First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
It was a brilliantly sunny winter’s afternoon, and as blowy as hell on the hillside above Clovelly. This stretch of the North Devon coast was always notorious for the lack of shelter it afforded to seafarers and fishermen in the days of sail, and the waves were dashing against the tall black cliffs as though they would grind heaven and earth to pieces. In the woods the wind roared softly, and as we walked the coast path westward we had glimpses between the leafless oaks of the sea whipping itself into cream on the pebbly beaches far below.
The constant sea wind has streamlined these clifftop woods into a smooth curve that bends inland with hardly a twig breaking the continuous line of the treetops. In the shelter of the trees spring was coming early to North Devon, with shoots of bluebells and sprigs of primrose leaves already showing.
The view back from Gallantry Bower showed the eastward run of the coast to the estuary of Taw and Torridge, then on towards the ghost of Baggy Point in a haze of spray. The cliffs around Mouthmill Beach were full of fantastic geological contortions, the rocks bent into acute angles by tremendous upheavals below the surface hundreds of millions of years ago.
We dropped steeply down to lonely Mouthmill Beach with its abandoned limekiln. In Victorian times the Welsh limestone boats would dump great stone blocks here to be burned to quicklime and spread as fertilizer on the acid local land. Steeply up again to Brownsham Cliff, where we left the coast path to follow the fields to the ancient farming community of Brownsham.
Down in the ferny depths of Brownsham Wood we sat on a mossy wall to hear the wind make a roaring sea of the treetops. Then up and on through the parkland of Clovelly Court, and a steep descent on a path of cobbled steps into Clovelly.
The early 20th century chatelaine of Clovelly Court, Christine Hamlyn, was a bit of a tyrant, and she certainly ran an extremely tight ship. Everything in Clovelly had to be kept just so, with never a whiff of ‘tripper’. What she left for posterity is a village about as perfect as you could wish for, a photogenic tumble of cottages down a ludicrously steep cobbled street. As we climbed the roadway back to the car park, a full moon sailed across the bay and spread a sheen of silver across the restless sea, a scene so beautiful it was hard to believe it was real.
Start: Clovelly car park, North Devon EX39 5TL (OS ref SS 315249)
Getting there: Bus 319 from Barnstaple. Road – Clovelly is signed from A39 between Bideford and Bude.
Walk (6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 126): Through Visitor Centre, down to roadway. Left (‘Coast Path/CP, Brownsham’). In 100m, left through gate (CP) into field. In 50m, fork right (CP) parallel to road. Follow CP for 2¼ miles. On Brownsham Cliff, where CP turns right down steps, keep ahead (290264, ‘Brownsham ¾’). In 200m, stile (red arrow/RA) into trees. Follow RA/’Brownsham’ to Brownsham car park (286260). Right through car park; left down steps; left (CP) along drive. Past shed, turn right (‘Mouth Mill’, Bridleway).
Follow bridleway track through woods. In ¾ mile, at fork keep right (ahead) across stream (297259). Left at junction (‘bridleway’); in 50m, right up stony track (blue arrow/BA). Through gate (299259); ahead along wood edge; through gate (BA). Half right up field slope to meet track at top right corner of wood ahead (302256, arrow on post). Left along track for ½ mile, through Court Farm to Clovelly Court. Right in front of church (309251); left at road. Keep left where cars fork right for car park (313250). In 300m, right at T-junction (316250); in 50m, left down woodland path, then steep cobbled steps into Clovelly. Left down village street (318248) to harbour; return up street to top (316247); right to car park.
Conditions: Slippery cobbles, muddy paths, unguarded cliffs; steep climb from Mouth Mill.
Lunch/Accommodation: Red Lion, The Quay (01237-431237) or New Inn (01237-431303); both stayatclovelly.co.uk
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99)