A quaint little village that is as pretty as its name, Clovelly is all those things that you read about in books or the faraway places that you dream up in your head. Our tour guide Jana Edwards, is THE authority on all things Clovelly and her narrative as we explored the area added that much more colour and depth to an already captivating place. If you can, it’s worthwhile reading up on some history about how this village in the United Kingdom came to exist, and how it continues the way it does.
A village out of this world
Nestled at the edge of Barnstaple and Bideford Bay in Torridge District of North Devon, what is at once intriguing about Clovelly is that there is absolutely no traffic here. Instead you will find narrow and sometimes steep cobblestone paths and tiny little white washed cottages. What’s even more astonishing is people still live here for rent. As you can imagine you cannot take your vehicle in and there’s parking outside the visitor centre. There’s also a bus that arrives at regular intervals right up to the visitor centre for drop offs and pick ups. There’s an admission fee that you must pay and once you are inside you leave behind all the trappings and signs of a modern world.
A little backstory
Of course such an interesting place has a rich history, one that spans 800 years. Among the many things that will spark your interest about Clovelly, is that during that 800-year period, the village has always remained in the ownership of one family. Today the Hamlyns are the sole proprietors of the village, who manage and maintain the village staying true to its roots and traditions.
One would be remiss to speak of Clovelly and fail to mention a great lady who was for the most part responsible for the village’s success and existence to this day. Fondly referred to as ‘Queen Catherine’, there are many colourful stories surrounding her life and her dedication to Clovelly village. Having inherited the village from her parents, she married a wealthy man whom she convinced to not only change his name to Hamlyn to keep the ownership name, but also to commit his wealth for the upkeep of the village.
Catherine Hamlyn maintained the traditional practices of Clovelly ensuring the preservation of the village, including the non-entry of vehicles. She was also astute enough to realise that visitors proved a good source of income for the village. When walking around Clovelly you can find many houses inscribed with her initials ‘CH’ along with the year they were built. The frontage of one particular house is ornamented with German influence decor, as Catherine was inspired by the houses in Germany on one of her visits to the country.
The Clovelly Celebrities
Probably the most fascinating attractions of Clovelly are the Clovelly donkeys. Although back in the day they were used for transporting goods unloaded from boats docked at the harbour, today they are quite simply, the celebrities. You can head down to the donkey stables for a start where they are usually found. There’s Wellington, a 35 year old sagely donkey and a feisty young mule among the group. You can pose for pictures with them, and let your kids go on a donkey ride along the cobbled roads – after all they are passive, sturdy and gentle animals.
Getting about the village
There are several points of interest along the way in Clovelly and simply walking along the cobbled streets flanked closely by pretty cottages, in itself is a treat. Be sure to wear a good sensible pair of shoes however to have good footing as you explore. Cobblestones can be slippery!
People here have a very laid back and quiet way of life, and of course tourism is the primary source of income. With mainly souvenir shops and pubs and restaurants for visitors, how do the residents sustain themselves and transport goods? Well they all have to head out to the nearest town and there are wooden cart-like sleds that carry the loads as they drag them to their respective destinations! But of course they must make the walk all the way out of the village to begin with. The tenants of Clovelly fall into all age groups to include those born here to the seniors in their 90s. As you can imagine rolling a pram along is hard to do on cobbled streets, so slings and baby carriers are the improvised choice.
Other points of interest
The fisherman’s hut is an interesting stop to make to get a taste of how life must have once been for these men and their families. Carefully restored or maintained the interiors are complete with all the furnishings, and fishing gear and even rooms with olden day bassinets.
Charles Kingsley, the author of The Water Babies, who grew up in Clovelly village is given a fitting tribute. One of the cottages is a museums of sorts. Upon the door that enters his study is a poem that he once wrote about a fishing tragedy and inside, you might be startled to see Charles Kingsley, well a model of him at least, seated at his desk. And even more so, when you hear his voice reading out loud!
There are many other buildings of interest and numerous souvenir shops to explore. Although you can purchase a pretty postcard, you will have to head to the nearest town to post it as the post office in Clovelly is not a functional one. There’s a church, and a girls and boys school as well although none of these are used today. Children of Clovelly head out to other schools in neighbouring towns in the region.
You can make a final stop at the fishing harbour and enjoy a view from the higher points to grasp the full scope of it. The outdoor seating at The Red Lion Hotel offers a place to sit and refresh yourself while you enjoy the harbour view. The sight conjures nostalgic images and could very well serve as a compelling film set. The ancient stones structure and the boats tethered along it and the blues skies and sea beyond offers a perfect ending to a tour around the beautiful village.