England’s First Crowned Queen Owned Clovelly

Clovelly, which has inspired various artists and writers, from JMW Turner to Charles Dickens, is the only privately-owned pedestrian-only village in UK with mesmerizing picturesque.

The two immediate signs predict at once that that Clovelly which is located on the coast of Devon in South West England, is not a usual seaside village. The first sign is that you can enter in the village only through the visitor centre, which charges £8.50 per adult for entrance (£4.95 for children). The other sign is the sledges that stand ready on top of the cobbled walk that runs through the town’s steep lanes of cottages and down to Clovelly’s harbour, 120m underneath, prepared for the following opportunity an occupant returns from the shops and needs to haul their buys home.

This might appear awkward for a fist-time visitor to Clovelly but this 1000-year-old community have adapted to modern times by having the visitor centre which opened in 1988, and the sledges largely replaced donkeys in 1970s, this little change shows their adaptation to current times as well as keeping the rhythms of the past. There are still no cars in Clovelly (It would be too steep for them to get access even if the town wanted them.) There are no chain stores, no traffic noises, no light pollution. Instead, there are cobbled lanes, whitewashed cottages, small boats bobbing in the 14th-Century stone quay, fat bees and butterflies feeding on flowers, and, almost everywhere, the sound, smells and sight of the Atlantic.

“Moving to a teeny tiny cottage on the edge of a cliff was something I never imagined,” said Ellie Jarvis, who came from London to Clovelly for six months in 2007 to help run her family’s silk workshop and never left. “But what is so beautiful and unique about Clovelly is not only the cobbles and all the obvious things that you see as a tourist. It’s the fact that you’re living with the past.” And that past extends a long way.

During Clovelly was owned by William the Conqueror himself, when it was listed in the Domesday Book, England’s earliest public record. The king later gifted the village to his wife Matilda of Flanders, England’s first crowned queen. This town still holds the feel of past this is a big reason of why it was a main location for the films Sense & Sensibility (2008) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018); and why, over the centuries, the village has inspired artists and writers from JMW Turner to Charles Dickens. Few have considered Clovelly as more of a muse than the 19th-Century novelist and poet Charles Kingsley, however, whose childhood was spent in this town. “Now that you have seen the dear old Paradise you know what was the inspiration of my life before I met you,” he wrote to his wife after her first visit in 1854.

It is actually true that there are other beautiful, scenic and historical fishing villages in the area which do not charge entrance fees.  But the other areas which look authentic from outside doesn’t possess the charm of Clovelly and leaves one feeling disappointed as they are more of deserted places with no real population. Numerous unspoiled spots have been emptied by holiday lets, leaving them overflowing with tourists in summer and emptied out in the off season. At Clovelly is the place where total population is about 300 people who live in 83 cottages, has a different feel and experience. Get past the visitor centre and its souvenir shop, and there is a real – and vibrant – group of residents behind it all.

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“There is an actual community that lives here,” said Cass Mcfarlane, who moved here in autumn 2021 from London and runs a sweet shop in Kingsley Cottage, a small museum devoted to the writer. “And it’s an active, bubbly community, from all ages and walks of life. There’s always someone to see and talk to.”

This is even true for the winter season specially Christmas. People living in nearby town, which is 15 miles from Clovelly, even comes to visit and see the celebrations of Christmas lights. At the special occasion of Christmas lights the he lanes are even more packed than they are at the height of the summer tourist season. A band of local schoolchildren play Christmas carols; people greeted one another on the cobbled streets. “Very often a visitor would possibly make, I think, the mistake of thinking that it was a sleepy village. And it really isn’t,” said Jarvis. “There’s a lot going on.” Festivals, events, theatre. At the same time, she added, “There’s a gentler way of life here. I’m forever telling my children that there’s always someone watching them. They cannot misbehave – there’s always an audience.”

That tight-knit, unique part of Clovelly’s community has been nurtured by design, according to the owner of Clovelly, Hon. John Rous. “It was always important to me that Clovelly should remain a living village,” he said when we met at his estate office, a jumble of pleasant stone buildings in the shadow of Clovelly’s 12th-Century All Saints church. “I didn’t want to go down the holiday lets line. I didn’t want to go down even a timeshare basis.” Rous, who is presently 71, inherited the village from his mother, a countess, in 1983. It is one of the UK’s only privately owned villages and that’s why Clovelly is a very unusual place, unique in its own charm. As surprising as it may sound, the Rous family is only the third family to own it since the 1200s.

