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Clovelly: Why you should visit this North Devon ‘film set’ fishing village

Clovelly harbour / Relax Ya Self To Health
Relax Ya Self To Health

When is North Devon not North Devon?

When it’s masquerading as one of the Channel Islands that’s when. I made the discovery back in March when I was fortunate enough to spend a week of ‘bleisure’ in this stunning slice of south-west England.

My friend’s aunt and now close friend  – who keeps me on the straight and narrow when it comes to work-life balance  – asked if I’d seen 2018 film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I hadn’t.

She then explained how various scenes within the movie, which stars Downton Abbey’s Lily James and Game of Thrones’ actor Michael Huisman, were actually filmed in three North Devon locations.

The story is set on the island of Guernsey in the aftermath of World War II and is based on the international best-selling historical novel of the same name.

It tells the enchanting tale of a journalist who forms a close bond with the unconventional society and writes about the book club they formed during the occupation of the island.

Ironically, I’d visited the harbour town of Bideford as well as Saunton Sands (pictured below), both of which feature in the film, earlier in the week, so when Auntie C suggested a trip to the fishing village of Clovelly, which also pops up in many a scene, my eyes lit up.

Saunton Sands / Relax Ya Self To Health

It would certainly sit well on my list of fascinating North Devon finds, joining Hidden Heaven – the quirky home restaurant experience set inside a beautiful converted chapel within the grounds of a graveyard. ( You can read about it here.)

And as I’d been up with the larks for most of the week blitzing through work to free up afternoons for seaside strolls, riverside walks and sightseeing, this seemed like a splendid way to end my stay.

“We can even watch the film on your last night here so you can spot the places you’ve visited,” Auntie Chris suggested.

“Sounds perfect,” I replied.

So, what did I find?

Clovelly, North Devon

We left sunny Barnstaple and drove the 20 miles to Clovelly, the village that inspired writer and clergyman Charles Kingsley to pen The Water Babies.

Frustratingly the sunshine was replaced by mist and fog as we approached but at least it wasn’t raining. We paid £7.50, the cost of an adult admission *the price has since risen to £7.75* and soon found ourselves on a very steep, pedestrianised cobbled street.

TOP TIP: Wear trainers. Do not attempt the walk in ballet pumps or footwear without cushioning. Your feet will not thank you for it as Auntie C discovered.

Clovelly: Relax Ya Self To Health

On our amble down to the harbour was eventful. We spotted residents piling their groceries onto giant sledges and sliding them to their front door. The street is too steep and narrow – the village is built on a 400 ft cliff – for motor vehicles. Funnily enough, one property was in the midst of a renovation.

It was quite amusing to see the underlay and carpet ferried around this way and the physical exercise certainly kept the delivery men fit.

INTERESTING FACT: The resident donkeys are no longer used for carrying goods up and down the street but they can still be found in the fields or stables and children can ride them in the summer.

TOP TIP: If you’re older in years or struggle with your fitness, take your time and factor in breaks on both your descent and ascent.
Clovelly: Relax Ya Self To Health

Whitewashed cottages and blossom-filled trees lined our path to the harbour.  The setting felt so traditional and unspoilt, as though we had stepped back in time. No wonder it was chosen for the movie.

INTERESTING FACT: Clovelly belongs to one family – one of only three to lay claim to it since the Norman Conquest –  so there are no individually-owned houses in the village.

Clovelly: Relax Ya Self To Health

TOP TIP: You’ll be spoilt for magnificent picture opportunities but ensure your phone/camera has enough memory. It’s a rookie mistake but I was forever deleting old pictures to make room for the new which was more than mildly irritating. *Fool*

Also, definitely check the weather on an app before heading out. I only had one afternoon left to do the trip so didn’t really have a choice and the overcast skies in my photos really do not do the breathtaking scenery justice.

Clovelly: Relax Ya Self To Health

The 14th-century quay was once a busy fishing port, renowned for its herring and mackerel. The quaint harbour is simply a joy to behold and fishing still forms part of village life. On another note, I was delighted to find this wooden boat that dreamily matched Relax Ya Self To Health’s colour palette!

INTERESTING FACT: Clovelly has had its own working lifeboat since 1870. Why? The coastline is well known for shipwrecks.

