Libra Court, Sidmouth

I am ashamed to say that after 13 years of living here I had visited Sidmouth exactly once, when my baby daughter was in a pram. She is now choosing GCSE options!

I thought I should do a recce, whilst drumming up some new businesses for the Jurassic Coast Card (did I mention that?!) so this week I headed west along the pretty coast road into Sidmouth.

Sidmouth has retained its genteel Regency seafront, and has a distinct English seaside charm, and even on a day with the worst of Storm Eleanor trying to spoil the fun, the seafront was full of people promenading along the esplanade.

My very first stop after parking was for coffee, as I was a bit early to visit most shops (things start late around here in January), and I randomly followed a sign off the street pointing down an alleyway, purely because I saw the word ‘coffee’!

What a good move. Libra Court is a sweet little courtyard tucked away on Fore Street, with a cafe, galleries and gift shops. Richard in Selley’s coffee shop gave me a very warm welcome, and a suitably fortifying cup of coffee. It is a tiny cafe, with room for only 5 small tables inside, but with lots of tables in the courtyard, it is obviously a popular spot, and given the quality of the cakes on show, I can see why. The baking and lunches are all homemade, and it seems he is famous for his tarte tatin! The decor is very pink, but very calm with it, and all in all it felt like a very good start.

Selley’s, and Libra Court in general, has a very Richard Curtis feel, as if you’ve walked into a lovely movie set – you wouldn’t be surprised to bump into Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, and the obvious camaraderie and banter between the shopkeepers gives it such a lovely feel.

I gave Richard my best sales patter – nerve-wracking, as I am really not a salesman, but he was very positive about the idea, so with that and the caffeine, I was good to go.

I popped next door to The Veranda, where the owner, Louise, was not just keen to sign up, but whisked me round to introduce me to the other traders! The Veranda is a mixture of ladies clothing, accessories and home accessories, with a kaleidoscope of colour from Quirqui, a range of high-end fleece clothes and accessories. They sell a wide range in the shop, but will make up any product in any colour for no extra cost, and even send it home for you if you are down on holiday.

Unfortunately the Art Den next door was closed, as it looked like a fascinating mix of painting and photography, but I might have to go back another day to have a look.

Marta’s Old Curiosity Shop is a quirky mixture of vintage-inspired gifts and home accessories, and her hand-picked antiques. Marta restores and revamps furniture, and is an agent for London Vintage Paint Company, so you can have a go yourself.

Finally I met Simon Bramble, who has a tiny but jam-packed gallery and studio on the courtyard. His vibrant colours and lively scenes were exactly what I needed on such a dull January day, and his portraits are fantastic. With inspiration taken from both Devon and wider travels, the scope in style and subject matter is impressive.

This is mooching at it’s absolute best – good food, great coffee, imaginative art, desirable gifts and lovely people. I carried on round a lot more of Sidmouth, and met a lot of great shopkeepers and businesses, and the joy of working with small businesses became very apparent as everyone was very chatty and helpful. Sidmouth has a very useful mix of all the now-familiar seaside staples – Seasalt, Crew Clothing Company, Joules etc, and all the big coffee chains (Costa etc), so is handy for shopping, but also the independent shops, such as the bead emporium (Flutterbys) and the department store (Fields) give it a bit of individuality.

I seem to have used the word ‘lovely’ rather a lot in this post, and I’m sure an English teacher would flag it up as a Thesaurus job, but that was my over-riding impression of Sidmouth, and Libra Court especially. I would thoroughly recommend a visit, but try to time it when there isn’t a winter storm in full flow!

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