A trip to North Devon wouldn’t be complete without visiting Clovelly. Often hailed as ‘the gem in North Devon’s crown’, this chocolate-box village hugs the steep cliffside and meanders down to a beautiful historic harbour. Idyllic white-washed cottages, cobbled lanes and colourful fishing boats make this village very photogenic indeed. What’s more, there are no cars allowed, so sledges are enlisted to help locals get from A to B…
Mention Clovelly to most people and the first thing that comes to mind are Clovelly donkeys. These adorable creatures pulled coaches and carriages up and down the village lanes in the days before motor cars, but today the donkeys enjoy a much more restful existence. You’re likely to find them grazing in the meadow at the top of the village, but they’re all too happy to pose for photographs!
Clovelly Court Gardens offer quite the contrast to the rustic vibes of the town. Rows of neat, carefully tended gardens are sheltered within its walls and visitors are invited to stroll around its colourful flower beds for a small admission fee. At the heart of the working kitchen garden stands a restored Victorian glasshouse, where you’ll find plenty of stone and citrus fruits ripening in the warmth. Outside, there are apple trees, pear trees, quinces, medlars, and even Chinese gooseberries – many of which find their way onto the menus at local pub The Red Lion. During the summer months the bordering flower beds are a riot of colour, and you can keep the memories of your Devon holiday alive by buying bedding plants or herbs from the visitor centre.
There are traces of Clovelly’s maritime past everywhere you look, from its cobbled streets to its historical harbour. By 1840, Clovelly was classed as an important North Devon fishing port, with 60 – 70 boats actively working for its herring fishery. Records state that in 1859 ‘favourable weather’ led one local boat to capture nearly 9,000 herring in a one haul – which is pretty impressive when you think about it! Today, you can learn more about the town’s proud fishing heritage at The Fisherman’s Cottage. This unique attraction has been decked out to give visitors an insight into how a Clovelly fisherman and their family would have lived in the 1930s. Step over the threshold to be transported back in time and discover the domestic treasures of a forgotten era. Along with fascinating fishing facts, you can check out old photographs that paint a vivid picture of North Devon in days gone by.
The Clovelly arts and crafts scene is surprisingly vibrant. We’re particularly fond of the work of Lydia Jane Duncan, who runs a gallery and studio in the town called Candyland Studios. Also new to the scene is Original Artifacts (below). The brainchild of local resident Rebecca Taylor, it stocks an eclectic mix of both found and foraged treasures alongside artisan crafts made by people living in the village and surrounding area.
There are a handful of places to grab a bite to eat or sink a pint of beer in the village. The Bay Tree Café is a popular spot to grab a coffee and a slice of cake. You can sit on the terrace and enjoy the fresh sea air as you take in the amazing views of the North Devon coast and Bideford Bay.
Elsewhere, The Snug and Harbour Bar is a cosy inn where you can mingle with villagers and listen to their stories. Few venues offer such an authentic experience, with solid stone floors, beams, a wood fire and plenty of locals. Every day, fishermen bring their fresh catch to the kitchens, where it is transformed into crab sandwiches, fish finger butties and pies.
Chief among the town’s eateries is The Harbour Restaurant at The Red Lion Inn. Fresh fish, vegetables and game are delivered from the nearby estate or landed daily right on its doorstep. Feast on famous Clovelly lobsters (when they’re in season) and take in the blue harbour views with a glass of wine.
The Red Lion Inn has recently benefited from something of a makeover and now straddles the tricky line of being a historic inn without being too chintzy. It’s the perfect spot for a cosy, coastal escape. Try to book a room in ‘The Sail Loft’, a conversion of an old store next to The Red Lion, that provides six deluxe modern and stylish bedrooms.
You haven’t had the full Clovelly experience until you’ve tucked into an authentic Devonshire cream tea. About halfway down the hill you’ll find The Cottage Tearooms. On a sunny day its sheltered courtyard is the perfect place to enjoy homemade scones with lashings of clotted cream and jam – just remember it’s cream first in Devon!
How much does it cost to visit Clovelly?
There’s a small admission fee of £8.25pp to visit Clovelly. This might sound as steep as the village itself, but the fee contributes to essential maintenance and upkeep.
Lead Image by Lynsey Taylor, Second harbour image by LillyTrott / Shutterstock. Get more ideas for your trip to North Devon in The Maverick Guide to Devon Vol 2.