Forts & Caves
Alongside the town’s royal connections and the fascinating geology of the Jurassic Coast, Sidmouth and the wider East Devon area is full of diverse and interesting history, with caves, castles and forts to be found all over the region. These structures once housed everything from defending armies, smugglers and pirates!
Devon’s pirate history
Being on the coast means that Devon was a haven for smugglers and pirates and many of the caves and coves along the coastline once allowed these ne’er-do-wells to travel around the county easily and hide their goods from the authorities. Though Sidmouth’s history with piracy isn’t as well-known as that in Plymouth and Devon’s south coast, there is evidence that the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast was used extensively by smugglers. In fact, if you take a trip over them following the South West Coast Path, you’ll find the remains of outposts and watch points where the authorities would sit and look out for unregistered boats.
It wasn’t just pirates that made use of the caves, in the nearby village of Beer, you’ll find the Beer Quarry Caves. This man made limestone caves system is the main source for Beer stone, which is particularly favoured for the building of cathedrals and church features. In fact, there are 24 buildings across the UK which were created using stone from these caves, including Exeter Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and St Paul’s Cathedral. The palaces at Hampton Court and the Tower of London are also among those made with Beer Stone.
These days, Beer Quarry Caves are a well loved tourist attraction with visitors coming from all over to visit the underground quarry and find out more about the history of the area. The caves date back around 2,000 years and were established by the Romans during their occupation of Britain, since then, the site has remained largely unchanged. In fact, if you visit the caves, you’ll have the chance to visit the original Roman chamber which now houses a small museum as well as information about how the caves were used from the Norman times onwards.
Visitors staying at the holiday park in Ladram Bay will also get the chance to explore some caves, the bay at Ladram is only accessible through a cave, either the one at its eastern point, towards Sidmouth town centre or the one at the other end of the cove. It’s a popular spot for those coming from Sidmouth, Otterton and Budleigh Salterton, particularly those looking for a great picnic spot!
Devon is full of castles and forts, including the last castle to be built in the UK. In the vicinity of Sidmouth you’ll find Sidbury Castle, overlooking the River Sid. Though more of a fort than a castle, the remains of Sidbury Castle are thought to date back to the Iron Age. There are a number of walking routes that take in Sidbury Castle and the views from the top are quite spectacular.