Sidmouth is well-known for its coastline, vast green spaces, friendly locals, seaside town charm…and some rather dramatic cliff falls. The town’s East Beach cliff is gradually falling away into the sea, taking the gardens of the homes on Cliff Road with it.
Mary Stenson www.devonlive.com
On a number of occasions over the years, the red rocks of Sidmouth’s cliff edge have sent clouds of dust into the air as they collapse into the sea. Last week, East Devon District Council agreed to put £1.7 million of funding towards ‘bigger and better’ Sidmouth sea defences, with construction not expected to commence until 2025.
In the meantime, the residents of Cliff Road are losing chunks of their gardens to the elements. Paul Griew lost an entire summerhouse back in 2017 and it was caught on video tumbling into the sea.
“My gardener used to have his bonfire there and he had one there half an hour before [the summerhouse] went,” said Paul. “The first thing I did was go and make sure his car had gone and he hadn’t actually been standing there.
“When I bought the house, I looked at records of rate of erosion and it appeared that there was between 300 and 1,000 years before it reached the house so it seemed perfectly acceptable.
“It’s increased ten times so possibly 30 years left rather than 300.”
Paul is in charge of the Cliff Road Action Group which campaigns for robust protection against increasing erosion. He says that, although it has taken some time, people are reassured by the council’s decision to fund sea defences.
He said: “It consists of most of the people along here and we put in for a planning application to put a whole load of rocks at the base in 2011. The council, instead of doing that, set up a committee to look into how to protect this and promised something would be done within five years. It’s now 11 years but they have just last week agreed that they would fund to put a groyne out there and five metres of shingle at the base which is what we lost.”
Despite the news of huge cliff falls over the years, Paul says buyers still have a keen interest in the area due to spectacular views of the sea and easy access to the beach and town. One property is even let out as a holiday home.
Paul said: “That’s the best thing to do because you don’t get the problem of the cliff going because it’s not your house but you get the view for two or three weeks.”
Peter Sinton moved into his home on Cliff Road in September 2022 as his wife had persuaded him that Sidmouth was not the “downmarket” place he had previously thought of it as. He said he quickly fell in love with the property and was unfazed by the stories of previous cliff falls.
Peter said: “When I saw the house, I said ‘that’s the only house I’ve seen that I feel I’d like to live in’. All the stories of the cliff falls didn’t put me off at all. It affected the price considerably so we got what I consider a fantastic bargain.”
He explains that the sloping nature of the road means that his property is “probably safer” than others further up the road, adding that he probably won’t live long enough for the erosion to reach the house anyway.
He said: “I’m 80 this month and the chances of it coming down in my lifetime is pretty remote.
“The chances of it being eroded significantly in the next 100 years, I think is absolute rubbish. That’s not just overconfidence, I did study geology at university.”
Whilst he isn’t “in the slightest bit bothered” about the receding cliffs, Peter still treats gardening like an extreme sport, tying a rope around himself as he works within a few feet of the edge.
He said: “I’ve been working down at the end [of my garden], clearing brambles and I’ve been working within four or five feet of the edge and I put a rope round me just in case.”
Further up the road, Denise Larkin bought her home in December but is yet to fully move in due to a broken boiler. Nonetheless, while staying with her daughter in Sidmouth, she is paying regular visits to the house and is hoping to move in next week.
She says Sidmouth is a “lovely place to live” and, like some of her neighbours, doubts the erosion will reach the house in her lifetime.
When asked if the coastal view was an attractive feature when moving from her previous home in Dorset, Denise said: “Yes, it sort of mitigates the fact that it’s falling into the sea.
“I’ve got a long garden, it will see me out. You trade one thing for another. At my sort of age, you trade it for the view and the enjoyment of life that you have. It’s a lovely place to live.
“I do hope that one day they’ll do something about it. It’s a concern but not one that worries me, it doesn’t keep me awake at night. My granddaughter worked it out and, with the amount that’s already gone, it’ll not only see me out, it’ll see her out as well.”
When Denise properly moves in, she’ll be bringing her dog with her. To protect him, she says she’s had the fence at the end of the garden rebuilt, which she joked that she’ll “keep moving” as the cliff erodes.
She said: “He’s quite likely to decide that he’s going to take a shortcut to the sea. He’s only little but he makes up for it in character.”