluten free beer – result!” KP (October 2015). Find the Salterton Arms at 22 Chapel St, EX9 6LX and online at www.thesaltertonarmssalterton.co.uk.

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