Devon town 'forgotten' by holidaymakers is precious hidden gem

-Credit: (Image: Mary Stenson/DevonLive)
-Credit: (Image: Mary Stenson/DevonLive)

If you want to spend a sunny day at the beach, you're spoilt for choice on the Jurassic Coast. But there's one seaside town that locals say holidaymakers forget about and, in some ways, they like it that way.

Seaton can be found in East Devon, sitting in between major tourist hotspots Sidmouth and Lyme Regis. Nearby fishing village Beer also gets a lot of airtime, loved for its quaint shops and picturesque beach view.

"People bypass us because they don't know that we're even here," says Victoria Moorey who works at Coastal Craft Collective near the seafront. "Sidmouth's on the map, Lyme's on the map and nobody knows about little Seaton in the middle. It is a hidden gem. We're all independent businesses, we've got so much that goes on.

"We get accused of being a tiny town but that's the thing, we are a small town with a huge beach, a great community and a big heart."

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When DevonLive visited the town, it happened to be one of the hottest days of the year so far so it was no surprise to see the town alive and buzzing. Even though Seaton has a pebble beach, sunbathers, swimmers, paddleboarders and walkers were out in full force, soaking up the sunshine.

According to Victoria, being a lesser-known seaside town has actually worked in Seaton's favour. While she would encourage more investment in the place, she says it has generally escaped the rush of second homeowners, meaning they have a more steady local economy year-round.

She said: "It's a working town with visitors. It's nice and quiet but gets busier in the summer. We're not a town that closes down. We stay open all year round. We're not subject to loads of second homeowners like a lot of Devon towns are so it stays the same all year round."

Over the last few years, the Esplanade has been looking a little worse for wear with the increasingly dilapidated Hook & Parrott pub and the delayed redevelopment of "eyesore" Fosseway Court flats complex.

The former Hook & Parrot pub on the Esplanade in Seaton -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive
The former Hook & Parrot pub on the Esplanade in Seaton -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive

But the town is finally seeing progress on its cherished seafront as the refurbishment of Fosseway Court and construction of an additional block of flats in between the two existing ones is now underway and the pub has been fenced off and is due to be demolished and replaced with apartments and a restaurant. Both developments are largely supported by the community.

Victoria said: "It will improve it because it was a very old 70s eyesore. Walking past, the blocks were a little bit tired. That's a huge amount of investment coming in and then we're just waiting for the pub next door to be developed. That will make a massive difference."

Fosseway Court on Seaton seafront is being redeveloped to include an additional block of flats -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive
Fosseway Court on Seaton seafront is being redeveloped to include an additional block of flats -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive

In a town like Seaton, it's easy to forget that there's more to it than just the beach. When we visited, traders in the town centre gushed about the place they call home.

Lindsey Macdougall, who works at Paperchain gift shop, said: "It's a very friendly town, everybody knows everybody. It takes a while to come to work in the morning when you have a little gossip here and there.

"We're a bit like Marmite; you either love us or you hate us. There's not the big shops, it's a very quiet town but it's a very sociable town."

She has lived in the town since 1991 and says a lot has changed in the last 33 years. There are still a wide range of independent businesses but she says trade has tipped towards some of the larger chains that have moved in over the years, including the Tesco Supersore.

Lindsey Macdougall is a shop assisstant at Paperchain gift shop and has been a resident of Seaton since 1991 -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive
Lindsey Macdougall is a shop assisstant at Paperchain gift shop and has been a resident of Seaton since 1991 -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive

Lindsey said: "With bigger shops coming in, the trade has gone towards one side so it's had a little bit of an impact because there used to be all the banks, dry cleaners, fruit and veg shops, butchers. But there are a lot of shops opening up."

Just a few streets away, Matt Bowker is still flying the flag for those traditional businesses at Taste of Devon Butchers. He says they are well supported by both locals and tourists but there have been some businesses which have struggled during the cost of living crisis.

He said: "It's a lovely place to live, people are friendly, there's a good community spirit. We get a nice local trade throughout the whole year and then when the tourists and holidaymakers come down, it does pick up for us. It's amazing footfall, especially when the sun's shining.

"There are a few shops around that are vacant at the moment and they keep swapping and changing but generally we're keeping things open. It is hard times."

In spite of the tough times, Seaton has welcomed a number of new businesses in recent months. In fact, Lyka Rowlands said she was surprised by the level of support she received when she opened Yummy!, an oriental food store.

Lyka Rowlands, owner of Yummy! oriental food store in Seaton -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive
Lyka Rowlands, owner of Yummy! oriental food store in Seaton -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive

She said: "I was surprised because it's an oriental store and you don't really find them in small towns so opening here, we've had people welcome us. Even if they don't buy anything, they just say things like 'we're so happy you opened here'. It's so sweet. It's a close-knit community."

Like others, she feels that Seaton can sometimes get overlooked, saying: "We need to encourage more people to come here, advertising Seaton. We need to push more on that. The street needs flowers and things like that to make it more vibrant."

Another new business is Cortona Gelato Lab, serving up artisan gelato made with milk from Axminster. As is to be expected with an ice cream shop, business has ramped up in the last few days when temperatures have been climbing.

"It's probably the smiliest place I've ever worked," says Megan Voysey who works in the shop. "Now the weather's turned and it's a lot nicer, people do want a bit of gelato."

She says being so close to the sea is a "luxury" but says she would welcome more things to do for young people, like trendy new seafront bar and café Tide. Like many towns in East Devon, Seaton is known to have an older population, with a high proportion of over 70s.

But Megan also embraces the quieter town for what it is. She said: "It's lovely being so close to the sea. It's such a luxury, I can be there in seconds.

"There could be more going on for young people. It's good now we've got Tide and a few other businesses on the front but there's not many places to go in the evenings.

"We don't get as many people [as Lyme Regis and Sidmouth] which is nice in some ways. It's a really good community of people who are here all year round, whereas when you go to Lyme, it's a lot of people who have bought second homes."

Seaton beach -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive
Seaton beach -Credit:Mary Stenson/DevonLive

It wouldn't be the seaside if you weren't minutes away from a fish and chip shop at any given moment. Frydays is a popular choice for Seaton visitors, being just a stone's throw from the beach.

Manager George Anghel said: "When you drive to the town, it's like you are entering the sea. It's a beautiful view. I like being on the coast because I like to walk, I like to cycle."

Once again, George said that other Jurassic Coast towns have a greater tourist trade. He said: "In my opinion, in Sidmouth, Lyme Regis, Exmouth, there's more people than here because they have more facilities there. More hotels, more restaurants, more everything. This is a quieter town but the beach is amazing."

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