The dramatic view from the coast path above Clovelly Harbour illustrates one of the reasons why this village is so unique. The whole village is wedged into a fold in the cliffs. People have lived here since the Iron Age, but the Saxons named it “Cleave Leigh”, old English for ‘cleft in the cliff’. Clovelly is part of a private estate, once owned by the wife of William the Conqueror and listed in the Domesday Book, and has been in the ownership of but three families in the last 800 years.
This straggling village of irregular, gleaming white cottages with lichen-covered slate roofs, clings to each side of the cleft. The traffic-free street, paved with cobbles hauled up from the shore, descends steeply in a series of terraces to a tiny fishing port and its ancient wave-worn quay. It was once famous for its herring catches. The only forms of transport you will see at Clovelly are sledges and donkeys.
Clovelly remains a vibrant community, which enjoys a way of life that visitors can but envy. They say it is this atmosphere, the stunning views and the maritime setting, which live on in their memories.
Despite its tranquillity, there is much to see and do: an audio-visual film at the award-winning Visitor’s Centre, shops, traditional craft workshops, the museum dedicated to Charles Kingsley, author of ‘Westward Ho!’ and ‘Water Babies’, who spent part of his childhood here, a cottage replicating the life of a fishing family in the C19th, a Victorian kitchen garden at Clovelly Court and much more. For instance, there is a series of exciting events to attend. The main ones are the Seaweed Festival in June, the Maritime Festival in July, the Lobster and Crab (Clovellian, of course) Feast in September and the Herring Festival in November. They are great days out for all the family.
You can even take a boat trip along the dramatic coastline or to Lundy Island. Alternatively, enjoy the magnificent views from a cliff top walk along ‘Hobby Drive’ or west towards ‘Gallantry Bower’.
For those who do not want to walk back up, there is a fare-paying Land Rover service for much of the year to return you to the top of the village.
Accessibility down the High Street is not suitable for wheelchairs, but the visitor Centre, donkey stables, craft workshops, Mount Pleasant and Clovelly Court Gardens are and make an enjoyable outing in themselves.
Part of the modest entry charge contributes to the maintenance of the village to preserve its timeless charm and magic.