Think of North Devon with its golden stretches of sandy beaches, mysterious moorland and quaint fishing villages and there’s one place that may spring to mind. The sleepy little village of Clovelly is a timeless honeypot for holidaymakers wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Experience an ancient North Devon fishing village steeped in tradition and charm, where donkeys are the only form of transport and you can wander along steep cobbled paths that are lined with whitewashed, flower-strewn cottages. Once owned by the Queen of England and listed in the Domesday Book, this unique village clings to a 400-foot cliff, affording glorious coastal views.
We have created the ultimate guide to Clovelly, with all the local insider info you will need to enjoy a memorable trip in this special part of the North Devon coast.
About the village:
From Elizabethan days until today, Clovelly has been in private ownership which has helped preserve its original atmosphere. Follow Clovelly’s famous traffic-free main street as it descends to a quaint working harbour and 14th-century quay where fishermen mend their nets and tend to their lobster pots. Note the romantic little lanes and passageways that wind off along the way, offering cosy pubs and tantalising insights into the village’s history.
Take in the impressive views across the bay or hop aboard one of the boats to enjoy a fishing trip out to sea where you might spot dolphins and porpoises. With a plethora of festivals throughout the year, craft workshops where you can purchase one-of-a-kind souvenirs and two interesting museums, there is much to see and do here.
There is a modest admission charge to visit Clovelly and this includes parking, a must-see film of the history of the village at the Visitor Centre, entrance to the museums, the beautiful Clovelly Court Gardens and a contribution to the preservation of this very special private estate. For those not wishing to negotiate the steep hill on foot, there is a Land Rover service which operates for most of the year for a small fee. Dogs on leads are welcome.
One of Devon’s prettiest villages, Clovelly itself is the main attraction. However, there are definitely a few things you wouldn’t want to miss on your visit.
First and foremost are Clovelly’s donkeys! Used as the main form of transport in the village for centuries, these nimble creatures are perfectly adapted to coping with the steep, uneven cobbled streets. In the past, they were used to carry a variety of goods including heavy baskets of herring from the harbour to the carriers’ carts. Nowadays, all goods are transported by wooden sledge and these famous residents live a far more relaxed existence providing children’s rides in the summer months and posing for photographs in the street.
The colourful Clovelly Court Gardens offer a tranquil place to relax at the top of the village. This sunny corner of North Devon with its warmth from the Gulf Stream provides an idyllic spot where tender and exotic plants thrive. Featuring a lovingly restored Victorian walled kitchen garden with vivid herbaceous borders and glasshouses sheltering an array of Mediterranean fruits, there’s always something to see and enjoy at any time of the year. You can purchase vegetables, fruit, plants and cut flowers in the little shed shop in the gardens and juice from the home-grown apples in the Visitor Centre.
There are two fascinating museums in Clovelly: Fisherman’s Cottage which is a small dwelling cleverly set up to represent a typical family cottage in the 1930s, and the Kingsley Museum which is dedicated to Victorian author Charles Kingsley who lived in Clovelly during his childhood and wrote the book ‘Westward Ho!’ which popularised the village as a destination for visitors. Both museums are included in the ticket price.
Near to the Visitor Centre, you will find a selection of craft workshops offering stylish and unique gifts to purchase as a memento of your visit. Clovelly Silk specialises in hand-printed fabrics, beautiful scarves and bespoke curtains and offers workshops in textile design and silk printing.
Clovelly Pottery stocks high-quality ceramics and beautifully glazed hand-thrown pots or you can have a go at creating your own in the workshop to take home as a souvenir. Clovelly Soap is a haven for lovers of natural, ethical, sustainable soaps including their renowned seaweed soaps, along with fragrant candles and bath bombs.
Fishing from the quay is a popular pastime in Clovelly with a vast array of fish in the bay from sole and John Dory to bass and mackerel. Permits are available from the friendly Harbour Master but are sometimes at limited times, especially during the busy summer months. Crabbing is also a beloved activity from the rockpools and the harbour wall. Nets, buckets and crabbing lines are available to buy at the quay shop.
The food and drink:
With much of the food sourced locally from the estate, eating in Clovelly is a mouth-watering experience. Fresh fish, crabs and lobster are all landed on the quay daily in season and can be found across the menus of Clovelly’s pubs and restaurants.
If you fancy something special, the New Inn and the Red Lion both offer incredible views over the quay and harbour and serve everything from a Devon Cream Tea to seafood platters, washed down with a wide choice of ales, ciders and the famous Clovelly cobbler.
For a light snack, enjoy a cappuccino and home baking at The Bay Tree Café in the visitor centre. On a sunny day, the terrace makes the perfect spot for savouring the fresh sea air while admiring mesmerising views over the North Devon coast and Bideford Bay.
On the edge of the harbour, you will find Crazy Kate’s Cottage, the oldest cottage in Clovelly. It is named after a fisherman’s widow who is said to have died in 1736 after spiralling into madness following the death of her husband who drowned while fishing in the bay. Dressed in her wedding gown, she walked into the sea to join him in his watery grave.
A few hundred yards past the Lifeboat Station in Clovelly is a stunning waterfall cascading down the cliff face. Behind the curtain of water lies a hidden cave which is supposedly the former home of Merlin the wizard!
No holiday in Clovelly is complete without a souvenir photograph with one of its resident donkeys. One of the best spots for an insta-worthy picture is by the Queen Victoria Fountain at the top of the main street which was designed by a cousin of the Queen in 1901.
Also at the peak of the cobbled street, is Peace Park where a memorial to the men of Clovelly who lost their lives during the First World War can be found, proudly overlooking the sea. This is a wonderful spot to rest for a while.
One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of Clovelly is to follow the North Devon Coast Path which winds its way through hay meadows and shady woodland to Mouthmill Cove, once a popular spot for pirates. Along the way, there are dramatic cliff-top vistas as well as a variety of flora and fauna to see. Further along is Hartland Point about eight miles from Clovelly, and worth the walk with its striking lighthouse, Hartland Quay, magnificent rock formations and fascinating geological sites.
There are many annual events and festivals in Clovelly throughout the year which celebrate its maritime heritage. The Lobster and Crab Feast in September is a firm favourite, paying homage to this great crustacean delicacy. Also popular are the Seaweed Festival in June, the Maritime Festival in July and the Herring Festival in November. There is no extra admission charge for these festivals and all boast live music, demonstrations, street entertainment, craft activities and an abundance of stalls selling unique gifts.
One of the most unique locations in the UK, Clovelly is undeniably beautiful and a stay in one of our nearby cottages provides the perfect opportunity to soak up its incredible atmosphere and stunning scenery. Make yourself at home in a traditional cottage, celebrate a special occasion in a larger property or bring along your canine companion to one of our dog-friendly cottages.
Inspired to take a trip to this intriguing North Devon town? We have a great selection of holiday cottages in and around Clovelly for you to choose from. Be sure to check out our guide to North Devon's Best Walks and the Insider's Guide to Devon to find out even more about what to see and do in this wonderful area!