Sidmouth's Apache Tramp

Meet Iain Burns, a photographer known locally as the Apache Tramp, who presents an inspiring and behind-the-scenes new look at Sidmouth in East Devon. By Anna Turns

Away from the hustle and bustle, Iain has built up a massive catalogue of brilliant wildlife shots, and even he has been surprised by some of the subjects. “I only recently discovered that there is a salmon ladder in the river at Tipton St John, and every year the fish migrate up the river.” So when a local guy pointed this out to Iain, he set up camp on the riverbank to try to get shots of trout and salmon jumping up. “I spent two days photographing these fish because I thought – how can a fish do that? It was fantastic – salmon, rainbow trout, sea trout and brown trout. Even though I have lived here for years, I had never seen anything like this.” And just a simple act of nature can inspire so much.

“It absolutely captivated me because it was a challenge getting the photos. You learn that the fish pokes his head up and then in a minute it’s going to jump. That inspired me more than anything in the last 15 years and there it was on my doorstep.”

There is plenty to explore, and an easy escape is The Byes, a walkway from town that follows the River Sid to Sidford. “It’s a beautiful area, frequented by all the locals. A lot of visitors just don’t know it is there.”

So why not have a wander and see what you discover? “I’m not asking people to go out into the woods, but just to be aware that the area has so much to offer,” says Iain. And the Apache Tramp’s photos will certainly inspire you to get off the beaten track and look at things with fresh eyes, wherever you are in Devon.

Iain Burns has lived in Sidmouth and the nearby village of Tipton St John for more than 40 years and has always been drawn to the coast. “The seafront is unbelievable. The sea itself, whatever the weather, always attracts people. You can people-watch there, that is the main attraction. When you look at Sidmouth, there are some real characters in the town.”

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Some people become expert people-watchers. This skill, matched with the talent of a great photographer, can result in amazing yet unexpected images. Iain Burns is one such man. Some pictures are simple scenes, presented with a fresh perspective, some are fleeting moments of action captured by the lens.

After a high-profile career as a photographer of celebrities and royals, followed by an unfortunate turn of events, Iain was left with nothing except a fresh start. He chose to use this to his advantage, and as he lived in the woods for two years, he got surprisingly close to his subjects – human and animal. “I used to swim in the sea to bathe and catch food to eat in the wild.” And which lifestyle does he prefer? The local characters of East Devon win hands down over the city celebs.

Iain currently lives back in town and is compiling a new book of photographs called Beyond Sidmouth. “My mission is for my photos to inspire the tourist on the Sidmouth seafront to go out in our area to see exactly what it has to offer,” he says. As for Sidmouth, Iain explains, “Yes, it’s inspiring, the people and the places are inspiring.” But, like any town, it’s not perfect and Iain’s photos also reflect the normal day-to-day aspects of living in town.

But it’s not just the people that intrigue him. “The scenery here is fantastic. Recently, I joined the local running club and we train up and down the cliffs and the beaches. Some of the cliffs are crumbling away,” Iain tells me. “I watched some of it come down recently, right in front of me. It’s quite dramatic. The cliff fall at the east end of the seafront, that’s the cliff fall I saw, and there’s a street light hanging down – in fact, it still comes on at night!”

Back in March, Iain took part in East Devon’s Grizzly Run – “a gruelling run with mud up to your waist”. As for other people running and playing sport, Iain loves to sit back to photograph the action. “One thing that I always love to see – and I try to reflect it in my photography in terms of sport – is to see any competitor at any level do well. It gives me a lot of pleasure: they don’t have to be at the top, but to see any personal achievement.”

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