Clovelly: A Step Back in Time on Devon’s North Coast

Clovelly, Bideford, UK by Lasma Artmane

The Dramatic Setting of Clovelly

Perched on a steep hillside overlooking the Bristol Channel, the village of Clovelly is a living testament to Devon’s rich maritime history. This picturesque fishing village, with its cobbled streets and flower-adorned cottages, offers visitors a unique glimpse into a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for centuries.

Traffic-Free Village: Exploring ‘Up-along’ and ‘Down-along’

As you approach Clovelly, you’re immediately struck by its dramatic setting. The village clings to a 400-foot cliff, its whitewashed cottages tumbling down to a small, working harbour below. What makes Clovelly truly unique is its traffic-free status – no cars are allowed on its steep, cobbled main street, known simply as ‘Up-along’ or ‘Down-along’ depending on which way you’re heading.

Visitor Centre: Your Gateway to Clovelly

Your journey into Clovelly begins at the visitor centre, where an informative exhibition sets the scene for your step back in time. From here, you descend into the village proper, the cobbled street leading you past cottages that have been home to generations of fishermen and their families. The street is so steep that traditionally, donkeys were used to transport goods up and down. Today, while you might still see the occasional donkey, most supplies are transported using sledges.

Historical Insights: Fisherman’s Cottage and Kingsley Museum

As you make your way down, you’ll pass numerous points of interest. The Fisherman’s Cottage, a carefully preserved 19th-century dwelling, offers insight into the lives of Clovelly’s past residents. The Kingsley Museum, housed in a former sailmaker’s loft, celebrates the life of Charles Kingsley, author of “The Water Babies,” who lived in Clovelly as a child and later immortalized the village in his novel “Westward Ho!”

Halfway Down: The New Inn

Halfway down the hill, you’ll find the New Inn, a 17th-century coaching inn that now serves as a hotel and restaurant. Its flower-bedecked exterior and cosy interior make it a perfect spot for a cream tea or a pint of local ale.

Harbour Views: The Red Lion Hotel

At the bottom of the village lies the Red Lion Hotel, sitting right on the harbour’s edge. This 18th-century inn offers stunning views across the harbour and out to sea. From here, you can watch the fishing boats come and go, much as people have done for centuries.

Clovelly’s Working Harbour and Lifeboat Station

Clovelly’s small harbour, protected by an ancient stone quay, is the heart of village life. It’s from here that Clovelly’s fishermen still set out to catch herring and mackerel, continuing a tradition that dates back to the 14th century. The Lifeboat Station, perched on the quay, stands as a reminder of the sea’s ever-present danger and the bravery of local lifeboatmen.

Lifeboat Museum: Celebrating Maritime Heritage

For those interested in Clovelly’s maritime heritage, a visit to the Lifeboat Museum is a must. Housed in the old lifeboat shed, it tells the story of Clovelly’s lifeboats and the courageous crews who have manned them since 1870.Nature lovers will find plenty to admire in and around Clovelly. The South West Coast Path runs through the village, offering spectacular walks in both directions. To the west, it leads to the dramatic Hartland Point, while eastward it meanders towards the sandy expanses of Westward Ho! The woodlands surrounding Clovelly are home to a diverse array of wildlife, including deer and rare butterflies.

Clovelly Court Gardens: A Victorian Retreat

Clovelly Court Gardens, adjacent to the village, offer a peaceful retreat. These restored Victorian walled gardens produce a variety of fruits and vegetables using traditional techniques. The gardens’ sheltered position allows for the cultivation of tender species not usually found this far north.

Unique Events Celebrating Clovelly’s Heritage

Throughout the year, Clovelly hosts a number of unique events that celebrate its heritage. The Herring Festival in November pays homage to the ‘silver darlings’ that were once the backbone of the village’s economy. The Lobster and Crab Feast in September showcases the best of local seafood, while the Seaweed Festival in June highlights this often-overlooked resource.

Evening Magic: Sunset Over the Bristol Channel

As the day draws to a close, the village takes on a magical quality. With the day-trippers gone, a peaceful calm descends. This is the perfect time to enjoy a quiet drink at the Red Lion, watching the sun set over the Bristol Channel, painting the sky and sea in glorious hues.

Preserving Clovelly’s Unique Character

It’s worth noting that Clovelly is privately owned, having belonged to only three families since the 13th century. This has allowed the village to maintain its unique character and resist the kind of development that has changed many other coastal communities. There is an entrance fee to the village, but this goes towards the considerable cost of maintaining this historic site.

An Unforgettable Devon Adventure

Clovelly offers more than just a visit to a pretty village; it provides a tangible link to Devon’s maritime past. Its steep cobbled streets, ancient harbour, and timeless atmosphere offer a glimpse into a way of life that has all but disappeared elsewhere. Whether you’re drawn by its history, its natural beauty, or simply the chance to experience a truly unique place, Clovelly promises an unforgettable Devon adventure.


Q: What makes Clovelly unique compared to other villages?

A: Clovelly is unique due to its traffic-free status, steep cobbled streets, and dramatic setting on a 400-foot cliff overlooking the Bristol Channel. The village has retained much of its historic charm, with whitewashed cottages and a small working harbour, providing a glimpse into a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for centuries.

Q: What historical attractions can visitors explore in Clovelly?

A: Visitors can explore several historical attractions in Clovelly, including the Fisherman’s Cottage, which offers insight into the lives of past residents, and the Kingsley Museum, which celebrates the life of author Charles Kingsley. The Lifeboat Museum in the old lifeboat shed tells the story of Clovelly’s lifeboats and their courageous crews.

Q: How do supplies get transported within Clovelly given its steep, traffic-free streets?

A: In Clovelly, supplies are transported using sledges due to the steep, cobbled streets and the village’s traffic-free status. Traditionally, donkeys were used to carry goods up and down the hill, and you might still see the occasional donkey today.

Q: What are some key events held in Clovelly throughout the year?

A: Clovelly hosts several unique events throughout the year that celebrate its maritime heritage. These include the Herring Festival in November, the Lobster and Crab Feast in September, and the Seaweed Festival in June, each highlighting local traditions and resources.

Q: What natural attractions and activities can visitors enjoy around Clovelly?

A: Nature lovers can enjoy walking along the South West Coast Path, which offers spectacular views and leads to locations like Hartland Point and Westward Ho! The surrounding woodlands are home to diverse wildlife, and Clovelly Court Gardens, with their restored Victorian walled gardens, provide a peaceful retreat. Visitors can also admire the diverse array of wildlife, including deer and rare butterflies, in the area.