Clovelly, Devon – The Car-free Village That Inspired Charles Kingsley

“Suddenly a hot gleam of sunlight fell upon the white cottages, with their grey steaming roofs and little scraps of garden courtyard, and lighting up the wings of the gorgeous butterflies which fluttered from the woodland down to the garden.”

Charles Kingsley

Clinging to the side of a cliff in Devon, lies the winding, cobbled streets of Clovelly. Once a sleepy fishing village, now it’s also a tourist attraction – and it’s car-free so bring your walking boots. It was also once the home of the young Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies (whose grave I visited over here), and a big source of inspiration for the future author.

The steep streets mean getting goods up and down is tricky. In the past, donkeys were used, but now each household has its own sled and good old-fashioned person-power to transport what’s needed. There are still donkeys if you want to meet them – they’re just not having to haul anything about. There are also places to stay, eat and shop as you hike up and down the narrow streets.

Preserved as it is, the place certainly works as an inspiring, unique setting for your tale, or a place to research old fishing village life, this is definitely a place to visit. And it’s certainly been inspiring people for years. JMW Turner painted it, and Charles Dickens described it in “A Message From The Sea”. But most notably from a literary standpoint, it was home to a young Charles Kinglsey, who lived there from 1831 to 1836 when his father was curate, then rector.

In 1855, Kinglsey wrote “Westward Ho!” a book that saw a village named after it, located a bit further east from Clovelly (and is the only place in the UK that has an exclamation mark in its name). It was this book that also popularised Clovelly, and was very popular, although its anti-Catholic and racist sentiments show up haven’t aged well.

There’s a museum in the village dedicated to Kingsley, and his relationship with the place, as well as a general history of the area. Next door is a fisherman’s cottage museum, showing how the locals may have lived and worked in the past. There are still those who make their living from fishing today.

And although it is a tourist attraction, there are no holiday lets. In fact, another interesting feature of the place is that it’s actually owned by a family – the current owner living in Clovelly Court just down the road (whose gardens you can visit when you pay for entry to the village).

I would highly recommend a visit whether you’re looking to research things or not. It’s a wonderful and informative day out with fantastic views. Although you probably need to have a bit of stamina for the walking.

What do you think? Have you visited Clovelly or somewhere similar? Please share in the comments.

Related reads

The POW Camp For Nazis Run By Jewish Officers – Featherstone, UK

Land Of Legends – Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

Tyneham – The Village Where Time Stopped

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