Built into the cleft of a cliff on the rugged north Devon coast is the historic fishing village of Clovelly. In its secluded location, sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds, the village was once a bustling fishing port, famed for its mackerel and herring.
Although tourism has overtaken fishing as the village’s main industry today, Clovelly has kept its maritime heritage alive with two popular annual festivals, the Lobster and Crab Festival, held at the beginning of September every year, and the Herring Festival in November.
Privately owned by the Hamlyn family, who acquired Clovelly Estate in 1738, the village’s single cobbled main street – known simply as ‘up-a-long’ and ‘down-a-long’ – tumbles past whitewashed cottages festooned with flowers, until it reaches the picturesque harbour. The steep street is broken by tempting little side alleys that offer tantalising insights into the village’s history.
The narrow street descends 122m (400ft) in half a mile, making it too steep for motor vehicles and thus a blissfully traffic-free place to spend the day. For centuries, donkeys were used as the main form of transport, but today the donkeys have a less taxing role as models in tourist photographs.
Halfway down the main street is Fisherman’s Cottage – the only cottage in the village open to the public – that shows you how a fisherman’s family lived in the 1930s. Nearby is the Kingsley Museum in honour of the author Charles Kingsley, who had a childhood home in Clovelly and cites the village as inspiration for The Water Babies.
Further down the main street is The Look Out, where villagers used to sit waiting for the fishermen to return home safely; today it’s the perfect vantage point to look down on the beautiful 14th-century harbour and out across Bideford Bay towards Exmoor.
When you reach the dry stone quay, which during the festivals is alive with food stalls and live entertainment, you’ll find the oldest cottage in Clovelly, Crazy Kate’s Cottage, named after a fisherman’s widow who died in 1736. The story goes that after watching her husband drown while fishing in the bay, she spiralled into madness and one day put on her wedding dress and walked into the sea to join her husband in his watery grave.
Compared to the days when Clovelly sheltered up to 100 fishing boats, today only a handful of small vessels reside in the harbour. One of the boats, The Picarooner, is a replica of a boat unique to Clovelly. Originally built in the 19th century, these boats were named ‘picarooner’ from the Spanish for ‘rogue’ or ‘rascal’, because they could get out to sea faster than heavier boats in the pursuit of herrings.
Harbourmaster Stephen Perham cares for another replica picarooner Little Mary that you can see in the harbour today. As one of the last of Clovelly’s fishermen, he keeps the village’s traditions alive by using her to catch those tasty silver darlings.
HOW TO GET THERE
Clovelly is just off the A39, 10 miles west of Bideford. The nearest train station is Barnstaple. Buses run to Clovelly from Barnstaple and Bideford.
FIND OUT MORE
Clovelly Visitor Centre
Bideford EX39 5TA
Admission to the village: adults £5.95, children (7-16) £3.75.
Red Lion Hotel
Clovelly, Bideford EX39 5TF
Perched on Clovelly’s ancient quay, this cosy, friendly hotel
has 11 rooms with sea views that are decorated with a nautical theme.