TOP TIP: Factor in enough time to pop in for a drink in one of the two old inns that serve local food, ales and cider or pop into a shop and order a Devon cream tea. At the top of the village, there’s also a chance to access silk and pottery craft workshops and Clovelly Court Gardens. And don’t forget to explore the itsy-bitsy side streets. I discovered a tiny chapel down one!

Watch the movie afterwards. It’s quite exciting to spot all the places you’ve visited in Clovelly. Earlier on in the week, I’d also walked up and down the three-mile stretch of beach at Saunton Sands – which is used as a runway for the plane in the film – as well as Bideford, the place where German troops can be seen marching through the streets. This snap below is of the bridge.

INTERESTING FACT: Every archway is a different size.


Bideford / Relax Ya Self To Health

If you’ve no immediate plans to visit North Devon, check out the movie regardless.

It’s a damned good watch. And if you’re an emotional so and so like yours truly make sure you have the tissues at the ready.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read my other travel reviews here:

Cruise control: what it’s really like on Symphony of the Seas

Insider View: 7 things to do in Barbados 

10 ways to make the most of Kruger National Park

5 ways to relax in Austria 


The North Devon ‘graveyard’ dining experience you MUST try

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

“Churchyard dining? In North Devon? You can’t be serious?” That was my first reaction when Auntie Chris told me she was heading out to a pop-up restaurant in the little village of Swimbridge, near Barnstaple with nine of her friends.

She was, in fact, referring to Hidden Heaven, a beautifully converted Baptist chapel dating back to 1837 which just happens to be the home of Geoffrey and Kirsty Everett-Brown and their three children. The couple bought the building, complete with the graveyard containing 70 deceased occupants, in 2000 and spent the best part of five years converting it into their dream property.

Now the friendly husband-and-wife team throw open their doors once a month to host informal and welcoming dining experiences for members of the public at a cost of £30 per head. It’s a fantastic concept.


Hidden Heaven. North Devon

Supper is made from locally sourced and seasonal ingredients and served in a light and airy open plan living and dining room that once housed the pews and pulpit (not the grounds of the churchyard – I was being a touch dramatic) but you do walk past the graves on the walk up the path to the former place of worship, which is a surreal experience in itself.

And there’s no shortage of characterful features to marvel at including the original arched windows – not one pane of glass is the same size – memorial plaques and a hymn board. Guests are required to bring their own alcohol and drinks but get to enjoy a chilled evening with friends and family while being waited on hand and foot in the comfort of a unique family home.


Hidden Heaven, North Devon

Even so, when Auntie Chris first invited me I instinctively said no.

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

As many of you know, I have histamine intolerance which means I have to avoid things like citrus fruit, grapes, alcohol, vinegar, anything aged or fermented otherwise my throat starts to close or my tongue swells. (I carry adrenaline pens, steroids and antihistamines at all times).
Dining out is troublesome at the best of times because these ingredients are usually prominent in vegetarian dishes (I’m pescatarian and have not eaten meat since the age of 13).

To make things more complicated my nutritionist recently started me on a strict (hopefully temporary) gluten-free, dairy-free programme in a bid to reset my gut. For the time being, dining out is not an option.

Yet, Geoffrey and Kirsty were so fantastically kind and accommodating. On hearing my situation they invited me along and said it was perfectly fine for me to take my own food so I didn’t miss out on the experience. I was thrilled especially as living with allergies and invisible illness can be so isolating at times.

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

In fact, I cursed my histamine intolerance when I saw the menu – there was so MUCH choice! We’re talking asparagus soufflé with a tarragon vinaigrette, roasted vegetable terrine with wild garlic pesto, fine beans and sugar snap peas with orange and hazelnuts, and desserts including white and dark chocolate mousse with macerated strawberries or Coeur a la crème with blueberry compote and hazelnut and lavender shortbread.


Helen Gilbert, Hidden Heaven

After dinner, we retired to the family’s lounge area for coffee and conversation. There poor Geoffrey had to field numerous graveyard-themed questions.

“Are people still allowed to visit their relatives in what is effectively your front garden?” (Yes). “Have there been any burials since you’ve lived there?” (Only the interment of ashes). “Do the graves get many visitors?” (Surprisingly, not). “Do you have ghosts?” (No).

