24 Hours in… Clovelly, North Devon
Steep cobbled streets lead the winding way down to a sheltered pebble dashed cove gorged from time, a haven for the ‘silver darlings’ the landed mackerel once a busy traditional sea fishing community now a tourist destination like no other.
We wondered did Dylan Thomas ever visit. The Welsh writer known for ‘Under Milk Wood’ which was based in Newquay in West Wales but this must surely be North Devon’s doppelganger; Fish Street, Up-along and Down–along, Rats Castle, Crazy Kate’s Cottage, shipwrecks, rumoured cannibalism, smuggling and pirates would all sit well with his witterings and the characters here too, with the most well known one Dan the Fishman from Clovelly, who many of you will have met at various food events in the area and yes, he really does go out on the boats cajoling the local lobsters and cracking crabs on board where they are swiftly dispatched in The New Inn and The Red Lion (16 in total the night we dined).
Clovelly is ancient. Before you descend into lower Clovelly stop awhile at Higher Clovelly you won’t know it, but gazing at a 200 year old map we purchased for £1 in the Clovelly tourist centre we saw intriguing circular squiggles, large too. It could only mean one thing an Iron Age hill fort and quite immense. We were kindly granted access by the tenant farmers (The area is owned by Clovelly Estates) at East Dyke Farm.
We immersed ourselves in what can only be described as living history with clearly defined mounds still intact and how important this would have been circa 1200 BC to 600 BC.
Descending the hill you then pass Clovelly Court the ancestral home for the Cary family dating back from 1681, then the Hamlyn family from 1738 with its gardens and church and for a small fee of £2.50 you are granted access to these immaculate and partly walled gardens coupled with this and being in the gulf stream and a sheltered valley, flowers and plants are known to bloom one month earlier than elsewhere in the UK. Unique planting and paths by Sir James Hamlyn Williams between 1811-29 led to much work for the villagers creating the engaging Hobby Drive a 3 mile fairly level easy walk now which was once used by small carriages to catch the most of the stunning coastal views high up. The age of the romantic movement where nature and the drama of the wilds of England was captivated by the writers and artists of the era including social reformer and novelist Charles Kingsley who spent his childhood in Clovelly before being educated at Cambridge. He wrote the children’s book The Water Babies to highlight the need to reform the conditions of the thousands of young chimney sweeps with their untimely deaths and illness. How far removed was this beautiful natural playground by the sea to those poor souls struggling in the big cities. Do visit the Kingsley museum and shop half way down.
Christine Hamlyn the owner from 1884-1936 was instrumental in refurbishing many of the houses down the cobbled streets and the dates you can see on the front of many of the cottages point not to the year they were built for some are 500 years old! But the year Christine had them repaired and updated. The grassy open area known as Mount Pleasant with a war memorial from the First World War was given to the National Trust by Christine and enjoys fine views over the bay. The famous Clovelly donkeys still make their pilgrimages up and down the ramshackle streets delivering goods alongside makeshift sledges with Asda shopping bags strapped on, even milk deliveries or fish hauled up and for a small charge you can have a pony ride along the Hobby Drive too. If you legs can’t make the steep walk there is also a land rover service which takes an alternative route down to the 14th Century Quay and the Red Lion Hotel. Many festivals take place and with the tide receded what better way than to spend the day at The Clovelly Lobster and Crab Feast on Sunday 3 September with music, food, crafts, activities and the Padstow Lobster Hatchery showing baby lobsters before releasing them into the sea. Christmas is also a special time of year with the Herring Festival on the 18 November and Christmas lights switch on the 3rd December with twinkling lights reflecting onto the sea transforming it into a Winter Wonderland. There is free entrance on Boxing Day too with a village BBQ on the quay with music and mulled wine please check with www.clovelly.co.uk
for up to date activities all year round.
There are many stunning walks along the South West coast path here including the Hobby Drive (3 miles) for those less mobile and is push chair and wheelchair friendly, it does connect with the south west coast path. Another walk is longer; 4.5 miles which is narrow, with steps and can be slippery in parts and takes you past points of interest including the carved Angel’s Wings a look out shelter built in 1826. It passes Clovelly court and Gallantry Bower 400 feet above sea level where you can make out the next headlands of Morte and Baggy Point, there is also a Bronze Age bowl barrow here too. The path then leads to Mouthmill cove (you can also access this cove on the Clovelly to Hartland road at Brownsham National Trust which has a car park and tearoom in the farmhouse there) where you can gaze in awe at sea carved rocks known as Black Church rock. Swimming not recommended due to steep shelving and rocks! There are old lime kilns here as well as in Clovelly harbour. The whole village and area are dog friendly too so bring along your four legged friends but dogs must be on leads along the coast paths here as sheer drops are prevalent also sheep roaming.
There is an abundance of wildlife and plants here including deer, great spotted woodpecker, bats, dormice, speckled wood butterfly which we saw fluttering in the dappled sunlight. There are over 250 species of lichen too. The Clovelly estate is committed to preserving the flora and fauna and each year a vigorous planting happens of over 2,500 saplings. The admission fee £7.25 for adults or just £20 for the whole year that is charged to access the village goes to maintaining the village and the estate and employing the local residents to ensure the future for many more generations to come.
There are lots to see and do here and we enjoyed a fine meal in The Red Lion Hotel with a starter of scallops followed by crusted cod and a delicious apple tart cooked to perfection by new chef Mark Bryant a local resident and family man now returned after cooking in France. The meal and service were faultless and most tables overlooked the quay and we were treated to a turning tide and dusk enveloping the quaint quay and beach waterfall - a truly magical unique experience. The restaurant is newly refurbished the walls are adorned with illustrations by Rex Whistler in a toile de jouy style based on fabric initially thought lost but resurfaced by an ex Liberty employee Ann Jarvis who now runs the Clovelly Silk shop with her daughter Ellie which in itself is fascinating, with screen and silk printing producing some lovely bright fresh designs; they have a few silk worms too and feed them on nearby mulberry leaves in a case in their shop: so to understand what is involved in this intriguing natural process pop in and have a look, we were lucky we saw some newly hatched baby worms chomping away. We must point out no silk is produced on site as this would require millions of worms! The shop also sells the toile fabric with Whistler’s illustration. Rex Whistler was very much in demand in his day with book illustrations, murals, trompe-l’oeil, and the café at the Tate Gallery when he was just 22 and creating designs for Wedgewood of which Clovelly played a part in his inspiration. Unfortunately, he died in the war 18 July 1944 after leaving his tank to untangle barbed wire he was struck with a mortar bomb, his neck was broken, and his body intact… aged just 39.
Do also pop into the Clovelly Soap Company shop such an amazing array of smells and not just high quality hand made soap but bath bombs, candles and dog treats! Courses are available too. The pottery studio houses local potter’s wares and an opportunity to have a go at making your own pot for £5. The Clovelly centre has a very good video show about the village so do not miss that narrated by the well known actor and local inhabitant Joss Ackland his family go back generations in the area. Pause a while enjoy a cream tea in the café and sit outside admiring the grand panoramic vista and take a step back in time.
We stayed at Bideford Bay 9 Sea Valley Chalet https://www.booking.com/hotel/gb/9-sea-valley.en-gb.html
We ate at The Red Lion and the Clovelly Centre www.stayatclovelly.co.uk