Saturday, 27 February 2016


When I first visited Clovelly a few years ago, I was immediately reminded of Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire.  They both have a steep main street leading down to a tiny harbour which sets the heart pumping madly on the way back up.  And they both have a quaint mix of shops, pubs, galleries etc. to pause at en route.  The main difference between the two is that to access the centre of Clovelly, which is privately owned, necessitates passing through a ticket office and paying an entrance fee, which came as a shock to me although we paid up anyway because we couldn’t be in the area and not visit.  Parking is included in the fee.  Before the ticket office there is a Visitor Centre with a gift shop and a cafe with a terrace offering wonderful views along the North Devon coast.   Those who are dubious about managing the steep descent and ascent can arrange at the desk to be transported in a Land Rover.
At the top, outside the paid area, are the Clovelly CourtGardens, which can be visited for a fee if not entering the village, otherwise entry is free for village ticket-holders.  For the village itself, once through the Visitor Centre, on the way down you get the chance to ooh and aah at the donkeys in the Donkey Stables.  Donkeys have long been a feature of the village, from the old days when they were used to transport fish up from the harbour, to more recent times when they transported the luggage of visitors staying overnight.  Now they are having a well-earned rest, apart from giving rides to children in the summer months.  Continuing further down, just beyond the NewInn, is the Charles Kingsley Museum, dedicated to the writer of The Water Babies, who moved to the village in 1831.

Once at the bottom of the main street, there is a harbourside pub, and a number of other points of interest.  The old lime kiln is a reminder of the time when limestone from Wales was burned here, an industry dating from the 14th century.  The original quay was built in the 13th century for the fishing trade, then a new one was built in the 17th century.  There are four cannon barrels used as bollards which came from the Spanish Armada fleet.  The cottage with a balcony overlooking the harbour is known as Crazy Kate’s Cottage, named after a woman who went mad after seeing her fisherman husband drown. 

A short distance to the east of Clovelly is another idyllic village set in a wooded valley called Buck’s Mills – this one is free  to get into and completely devoid of gift shops and all the other trappings of tourism, so it makes a nice contrast to its more famous neighbour.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Richard Croft, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 20 February 2016


Anywhere with a name ending in an exclamation mark has got to be worth investigating.  I always imagined that Charles Kingsley’s seafaring adventure story of the same name had taken its name from the place, but it turns out it was the other way around.  The novel, which was set in nearby Bideford, was written in 1855, but Westward Ho! was not established until 1863 as a purpose-built resort on the initiative of the Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Building Company.  They decided it would be a good idea to capitalise on the popularity of this corner of Devon brought about by Kingsley’s novel.   The resort’s literary connections do not end there, however.  There is a hilly area just outside the town called Kipling Tors, named after Rudyard Kipling, who attended the United Services College in Westward Ho! from 1878 to 1882.  Kipling’s collection of stories called ‘Stalky & Co’ was based on his experiences at the college. 

Westward Ho! boasts a sandy beach which extends for over two miles, with Northam Burrows Country Park (see Appledore) just behind, separated from the beach by Pebble Ridge.  There is a rock pool which has been closed for some time due to storm damage, but this is set to reopen this summer.  The resort itself has a family-oriented range of cafes, amusements and shops.  At the edge of the Country Park is the NorthDevon Golf Club.  Walkers can make their way along the South West Coast Path, or head out along the footpaths around Kipling Tors.  

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Lewis Clarke, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 13 February 2016


Lying on the west bank of the mouth of the River Torridge near where it converges with the River Taw, Appledore is a charmingly quaint little port with a big seafaring heritage stretching back more than 1,000 years.  The village existed as early as Saxon times and it had its moment of glory when Viking raiders were defeated there in the Battle of Bloody Corner in 878AD – a plaque marking the spot can be seen on the road between Appledore and Northam.  The port was made a free port by Queen Elizabeth I in recognition of the role played by the local sailors and ships in the fight against the Spanish Armada of 1588.  As a reminder of that time there are Tudor buildings built from ship’s timbers among the charming fishermen’s cottages.  Boat-building began here as early as the 15th century, and continues to this day, although in a greatly reduced form.  The North Devon Maritime Museum has its home in Appledore, and offers displays on the area’s seafaring history, including shipbuilding, wartime memories and the area’s smuggling past.

The waterfront and the narrow streets behind it offer an entrancing mix of cottages, many of them holiday rentals, shops, pubs, restaurants and art galleries.  There is a promenade lining the estuary, which is muddy with strong currents, making swimming unsafe.  However, those wanting to take to the water can go on a fishing or leisure boat trip from the harbour, or take the ferry across to Instow (April to October only).  Walkers can take a path from the old custom house and lifeboat station which leads to the Northam Burrows Country Park, a site of special scientific interest with sand dunes and other habitats teeming with wildlife.   

Map of the area. 

View from Appledore to Instow

One of the charming back streets

Friday, 5 February 2016


Called Puffin Island by the Norsemen who once landed there, Lundy Island is a green speck of land 3 ½ miles long and half a mile wide  in the Bristol Channel between Devon and South Wales, about 12 miles from the Devon coast, and around twice as far from the Welsh coast.  During the 19th century the island became known as the Kingdom of Heaven, since at that time it was ruled by the Heaven family, and it can certainly feel like heaven on a fine day, with fabulous views of the English and Welsh coasts, and out to the Atlantic.  The island has belonged to the National Trust since 1969, and it boasts one pub and three lighthouses, the Old Light built in 1819 and made of granite, and the white-painted North Lundy and South Lundy Lighthouses built in 1897.  There are a number of buildings on the island leased by the LandmarkTrust and rented out as holiday lets.

As well as the Norsemen, the island was once the haunt of pirates, a reminder of which is the small cove in the north-east corner of the island called Frenchman’s Landing.  There is a ruined castle in the south which was built by Henry III, sometimes referred to as the Marisco Castle (a name shared by the island’s pub, the Marisco Tavern) at a time when the island could properly be described as inhabited, and restoration work was carried out on it during the Civil War, when the inhabitants remained stubbornly faithful to Charles I while mainland Royalists were being defeated.  It was during the 20th century that the island began to depopulate, so that most of the people found there today are either visitors or volunteers coming to the island for conservation projects.

The island is a paradise for wildlife watchers and twitchers.  The puffins which gave rise to the island’s original name went into a seemingly terminal decline around 10 years ago, but the population has since made a recovery thanks to the extermination of the island’s rats. But there are far more birds to look out for than puffins, with over 400 species having been recorded.  Other creatures include grey seals, sika deer, wild goats and Soay sheep, while the waters surrounding the island are visited by sharks and dolphins – something to look out for from the MS Oldenburg, the passenger ferry bringing visitors across from Bideford and Ilfracombe.

Map of the island. 

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Coast of Lundy. Photo by Nick Stenning, via Wikimedia Commons