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Clovelly Without the Crowds

Pheasants and follies - and a different way into Clovelly.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 410ft (125m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Grassy coast path, woodland and farm tracks, 4 stiles

Landscape Farmland, wooded coast path and deep combes

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 126 Clovelly & Hartland

Start/finish SS 285259

Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept under control at all times

Parking National Trust car park at Brownsham

Public toilets Clovelly Visitor Centre

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1 Leave the car park over a stile opposite the entrance. Walk along the field and through a gate into woods. Follow signs 'Footpath to coast path' to pass a bench. Go straight on 'Mouth Mill & coast path'. Cross over a stile and on to meet the coast path.

2 Go right over a stile into the field on Brownsham Cliff. There are good views ahead to Morte Point. Keep to the left edge, across a stile, down steps and left round the next field. Cross a stile and zig-zag downhill through woodland. When you leave the trees turn left towards the sea at Mouth Mill.

3 Follow the coast path across the stream by stepping stones. Clamber up the rocky gully left and turn right onto the gritty track, on a bend. Keep going left, uphill.

4 After 200yds (183m) follow coast path signs left, then immediately right. Go left up wooden steps to follow a narrow, wooded path uphill towards the cliffs below Gallantry Bower, with a 400ft (122m) drop into the sea.

5 Follow the signed path through woodland to pass the folly 'the Angel's Wings'. Where a path leads straight on to the church, keep left following signs and via a gate through the edge of Clovelly Court estate (right). Pass into laurel woods via a kissing gate. The path winds down and up past a brick-built shelter, then through a kissing gate into a field. Keep to the left; through a gate and oak trees to meet the road at a big gate. Follow coast path signs on to the road that leads to the top of Clovelly village below the Visitor Centre.

6 Walk up deep, steep, ancient Wrinkleberry Lane (right of Hobby Drive ahead) to a lane, past the school and on to meet the road. Turn right; where the road bends right go through the gates to Clovelly Court. At the T-junction follow bridleway signs left ('Court Farm & sawmills') through the farm, through a metal gate (sometimes open) and along the track. Pass through a small wooded section and walk on to the hedge at the end of the field.

7 Turn right, then left though a gate (by a footpath sign). At the bottom of the field go through a gate into a plantation, downhill.

8 Turn left at the forest track, following bridleway signs. Turn right up the long, gradually ascending track to Lower Brownsham Farm. Turn left for the car park.

Everyone's heard about Clovelly. It's an extraordinary place - almost a folly itself - best seen very early in the morning, or at the end of the day when most of the visitors have gone home. Clinging precariously to the wooded cliffs on the long, virtually uninhabited stretch of inhospitable coastline between Bideford and Hartland Point, it has a timeless feel if you see it 'out of office hours', or in mid-winter. Once famous as the village where donkeys were used to carry goods - and people - from the quay up the perilously steep cobbled village street (the bed of an old watercourse), today it is best known as a tourist trap. Most people drive to the village and are drawn into the Visitor Centre car park at the top - but it's much more satisfying, and more fitting to Clovelly's situation, to walk in along the coast path from the National Trust lands at Brownsham to the west. The two 17th-century farmhouses of Lower and Higher Brownsham, now converted into holiday accommodation, lie just inland from one of the most unspoilt sections of the north Devon coastline. Although the walk is rarely out of the trees, you can still hear the pull and drag of the waves on the shingly beach far below.

Charles Kingsley, social reformer and author of Westward Ho! and The Water Babies, lived in Clovelly as a child when his father was rector of All Saints Church. Clovelly featured heavily in Westward Ho!, published in 1855, and the world suddenly became aware of this remote village's existence. Up till then it had been reliant on herring fishing for its main source of income. Charles Dickens also mentioned Clovelly in A Message from the Sea (1860), so extending its new-found popularity.

Clovelly Court dates from around 1740, when the Hamlyns bought the Manor from the Carys, but was remodelled in Gothic style in 1790-5. The gardens are open daily from 10am to 4pm, and there's an honesty box for an admission fee. The much restored 15th-century All Saints Church has a Norman porch, dating from around 1300, and many monuments to the Cary and Hamlyn families. Sir James Hamlyn, who died in 1829, was responsible for the building of the Hobby Drive, which runs for 3 miles (4.8km) along the cliffs east of Clovelly, and from which you get fantastic views of the harbour, 600ft (183m) below.

What to look for

Pheasants - and you don't have to look for them - you can't avoid them on this walk! You'll pass through much privately owned forestry, most of which is used for rearing pheasants. Britain's commonest game bird was introduced from Asia in the Middle Ages. The male is beautiful, with an iridescent green head and rich brown body. The female is smaller, duller and pale brown.

While you're there

Have a look at the charming cove at Buck's Mills, signposted off the A39 at Buck's Cross. There's free parking in the wooded valley just above the village. When herring and mackerel fishing declined in the 19th century local men travelled daily to Lundy to work in the quarry. The popularity of the surname Braund in the village is thought to result from seven Spanish sailors, wrecked at sea and washed up here at the time of the Spanish Armada. The Old Mill café displays interesting bits and pieces about the village.

Where to eat and drink

There are several pubs in Clovelly, including the Red Lion Hotel down at the quay. At nearby Woolfardisworthy (Woolsery to the locals), there is the Farmer's Arms, serving good food, the Manor Inn - or fish and chips.

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