Clovelly – Heritage Village in North Devon

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly is a small heritage fishing village on the north coast of Devon in UK and is unique with its steep cobbled streets and old cottages running down to the small harbour at the sea. Clovelly used to be a fishing village and in 1901 had a population of 621. It is a cluster of largely wattle and daub cottages on the sides of a rocky cleft; its steep main street descends 400 feet (120 m) to the pier, too steeply to allow wheeled traffic. Sledges are used for the movement of goods. The quaint street is lined with houses, a small number of shops, a cafe and a public house. All Saints’ Church, restored in 1866, is late Norman, containing several monuments to the Cary family, Lords of the Manor for 600 years.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Unusually, the village is still privately owned and has been associated with only three families since the middle of the 13th century, nearly 800 years. The scenery has been captured by artists for its richness of colour, especially in the separately accessed and separated Clovelly Court and along The Hobby, a road cut through the woods and overlooking the sea. The South West Coast Path National Trail runs from the top of the village and the section from Clovelly to Hartland Quay is particularly spectacular.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.The village has one public house and one hotel.


Listed buildings

Each of the buildings along the terraced cobbled street is architecturally listed: more than 50 of these 71 are on the main street itself. Only seven buildings are not listed. At a higher level of build or antiquity, Grade II*, are numbers 16, and 45-47, 53-54, (53 has the house name Crazy Kate’s) and 59-61.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.
Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK. 

The village main street is not accessible by motor vehicle, although there is a road leading to the harbour with parking limited to staying guests of the Red Lion Hotel and locals with permits. Visitors can park at the visitor centre at the end of the B3237 road above the village, where there is a café and shops. Land Rover taxis run in summer between the car park and the harbour.

The estate is run by the Clovelly Estate Company, led by the Hon. John Rous, a descendant of the Hamlyn family who have owned the village, estate and manor house Clovelly Court since 1738. John Rous is the eldest son of the Hon. Mary Rous and Keith Rous, the 5th Earl of Stradbroke.


Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.

The novelist Charles Kingsley lived here as a child from 1831 to 1836, while his father, Rev. Charles Kingsley served first as senior curate then as rector. Later, in 1855, his novel Westward Ho! did much to stimulate interest in Clovelly and to boost its tourist trade.

Clovelly is also described by Charles Dickens in “A Message from the Sea” and was painted by Rex Whistler, whose cameos of the village were used on a china service by Wedgwood.

The sixteenth-century Carys of Clovelly feature in the historical novel The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham.

The surgeon Campbell De Morgan (1811–1876), who first speculated that cancer arose locally and then spread more widely in the body, was born here.

Clovelly is mentioned in passing by Rudyard Kipling in Stalky & Co. as being located to the west of the boys’ academy.

Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK.Clovelly, Devon, UK. 

In Susan Coolidge’s In the High Valley (1890), part of the Katy series, a walk in to Clovelly is described: “… surely a more extraordinary thing in the way of a street does not exist in the known world. The little village is built on the sides of a crack in a tremendous cliff; the “street” is merely the bottom of the crack, into which the ingenuity of man has fitted a few stones, set slant-wise, with intersecting ridges on which the foot can catch as it goes slipping hopelessly down.”

J.M.W. Turner’s painting of Clovelly harbour hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

On Sunday 28 October 1838 twelve fishing vessels with a total of twenty-six men on board left Clovelly harbour for the fishing grounds. Only one vessel and its crew ever returned after a ferocious storm in the Bristol Channel.


An 18th century chapbook entitled The History of John Gregg and his Family of Robbers and Murderers explains that “Chovaley” (i.e. Clovelly) was once the home of a tribe of cannibalistic bandits. It is alleged that Gregg and his extended family of dozens were eventually tracked down by bloodhounds and were burnt alive in three fires. They were said to have lived in “a cave near the sea-side” and had committed some 1000 murders. Although the story is fiction, writer Daniel Codd observes that a stretch of Clovelly Bay is called “the Devil’s Kitchen”—”an apt name indeed if there is any truth in the ghoulish story of the Gregg family”.

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