Friday night and it’s time to cross the Severn Bridge and exchange a working week in Bristol for a weekend exploring the glorious beaches of the Gower peninsula and the seaside nostalgia of Mumbles. This part of South Wales is no stranger to me, in fact I was in Swansea only a couple of weeks earlier on the trail of Dylan Thomas and visiting my son who is at Swansea university. This time I wanted to see more of Mumbles, all lovespoons and Welsh-Italian ice cream, as well as combining my favourite activities of walking and being beside the sea (but not necessarily in it).
Mumbles is one of those happy seaside towns that enjoyed its heyday in the early 20th century, when a trip to the seaside was a highlight of the summer for every family. With the establishment of the railway and steam trains running from Swansea from 1877, the population of this little seaside village grew and it became popular for the people of Swansea to visit Mumbles at the weekend and for holidays. Here you could enjoy an ice cream or pot of tea, take a walk along the promenade to the pier and reach the beaches of the Gower Peninsula that lie beyond.
Promenade View, the luxury holiday house that was our base for the weekend lived up to its name, with a perfect setting on the sea front and views through the trees across the curve of Swansea Bay. From our first floor bedroom we could watch a constant stream of walkers and cyclists passing up and down the promenade on the path that runs all the way from Swansea to Mumbles pier. In front of the house is a stretch of seaweed-strewn pebble beach where children were playing, with sailing boats parked in rows further up the promenade. The train line no longer exists, but there is a little tourist train that runs up and down to Mumbles from Blackpill Lido.
From Promenade View we took a stroll past Verdi’s Italian Cafe, a large glass building on the seafront where the participants from the triathalon earlier that morning were draped over the chairs outside, basking in the sunshine with wrap-around shades and wetsuits rolled down. Fishermen sat in their deck chairs with their rods propped up, where the restaurants and cafes that line the main road give way to houses with the rocky cliff rising steeply behind them.
Past the rocks exposed at low tide, where seagulls hopped between the stagnant rock-pools, we reached Mumbles Pier. Newly restored to its former glory, the building at the pier entrance was garlanded with exhuberant hanging baskets, with the Beach Hut Cafe serving fish and chips, a small boating pool for children to navigate pirate ships and the thumping and clanging of slot machines in the background. The man taking money at the pier entrance wasn’t doing a roaring trade but we were impressed by the secret sandy beach that you can reach by the steps down beside the pier.
I hope that you enjoy the video below of our weekend in Mumbles exploring the glorious beaches of the Gower
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Promenade View Holiday House
Our Promenade View holiday home provided a delightful weekend base for exploring Mumbles and the Gower peninsula where we were hoping to do some walking on the coastal path. The house has been recently renovated by owner Kim Davies, who grew up in Swansea and often returns to visit family. The colours are light and soft with a subtle seaside theme, plenty of personal touches and the amenities that you would normally expect from a hotel. Kim eventually hopes to run the house as a boutique B & B, so every room has its own en suite bathroom, with fragrant toiletries, limestone tiling, oak topped vanity stands and walk-in rain showers (or rain-forest showers as our kids know them).
Our master bedroom on the first floor had a practical wooden floor with soft green Welsh wool throws and cushions and a cosy rug on the floor. With the plantation shutters open we could lie in bed and watch the world go by, with a fabulous view of Swansea Bay through the picture window.
The two other bedrooms on the second floor were beautifully furnished in similar light, muted colours. The double bedroom at the front also had views over Swansea Bay and was decorated in a dove grey theme with woollen throw, linen cushions with a Welsh dragon motif and sparkly bedside lamps. The third bedroom which can be set up either as a double or twin had a velux window giving views over the trees and rooftops at the back of the house, with navy and white striped knitted throws and a large en suite bathroom. All the bedrooms had a flat-screen TV and we spotted kettles, hairdryers, full length mirrors and all the little conveniences that show the care and thought that has gone into making this house a home-from-home.
Downstairs, we relaxed in the elegant sitting room with the same plantation shutters that are found throughout the house, allowing light in while giving privacy from passers by. The wooden floor was covered with pale striped rug and we sank into the cream linen squashy sofas, with cushions of striped silk and soft, shaggy sheepskin. Under the flat screen TV was a cream leather Barcelona chair with cosy knitted throws and plenty of seaside touches like the jar of polished pebbles, pottery lighthouse lamps and rope covered doorstops.
