For men must work, and women must weep

A Day in Clovelly

The view from the top

Sean and his daughter Siobhan and her friend Mai are visiting from Japan. For a quaintly unique Devon experience we visited the village of Clovelly yesterday and loved what we found. The village was built in the 14th Century and comprises a cluster of little whitewashed cottages around a central cobbled street that winds steeply down to the harbour and sandy bay below.  When I say steep, I mean so calf-achingly steep that there’s no way a motorised vehicle could cope. Every household has a sledge that is used to bring supplies (and that includes building materials and furniture) up and down the street. The pebbles that make the cobbled streets were all originally hauled up from the beach – there are millions of them.

Clovelly used to be a busy fishing port; this has now declined to some extent but there are still plenty of small fishing vessels in the harbour.

Halfway down the hill is Fisherman’s cottage which is the village museum and is set up just as it would have been a hundred years ago.  Photographs of former inhabitants along with details of their family histories are everywhere. We noticed how wee everything was and marvelled at the thought of a whole family living in such a tiny space. In the next building was an exhibition about the novellist/poet/priest/university professor Charles Kingsley who spent much of his childhood in Clovelly and was a frequent visitor in his adult life. One of his best known books is a story for children called The Water Babies. The following very moving poem of his is very likely about Clovelly.

The Three Fishers

 Three fishers went sailing away to the west,
Away to the west as the sun went down;
Each thought on the woman who loved him the best,
And the children stood watching them out of the town;
For men must work, and women must weep,
And there’s little to earn, and many to keep,
Though the harbour bar be moaning.

Three wives sat up in the lighthouse tower,
And they trimmed the lamps as the sun went down;
They looked at the squall, and they looked at the shower,
And the night-rack came rolling up ragged and brown.
But men must work, and women must weep,
Though storms be sudden, and waters deep,
And the harbour bar be moaning.

Three corpses lay out on the shining sands
In the morning gleam as the tide went down,
And the women are weeping and wringing their hands
For those who will never come home to the town;
For men must work, and women must weep,
And the sooner it’s over, the sooner to sleep;
And good-bye to the bar and its moaning.

Red Lion Hotel on the Harbour Wall. Hello sunshine!

There are numerous little alleys, nooks and crannies all with delightful visual surprises. This lichen covered flight of steps up to the tea garden was so picturesque. Elsewhere we saw a stone Buddha on a garden wall, a sign on a door declaring “fishy tales” could be heard within and a tiny chapel tucked away in a corner and housing some beautiful mural paintings. All the streets and houses were bedecked with bunting, mostly homemade and every house front was bursting with flowers.

Down in the harbour we stopped for a pint of the delicious local brews Clovelly Cobbler and Doom Bar and sat in the old snug bar of the Red Lion imagining what it would have been like on a stormy night before the arrival of electricity. All around the walls were photographs of a seafaring way of life, along with the mounted head of a record-breaking porbeagle shark which had been caught in the bay in 1992.

There are plenty of opportunities to eat pasties, Devon cream teas and ice-creams, and the visitor centre at the top of the hill includes a lovely potter’s gallery where local crafts are on sale, a donkey stables, bookshop as well as the usual tourist stuff.

click on pics to enlarge…

St. Peter’s Chapel
Methodist Chapel

Kampai! Cheers!


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