Friday, 17 July 2009

Day 6 - South West Coast - Clovelly - The prettiest village I've ever seen

I'm starting to sound like someone who's addicted to hyperbole and over-exaggeration...but I honestly am not. I've worked as a journalist, and skepticism comes with the turf. I know I've given a few good words to places like Mousehole, Dartmouth, Brixham and recently St Ives, but Clovelly is extra special. For sheer beauty, this tiny village (much smaller than tiny Mousehole) is unmatched. (And I promise to get a few photos up soon!!! Update - Check them out below.)

My mate back in London made me swear that I'd visit Clovelly on my trip. He's been on a romantic escapade there, and I can see why. The little place would knock the pants - sorry, I mean socks! - off most girls (and guys) on a romantic weekend.

I will try to describe it, probably unsuccessfully, because you have to be a poet... There are only about thirty whitewashed tiny cottages, all situated in a steep culvert between two high hills. To the left and right are precipitous forests that come down to a stony coast. There is a waterfall cascading into the ocean just to the north of the village. The harbour keeps about ten fishing boats, and the breakwater tries its best to keep the winter swells out. Streets are cobbled. Flowerpots hang out the windows. And the sound of the sea is amplified by the narrow topography.

And many of the residents are old locals. Barry Perham owns the Shellfish Shop at the bottom of the hill, just before you walk onto the breakwater. He was born in Clovelly. His great grandfather moved there after marrying one of the locals. He's not bowing to any tourist marketing program...he's just selling his "hot, smoked mackerel in soft bread roll for £2.50". That's why Clovelly works. There are tourists, but it hasn't compromised the soul one bit.

The history of the place goes back to 1066, when it was described in the census for that year. The whole village has always been owned by a family, and today it is privately owned by the Hamlyn family, and has been since 1738. As a result, they have been able to preserve Clovelly, so that is has essentially remained unchanged for centuries. The town's tourist centre at the top of the hill does taint things somewhat, but it's far away from the town itself, so it doesn't matter. And you'll pay £6 to gain access to Clovelly, but it's worth every penny, and it helps to preserve it.

In fact, I would have liked to spend a night there. And will be going back for sure. Two places caught my eye, but didn't go inside:

- Red Lion Hotel, right on the breakwater. An impressive sight.

- Donkey Shoe Cottage, in the middle of the village.

- For more accommodation options, check out

Panorama of Clovelly, click on the image for a full screen version...a photo doesn't do the village justice, and I wish the sun had been deserves sun all year round - clouds should be reserved exclusively for London!! And notice the waterfall on the left of the image...

Barry Perham, who owns the Shell Fish Shop next to the Red Lion Hotel on the harbour (which is to the right of the panorama photo)

Day 6 - South West Coast- Tintagel - King Arthur and his knights...

On the way from St Ives north to Ilfracombe is Tintagel Castle, close to the town of the same name. It is here that King Arthur was born...if he ever did live.

The castle is on cliffed-island down a steep hill from the town. The wind was galeforce when I got there, and had to lean into it while taking a few pics. The sea was spraying up above the cliffs which are about 40 metres impressive place for a legendary king to be born. Bad weather suits the place. But although it's a decent outing, it's not as special as some guidebooks make it out to be. The castle is almost eroded to it's foundations, and the town itself is not pretty. There are lots of curio stores selling swords and King Arthur chess sets. Poor old King Arthur...I wonder if he's getting any royalty payments...

Click on the panorama for a full screen version of the broken down Tintagel's to the right of the image.

Day 5 - South West Coast - St Ives - some more...

St Ives is popular today as an artist town, and it has been since 1811, when the famous JM Turner (I didn’t know who he was either – but check out his work to see if it's your thing) moved to St Ives. The first official tourist arrived in 1877 when the trainline was extended.

And now that I’ve had some more time in the town, I’ve realised how much St Ives, in particular, relies on tourism. The pilchard fishing industry, which was once so prolific, has died, and overfishing left the fishing boats unused in the harbour. To give you an idea of how many pilchards were caught, Tim Tait from Cornerways showed me the basement of his B&B, which used to be a pilchard press ( smells better now!)

“They used to throw the pilchards down a shute, into the press, extract the oil, and send it to London to light the street lamps. There was just so much of the stuff...” One estimate, according to the local tourism brochure, is that every year 100 million fish were transported out of St Ives. And it didn’t take long for the stock to run out – by 1924 the industry had almost died.

The town relies now on its bygone charm as a working fishing town to draw the tourists. There are lots of boutique clothing and fashion stores, and a lot of upmarket restaurants. Sure, there are fish and chip shops too. The charm is still there, and it’s great. I just hope that it doesn’t become too trendy.

Well, it may be too late, because the Tate art empire has got a St Ives branch, which you pay about £5.65 to get in. There are 30 other galleries in the village, hosting a wide range of paintings, sculptures and photography. If you're an art fan, then go to St Ives.

Here are a couple more things that you can do, courtesy of Tim, and Madeleine at St Ives Tourism (The office is very helpful - a clear sign that they know how important the industry is to the town.)

- Take a guided tour of the town with Valerie Hurry, who offers two versions: one for folk interested in all the art, and one for those who want to know more about the history and quirkiness of the place. Contact Valerie on Prices are $5 a person, and tours last about 75 minutes.

- Visit the St Ives Museum down near the harbour wall. Yeah, yeah...I know what you didn't go on holiday to see a museum. And it is run-down and poky, but according to Tim at Cornerways, it is one of the unsung attractions. It has an enormous amount of archival material that even ardent non-historians might find interesting. Like how Saint Ia (a lady!) from Ireland founded the town in the 5th century, after sailing across on a dingy made from animal hides! Wow. There's a lot of quirky stuff as well.

- Go to Trewyn Gardens, which isn’t touristy, and are very pretty. They sit right next to the Barbara Hepworth museum, which houses much of her modern sculpture work. Tim says it’s a “must-do” if you’re that way inclined. I didn't know who she was.

- Try Saltwater Restaurant in - you guessed it - Fish Street! Tim says it’s got the best seafood, and is a “special occasion” spot. Other famously good restaurants are Porthminster Cafe & Restaurant, which is apparently nationally famous. And Alba, which got 10/10 from the Daily Telegraph food writer and is located in the old lifeboat house and has panoramic views of the ocean.

- Bringyour walking shoes. The coastal walks are fine. Tim says his favourite is to walk the three hours south to Zennor, have lunch at the popular - and only - pub, the Tinners Arms, then take the open-top bus back to St Ives.

- For diferent accommodation options, check out Old Salthouse, which is a luxurious studio apartment, and Gowerton Guest House, a less pricey spot (£30 a night incl breakfast) run by a South African lady called Zelda Bennett. I know I keep going on about how great the views have been, but her view has set the new standard. Her three storey fishing cottage is part of the breakwater, and you look out your window onto the sea directly below.

St Ives Internet Cafe...

Art deco poster of St Ives

...and one for Cornwall too.

St Ives on a stormy morning...hey, I also wish the weather was better in July!