At the back of the house, the kitchen and dining room had been knocked through to make one large area, with a painted dining table and chairs where we found a vase of flowers, as well as a welcome pack of some local goodies like Welsh cakes and biscuits, milk and breakfast cereal. The kitchen was extremely well equipped with plenty of attractive touches and the sunny patio at the back was the perfect place to sit with a coffee. We really enjoyed the many personal touches around the house, such as the old prints of a town in Italy that Kim had visited and the model sailing boat in the dining room, given to Kim by her sister.
Vintage motorbikes in Bracelet Bay
For the three years our oldest son has been at university in Swansea, I’d always planned to walk the coastal path that encircles the Gower peninsula, with views of some of the most stunning beaches in Europe. Since he’s now finished, this weekend was going to be a case of better late than never, but I was determined to cover at least some of the distance. On Saturday morning we strode forth from Promenade View, wearing our walking boots and an optimistic covering of sun cream.
Once we reached the Mumbles Pier, the path took us up the steps for a view of the lighthouse and round the headland to Bracelet Bay where the annual “Under Milkwood” classic vehicle road run was gathering in the car park. Guy immediately spotted one of his favourite classic motorbikes, an Enfield Bullet and we stopped for an in depth discussion and photo opportunity with two older gentlemen of the road, Terrence and Derek, or “Tel and Del” as they introduced themselves. They would be taking their vintage motorbikes to the Dylan Thomas heartland of Laugharne later that day, while we continued a little further down the road to Limeslade Bay.
Gelato at Limeslade Bay
Here we found more distractions in the form of Fortes ice cream parlour, another of the numerous cafes run by Italian families who emigrated to South Wales in the early 19th century. We stopped in conversation as we ordered our cones from the young lady behind the counter, ” Is it still heaving in Mumbles?” she asked, “we were very busy this morning with the triathlon” . We asked whether the ice cream was made on the premises, and she confirmed as we expected, “yes, my Mum makes it out the back”. We took our black-current and caramel ices and walked on licking them, following the path as it climbed away from the road.
The path here was newly paved in concrete, cutting through heathland above the old one lower down the slope, which looked as if it had been about to slide off the cliff. Below us the swell of the sea rose and fell with the white foam licking the rocks and a little robbin hopped in the hedge beside the path then flew away. A couple of cyclists passed us and got off to push as the path steepened, then turned into steps as we neared Langland Bay.
Retro beach huts at Langland Bay
Langland Bay has a wide expanse of beach which is popular with both families and surfers, since there is easy parking and it’s not too far from Swansea. Along the back of the beach are rows of cheerfully retro green and white beach huts that are in hot demand to rent for the season, where you can store all your beach essentials, make a cup of tea and sit in a deckchair sunning yourself with your friends. The good weather had brought the families out in force, making sand castles, playing with dogs and passing round the sandwiches, surrounded by colourful wind breaks and beach tents.
Langland beach has an almost tropical air due to the spiky palms planted in front of the beach huts. The tide was a long way out and we could just spot a few surfers and a kayak lesson going on. Walking along the path above the beach we reached the Langland Brasserie at the end, the smartest of the three beach cafes, where we had enjoyed a coffee in the rain on a previous winter visit to Langland and Caswell.
Buckets and Spades at Caswell Bay
After Langland Bay, the path was still good but the flat concrete surface disappeared and the shore became wild again with pock-marked rocks like calcified sponges exposed at low tide. On our right the heathland sloped upwards, with new growth sprouting in places and other patches that were dry and brown, even blackened as if by fire. Offshore a lone paddleboarder was taking a parallel course to us, making surprisingly good progress despite or perhaps because the sea was calm with hardly any waves. The day was warm but now becoming overcast, with a patch of blue sky topped by a lid of grey clouds and we hoped there wouldn’t be rain ahead as Caswell Bay came into view.
