Walk - Clovelly & Mouth Mill

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. Coming out of the car park entrance at Brownsham, turn left, turning right a moment later along the path signed to Mouth Mill to follow the track downhill. At the main fork in the woods take the right-hand path, signed as a bridleway, bearing left shortly afterwards.

The Grade II listed farm buildings at Higher Brownsham date back to the seventeenth century.

The marshy pasture of moor grass and rushes in the fields to the right of the track are typical of the Brownsham Moors and the Culm Grasslands, part of a larger Site of Special Scientific interest. The underlying rocks give rise to grazing pastures of marshy grassland, bog and wet heath. These support many rare plant species and a wide variety of birdlife and unusual insects. A number of unusual orchids flourish here, as does the rare marsh fritillary butterfly. Brownsham Wood is home to many woodland species, including oak, ash, birch and hazel, with lichen-clad willows and an understorey of holly bushes. Some of the lichens in the ancient woodland and parkland on this walk are nationally rare. Deer can sometimes be seen in the woods, and horseshoe bats and barn owls can be spotted at dusk.

  1. Turn right off the main track a little way beyond and follow the bridleway up a rocky track. Carry straight on through the gate, bearing left around the edge of the field. Follow the bridleway across the next field, heading past the gate in the middle of the field.
  2. Bear left along the track at the top corner of the field, following the bridleway down through Court Farm and on along the drive.
  3. Coming to the estate yard and the church, detour to the church or gardens by following the black-and-white signs, ahead and then to the right before curving left. Returning to 4 (or continuing the walk without making the detour), bear right up the drive, turning left along the pavement when you reach the road. At the end of the pavement continue ahead along the road, past the 'no through road' signs.

Detour right at the junction by the small car park to visit Clovelly village, returning to this point (5) to continue the walk.

Clovelly Court has been the family seat of the Hamlyns and their descendants since it was built in 1740. In 1789 all but one wing was destroyed by fire; and another fire in 1943 did exactly the same thing once more. The kitchen gardens at Clovelly Court were once famous, and they have now been fully restored. Hothouse fruits such as peaches, figs and lemons grow among the vegetables and vines.

From the air, the village of Clovelly looks as though someone has spilt a handful of thatched and whitewashed cottages down a narrow, steep valley towards the shoreline. From Elizabethan times its main livelihood has been from fishing, and in 1749 there were a hundred herring boats in the port. Mackerel and herring continued to provide a prosperous living until the the shoals began to dwindle in the 1840s. Herrings from Clovelly were nationally famous, and donkeys were used to carry the catch up the steep hill so that it could be transported by rail to London and the Home Counties. On a good day sometimes as many as 9,000 herrings were netted, and on one noteworthy occasion 400 donkey-loads were brought up the hill. Fishing is still part of village life, but today the fleet consists of just two herring fishermen, using drift nets and long lines. Every November the village holds a Herring Festival to celebrate the 'silver darlings'.

The quay was built in the thirteenth century. It was extended in Tudor times, when it was in frequent use by the great local seafarers and adventurers, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville, who were often in the area. The four bollards on the quay are cannon barrels from this time. They are said have come from the Spanish Armada in 1588, defeated by the English fleet with Drake and Grenville among its commanders. The quay was lengthened in 1826.

This part of the coast is known as the Iron Coast, in honour of the vast number of ships wrecked here, blown onto the deadly underwater reefs by westerly winds rolling in over 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean. Clovelly’s first lifeboat station was built in 1870 after a particularly savage storm destroyed many fishing boats and local fishermen were drowned. It became one of only two lifeboats in the entire RNLI fleet with a permanent crew. When this was taken out of service in 1988, villagers set up their own inshore rescue boat. Eight years later the RNLI returned, and in 2000 the lifeboat station was extended and modernized. It is often open to visitors in the summer months.

Beyond the lifeboat station is a coastal waterfall. There is a cave behind the waterfall, where King Arthur's magician, Merlin, is said to have been born. This is one of several spectacular coastal waterfalls along this coastline. The rock is too hard to be eroded by the rivers running over it, meaning that they meet the sea high above the shoreline in 'hanging valleys'. From here the water tumbles some distance over the cliffs to the beach below. The torrents can be quite dramatic after heavy rainfall.

In the eighteenth century, one of Clovelly's pretty cottages belonged to 'Crazy Kate' Lyall. Kate watched helplessly from her window one day as her fisherman husband was drowned in the bay. In the end her grief became too much for her, and in 1736 she put on her wedding dress and walked out into the sea to be with him in his watery grave.

Another Clovelly cottage with a history is Kingsley Cottage. Charles Kingsley's father was rector in the village, and Charles wrote his novel 'Westward Ho!' here. Clovelly was also the inspiration for his other well-known novel, 'The Water Babies'.

  1. At the junction by the small car park, if you are not detouring right to visit Clovelly, turn left onto the South West Coast Path, signed towards Brownsham. Fork left again immediately, through the large black gate, bearing right along the track. Follow the acorn waymarkers along the clifftop, passing first through parkland and then fields and open ground before going into woodland. Bear right at the junction, following the Coast Path to the Angel's Wings shelter.

The Angel's Wings shelter was built in 1826 by Sir James Hamlyn Williams, who would sit here and look across the bay to where his daughter lived. The elaborate carvings were made by a former butler at Clovelly Court.

  1. Fork right at the junction beyond the shelter and follow the Coast Path through the open area above the cliffs known as Gallantry Bower, before dropping downhill. At the T-junction detour right to the viewpoint, otherwise turn left to follow the Coast Path steeply downhill, turning sharply right soon afterwards to follow the track to the coast at Mouth Mill.

The towering cliffs at Gallantry Bower are 100 metres high and very nearly vertical. On the clifftop are the remains of a bowl barrow, dating from the Bronze Age (sometime between 2200 BC and 701 BC). It is thought to have been used at a later date as a beacon or signal station.

The lime kiln on the beach at Mouth Mill is one of many scattered along the North Devon coastline. They were used to burn a mixture of coal and limestone, producing lime for fertilising the fields.

  1. At Mouth Mill, descend to the left by the sea wall, crossing the stream and turning left up the track beyond. After the tumbledown building on the right-hand side, turn sharply right and follow the Coast Path up through the woods. Reaching the stile at the top of the woods, leave the Coast Path and go straight ahead over the brow of the hill to the gate and stile. From here follow the permissive path inland, along a green lane. At the farm buildings bear right, past a large barn, and then bear right again up the road to return to the car park.

Nearby refreshments

No refreshments directly on route, but a selection available in Clovelly Village and at the nearby Visitor Centre, a short detour away on foot (but be warned, it is quite a steep climb back out of the Village).

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