With that, I turned to quick-witted Auntie Chris. “Have you enjoyed the evening?” “Thoroughly,” she enthused with a glint in her eye. “It’s been absolutely magnificent. Great company. Outstanding food. An enchanting setting. Oh, and I loved the desserts. They were to die for.”

I should have known that was coming!

For more information visit Hidden Heaven:
Fancy exploring North Devon further? Check out Vist North Devon and Exmoor 


Helen's Health, Travel

7 reasons to visit Nature Valley International

Helen Gilbert, Nature Valley International

Tennis and the ocean are two of my biggest passions. Throw in a sunny day and I’m cooking. So it should come as no surprise that I found myself at the  2018 Eastbourne international tennis event on Sunday.

Before I became seriously unwell with my mast cell and histamine issues, I spent more than a decade writing for during the Championships which was fantastic. The only snag was that Wimbledon qualifying clashed with Eastbourne so I could never make it down to the combined ATP men’s and WTA women’s tournament.

But that all changed in 2017 when I visited for the first time and became instantly hooked on the scenic location and the quality of tennis. As the event, which hosted 47,000 visitors last year, makes for a fantastic day out with family, friends or even if you’re flying solo I’ve compiled a list of 7 tips to help you make the most of your time at Nature Valley International.

You don’t necessarily need a show court ticket to spot famous faces. A ground pass – especially early on in the tournament – often does the job. I spotted Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund hitting on an outside court yesterday. “I can’t believe we’ve seen all these guys in the space of three minutes,” I heard one thrilled spectator excitedly whisper to her husband. All the tickets for Nature Valley International, which runs until 30 June, are sold out until Wednesday but do keep an eye on the LTA’s website where you can also book tickets for next year.


Andy Murray, Nature Valley International

The good news is that the weather is set to be scorchio this week. The bad news is us Brits are unaccustomed to the heat [anything over 25 degrees Celsius is considered ‘boiling’]. However, the tournament is just three minutes from the sea so there’s a wonderfully refreshing breeze. Don’t forget to walk with sun cream, a hat, sunglasses and a bottle of water.

Okay. Admittedly you won’t be saving money if you’re buying tickets BUT you can shave off some of the cost of your spending with Visit Eastbourne, a free resort app which will unlock exclusive special offers throughout the week. Some of the deals include 10% off at Pomodoro e Mozzarella and Half Man Half Burger, and 2 for 1 entry to the Royal Hippodrome Theatre.

The Nature Valley International event has a distinct traditional English Garden party vibe and is far from stuffy. There are plenty of food and drink options from clotted cream and strawberries to fish and chips and a vegetarian van serving falafels and salads. There’s also plenty of tennis clothing stalls featuring brands including Wilson, Babolat and Bjorn Borg.

Nature Valley International

I don’t know about you but the call of a seagull propels me to a happy place and takes me back to the UK-based beach breaks I shared as a child with my family. Take a moment to enjoy being at the tournament and notice the simple things that bring you pleasure – whether that be the feeling of the sun on your skin or the sound of the ball being struck. Try and leave any worries at the gate and focus on the present.

Once you’ve had your fill of tennis head to the seafront. Yes, the beach is pebbly but who cares? It’s just a three-minute walk on foot from Devonshire Park and will undoubtedly leave you feeling both relaxed and revitalised – sea air is charged with healthy negative ions that accelerate our ability to absorb oxygen by neutralising damaging free radicals.

Helen Gilbert, Nature Valley International

You’re in Eastbourne. Why not tack on a couple of extra days and see what the area has to offer to? From Beachy Head to the South Downs National Park there’s plenty to see. For more information visit the Visit Eastbourne website here. 

Have you been to Nature Valley International or are you thinking of going? What did you enjoy about it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Or, do you know someone who is attending this week? Please feel free to share this article with them. 

If you this post you might also like to read our interview with former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, here. Or why not drive along the coast to Hove and book a tapping/EFT session here. 

