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 

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