Last Updated on 7th January 2018 by Sophie Nadeau
Cobbled lanes, meandering paths, and perched perilously on the edge of a sea cliff, the charming village of Clovelly is constructed in the kind of place where you shouldn’t build a house, let alone a whole community…
And yet, the results are breathtaking. Located near the town of Torridge in North Devon, England you’ll find an entire village centred along one winding cobbled lane. Constantly battered by a whistling wind and sea spit, this community lies on the very edge of where land meets the sea. Once owned by the wife of William the Conqueror and listed in the Domesday Book, a trip to the fishing village of Clovelly is truly a unique experience.
Clovelly, Devon, sometime between 1890-1900, 1 photomechanical print: photochrom, colour.
Clovelly, A village steeped in History
First founded centuries ago, Clovelly was originally recorded in the Domesday Book (one of the first ‘great surveys’ of England, taken in 1086 at the behest of William the Conqueror). Indeed, one of the churches in the village dates all the way back to the late Norman period and remains one of the oldest building still standing in Clovelly.
In a rather rare occurrence, since the 13th Century, the village has been in the hands of just three families (one of which still owns the village to this day). The current Clovelly Estate Company owns and manages the entire village today. The company is currently run by Hon. John Rous who is a descendant of the Hamlyn family who have owned and managed the village since 1738.
This time warp in North Devon really is a place where time has (almost) stood still. Surrounded by quaint fishermen’s cottages and tiny dwellings, this small community can be visited by tourists for a fee. But of course, the views and quirkiness of the village don’t come without their own drawbacks.
After all, the steep nature of the road means that the main high street through Clovelly remains pedestrian and donkey only even with all the modern technology available to us! Instead of cars, villagers use ‘sledges’ made from old wooden planks to drag their things (and shopping) up and down the one main street leading in and out of this fishing community.
Must see Clovelly Attractions
Although the village of Clovelly itself is the main attraction (it’s impossible to pinpoint one exact ‘must see’ location in the fishing village as there are many small quirks to see instead), there are definitely a few places you won’t want to miss.
Queen Victoria Fountain: This fountain was designed by the Queen’s cousin and erected along Clovelly’s main street in 1901.
Fisherman’s House: This small fishing cottage is one of two small museums in the village. The little dwelling is set up to represent how a family would have lived in the village in the 1930s.
Chapel of St Peter: This small chapel dates all the way back to 1846 and is located near the Fisherman’s House.
Kingsley Museum: The second museum in Clovelly (the entrance to both museums are included in your ticket price) is the Kingsley Museum. Dedicated to writer Charles Kingsley, his book Westward Ho! (a town nearby is named after the book) drew in visitors to the little fishing village.
Mount Pleasant: The memorial was erected to honour the men from Clovelly who died in WWI. The memorial offers spectacular views of the sea and is a peaceful place to sit and stay for a while.
Clovelly, Devon, 1870s, by Francis Bedford. (Albumen silver print from glass negative). Thanks to The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1972
Clovelly, Devon, August 2016
Clovelly Quay and Harbour
Once you’ve navigated your way among the cobbled lanes, and past the pretty fishing cottages, you’ll find yourself well on your route down to the harbour. There, you’ll find a pub, various moorings and a great spot to have a quick breather after the steep and sharp descent.
As fishing was once the main trade of the village (today Clovelly counts tourism among one of its biggest earners), the entire settlement of Clovelly was built up around the harbour. Boat building and trading in local limestone and Welsh Coal were also big earners for the people who lived in Clovelly centuries ago.
Today, you can still purchase a permit to fish for a small fee and boats come in and out of the harbour for pleasure and for business. We found it altogether quite pleasant to sit by the harbour wall, snap some photos and watch the world go by for a little while. Too soon, it was time to return to our car (and the real world!)
I paid to visit Clovelly. Was it worth it?
As it turns out, people have been paying to visit this quaint North Devon fishing village since 1924. Please note that the following section is my own opinion of whether or not paying to visit Clovelly was worth it. If you’re looking to visit Clovelly yourself, then you should be aware that you have to pay a fee to visit the village (this includes parking, the chance to watch a short film about the history of the village, two small museums in Clovelly itself, and a trip to the nearby Clovelly Court Gardens).
Paying to visit Clovelly was something we weren’t aware of before arriving (and something I didn’t find to be all too obvious when you visit the village’s official website). That being said, by the time we’d arrived, we’d already driven over an hour and a half and wanted to visit the ‘prettiest village in Devon’ and so decided to pay the fee and see what the village was like.
On the one hand, Clovelly really is a unique village, and I’m glad we took the time to visit. That being said, I’m not sure I would return too soon considering that it cost over £7 per person just to visit. Altogether, we spent a pleasant couple of hours exploring the village. It was a very quirky experience and one that I enjoyed, despite having to pay a fee to visit a village where people actually live.
Alternative Villages of Interest in Devon and Cornwall
However, if you want to visit a charming South West village without all of the trappings of a tourist destination (as in a place where you have to pass through a visitor centre to reach a ‘heritage attraction’), then I highly recommend driving a little further down the coastline and towards the charming villages of North Cornwall.
There, you’ll find real gems such as Tintagel (home and birthplace of King Arthur), Boscastle (a natural harbour village) and Port Isaac (a fishing village dating back to the middle ages). Just down the coastline from Clovelly, you’ll also find Westward Ho! (The only UK town named after a book).
The village of Boscastle in North Cornwall.
Tips for visiting Clovelly
Wear sturdy footwear: The ‘cobbled’ lane leading down to the village is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Instead of small cobblestones, the rocks here are large, smooth and can be felt through shoes. You definitely wouldn’t be able to wear high heels or flip-flops on these stones and I’m really glad I wore my trainers!
Check the weather before your visit: It was a partially sunny day when we visited, and I can’t imagine a visit in the rain would be too much fun as the cobbles can become particularly slippy! As a result, I highly recommend checking the weather forecast before you plan to visit.
Eat before (or after) your visit: Although we did want to purchase food and drink at the café, we were told that the facilities for serving food were closed when we inquired in the mid-afternoon.
Don’t miss the two museums in the village: Clovelly has two museums; Fisherman’s Cottage and Kingsley Museum. They’re located around halfway down the cobbled street but could be easily missed if you forget to look out for them.
Don’t miss the Clovelly Court Gardens: Included in the ticket price to visit Clovelly, you can also visit the nearby Court Gardens. Although we didn’t have time to visit the green space, these pretty tropical gardens are bursting with colour in the summertime and well worth a look!
Avoid the crowds… By visiting early in the morning (or at least before lunch!)