Tennis, Travel


Lean how to say no

It’s official. I’m a giver. I like to help people and can never say no.  It’s the way I’ve always been. Except I hadn’t quite realised how much I take on until this week. It took the words of my friend’s aunt with whom I’m staying in North Devon for me to sit up and take note. “You’re like a sponge Helen,” she said shaking her head. “You absorb everyone else’s problems. You’re forever trying to help people and investing all of your energy in them. When are you going to stop and help yourself?”

Auntie Chris blurted out the words after I received two texts and one email within the space of ten minutes. Each message was from a different person and each asked me to sort out a situation they couldn’t handle. AC, as I fondly call her, disapprovingly shook her head. The night before my tongue had spontaneously started to swell in front of her eyes.

You’re like a sponge

Hours earlier she’d seen me battle through an extremely stressful day work-wise. I’ve always thrived on the adrenaline of deadlines and juggling numerous pieces but the last minute demands on this particular day were off the scale. So the plan that night was to chill in bed with a book but my throat began to tighten within five minutes of settling down. “I can’t be having a reaction,” I muttered to myself. “Just have a glass of water, breathe deeply. It’ll be OK in a minute.”

Except the situation quickly worsened and when I checked the mirror my tongue was three times its usual size. I necked my medication. And swore. This is why:

  • I’d made my dinner from scratch and hadn’t eaten any trigger foods
  • I hadn’t exercised
  • I wasn’t hot
  • I wasn’t sweating

All of the above can set off a reaction – something I’ve painstakingly discovered over the past 18 months. So why the bloody hell was I reacting just as I’d hit the sack? I acted swiftly. And the meds stopped my tongue swelling any further – although it would remain grossly enlarged for the next 48 hours.

The next day AC ​sat me down in the dining room of her beautiful ​200-year-old farmhouse and gave me a stern talking to. “I think stress is a factor,” she said with a beady look in her eye. “You had a nightmare of a day yesterday workwise. I’ve been watching you since you arrived. You’re supposed to be having a break but you don’t help yourself at all. You start work at the crack of dawn. Some days you don’t eat breakfast or lunch and you’ll be sat at your desk for between eight and ten hours. That’s not good.”

Learn how to say no

“But I can barely eat anything at the moment because of my reactions,” I retaliated. “It’s not good enough Helen. Your job, by its very nature, is stressful. You’re working for lots of different publications which place numerous demands on you at short notice, you’re constantly firefighting plus you’re working on your blog until the early hours of the morning. You put loads of pressure on yourself. It’s not healthy.”

I was lost for words (unusual for me). I knew I worked hard but maybe she had a point. Then my phone vibrated. “Who’s that?” she enquired. “My cousin,” I answered. AC noticed the worried expression that fell over my face. “I need to sort this out.”  The very next minute I received an email from a work colleague who was asking for help. By this point Auntie C was ready to explode.

“You really cannot take on the world’s problems. It’s nice that you want to help people but you’ve got enough on your plate. Your body wants to heal but doesn’t know how to respond because it’s being bombarded by stress in all directions. Of course you can still help people but for the time being you need to invest time and energy in yourself, not others. You really need to learn to say no.”

Her words echoed around my head. Then I remembered something my dad always said: “Helen Gilbert. Other peoples’ messes cleared up by appointment.” At that moment everything started to sink in.

“Turn off your phone now,” AC ordered. Reluctantly, I agreed and although I went to check it three times in the hour that followed, I did not turn it back on.

Then I switched my out of office on before heading to Saunton Sands for an evening in front of the surf. I sat contemplating on that beach for 2.5 hours. And I left with a plan of action. For the rest of my time in Devon I’ll open the emails just once in the morning and once in the evening. Likewise, the mobile shall only be checked three times a day maximum.

Learn how to say no


Going forward, I’ll start prioritising and saying no to people *eek*.  It won’t be easy. H​ow the heck do you do this when it’s in your nature to help and worry about others? It feels bizarrely selfish. But being pulled in all directions is just not sustainable with the way my health is right now.

I’ll let you know how I get on and whether I​ experience fewer reactions as a result  of simplifying my life. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you find that you spend a lot of your time sorting out the problems of others? Do people constantly offload on you but disappear when everything is going well in their life? How have you learned to say no and look after yourself?

Please do comment below or on Facebook , Instagram or Twitter. 


Health, Helen's Health, Wellness