In the prime time of aristocracy, this practice was common that a landowning family would not only employ people to work for their farms, but they also leased them homes and shops, too. Because of this set up so many of the grand houses of ancient days had to be given up, similarly other villages also had to be given up just to support the finaces. It was not different at Clovelly, where, by the 1980s, Rous’ family had been selling off parts of the estate – which spreads over 2,000 acres of North Devon – to be able to finance and support the rest of expenditures.

“It was a very difficult time. There was not much income being generated from the estate – a little bit of tourism income,” Rous said. “I thought, I don’t really want to get involved in a sort of managed decline. We’ve got to try and stop the rot and be self-financing. And so, I realised that we needed to make some major investment in tourism.”

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The times implied the construction of visitor centre and it was decided to charge the entrace fee to access the village rather than charging for the car parking. To Rous’s surprise, the number of visitors went of increasing rather than getting low, (Today, there are about 150,000 a year.) Still, this step was looked down with cynicism. Indeed, even now, over 30 years after the fact, a brief glance on Tripadvisor shows that a lot of guests stay disturbed about paying. Still that income has kept Clovelly intact, keeping it safeguarded, Rous stated. Moreover, these funds have allowed for a programme of renovation of the cottages, some of which date to at least the 15th Century – and which are all dependent upon the wet, wild, breezy climate that this piece of the English shore is known for, with its upkeep challenges, from shape to harmed rooftops.

The tourism income has also allowed Clovelly to maintain an unusual policy for this part of the world: there are no second homes or absentee landlords allowed. (Rous, the only landlord, lives on the estate himself, in Clovelly Manor; while the original manor burned down in 1943 in World War Two, its walled gardens, Clovelly Court Gardens, survived intact and are included in the visitor fee.) As a state of their tenure, occupants are expected to reside here full-time. For longer-term inhabitants like Jarvis, that implied changing houses a few times as her family extended. Her two young men, matured nine and 13, have grown up here. There are sure days of the year where different families move immediately in a sort of round of a game of seat juggling, yet with sledges as opposed to moving vans.

Speaking of the sledges, inhabitants say that these are not just quirks but they are are an essential piece of Clovelly life.  Everybody in the village has their own personal sledge which they keep at the top of the village. When locals order groceries, the delivery vans know, on seeing “Clovelly” on the address, to give a 15-minute heads up before they show up and reach Clovelly so the customer has enough time and willpower to walk to the highest point of the town and get their sledge.”There is no secret way of getting things down,” said Mcfarlane. “This morning, I saw a gentleman with a new washing machine and a new cooker. Last year, a grand piano came down.”

Many residents see it as a small price to pay for the privilege of living in such an idyllic spot. At high tide, Jarvis’ boys can jump from their kitchen door straight into the sea. Other residents agree that the inconveniences are worth it.”Once you’ve made your mind up, the transition from gas and central heating to putting logs and coal on your sledge and letting gravity bring it down, and chopping wood and making the Raven [wood stove], it just feels right,” said Dave Francis, who moved to Clovelly in 2020 and runs the Donkey Shoe Shop with his wife, Jakki.

While it’s easy for visitors to forget this beautiful place but the Clovelly estate is far more than the village which includes 700 acres of woodland, three large farms, the working harbour, gardens and even a sawmill. Some 80 employees keep it all going and intact. That all brings challenges – from dieback in the woodlands to garden upgrades to the unending upkeep of the cottages. (“The nasty thing about that is that you could spend loads and loads of money and hardly notice a difference,” Rous remarked, especially since the restorations are done with historical sensitivity, such as reroofing in stone or slate instead of cheaper materials.)

Regardless of the difficulties, Rous, who talks with enthusiasm about each part of running the estate, keeps on looking fowards towards making Clovelly a more flourished place. He needs to support Clovelly’s prospering crafting industry (along with silk-producer Jarvis, a cleanser creator and potter likewise have studios here), as well as the town’s verifiable connections to fishing and the sea. He’s even thinking about introducing small-scale oyster farming in the bay. “We’ve got to continually evolve and adapt to changing circumstances,” he said, even while preserving the past.

For Jarvis and others, when it comes to finding this balance, Clovelly succeeds. “It isn’t an easy way of life; it isn’t straightforward. You can’t compare living here to anywhere else,” Jarvis said. “But you just fall in love. “I think you live here with all of your heart.

Source: BBC Travel