Where Langland has a touch of old world elegance about it, Caswell feels much more buckets and spades, candy floss and burgers. I had been rather looking forward to stopping for a light lunch in the Surfside Cafe, but Guy was put off by the crowds on the beach and so we only stopped long enough to eat our Welsh cakes and have a swig of water. We continued across the sand in front of the lifeguard hut to where the path passed through woodland and around the cliff.
Wildflowers and woodland by Pwll du Bay
The path was so narrow in places that there was not much to stop you falling down if you missed a step, although we could look back down on Caswell with a sheen of water like a mirror over most of the surface. The coastal path took us through a very pretty stretch of lush undergrowth with wildflowers like ox eye daisies and pink foxgloves blooming, contrasting with the lunar landscape of rocks below us, exposed at high tide.
Through a stretch of woodland we came down to the National Trust beach at Pwll du Bay which was more remote than the others we had passed with no car park and access that seemed to be only via the footpaths, although there were a couple of cottages with cars outside. A large bank of shale backed the beach and behind it a stream was running, creating a marshy area with a small pool and a bridge to cross. The area was once a limestone quarry and the buildings that remain were inns for the thirsty quarry men (and maybe smugglers) according to the National Trust website.
Up the steep path we now skirted the open headland through a field of cows, heading for Pennard where we were able to catch the bus back to Mumbles using the excellent regular bus service that makes it easy to walk parts of the coastal path as we had done. The information leaflets in the welcome pack that came with the cottage gave us plenty of information about the walks and bus service but you can also pick them up in the local tourist information office or check the BayTrans website here.
Surf’s up at Llangennith
On Sunday morning we decided to check out one of the Gower beaches that I’d heard a lot about from my son, but never visited, the surfer’s favourite beach at Llangennith. Half an hour’s drive from Mumbles, we parked by the cafe above the Hillend campsite and walked down to the beach, although we afterwards realised that we could have parked right by the sand dunes.
This beach is huge and extends in both directions, bounded by Rhossilli at one end and Broughton Bay at the other. As we arrived it was low tide and there was a constant stream of surfers walking through the dunes with their boards under their arms, across the flat sand, sheeted with water and down to the surf. As every good surfer knows, winter is by far the best time for surfing, when the wind and storms in the Atlantic create the swell, but in June the water was quite flat. Every so often a surfer would pop up and make a few curves, otherwise there seemed to be a lot of bobbing heads in the water.
There were plenty of people sitting close to the beach entrance through the dunes, but as we walked further along we had the beach to ourselves with wide open skies and a gentle breeze. I love the sense of freedom and space you get beside the ocean on a wild, unspoilt beach like this. Those in the know were pulling their belongings along the sand in a beach cart so that they could walk further along to the quieter end of the beach. Even in the most crowded weekend in August I imagine you could have plenty of space here if you can be bothered to walk.
By lunchtime it was time to head back to Mumbles, leaving Promenade View and on back to Bristol, our heads a little clearer for the coastal walking and sea breeze. Next time I’d love to continue my walk around the rest of the Gower, passing some of the other fantastic beaches of Three Cliffs Bay, Oxwich and on to reach Rhossili and Llangennith again. Until then I’m holding on the memory of that wind in my hair and the lovely, luxurious Promenade View in Mumbles.
Visitor Information for Visiting Mumbles and the Gower Peninsula
Our holiday house at Promenade View can be booked through local holiday rentals company HomefromHome.com and you can also follow the Promenade View Facebook Page . Promenade View has 3 en suite bedrooms and sleeps up to 6 people in comfort with off street parking for one car and a small courtyard garden. The house is very well equiped with washing machine, dishwasher, dryer, internet as well as games and useful information for the area supplied in your welcome pack. Promenade View can be rented by the week from £535 (low season) – £1085 (high season) per week
Thanks to Kim Davies who extended me a complimentary weekend stay at Promenade View
More stories from Swansea and South Wales
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Our journey through Swansea in search of the celebrated Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, had brought us past the pubs where he drank, past his school and finally to Cwmdonkin Park where he played as a boy. (At this point you may want to read Part 1 of this story in which we visit the Dylan Thomas Centre and walk the city streets listening to Return Journey, Dylan’s account of the pre-war Swansea he knew.)
The reservoir in the park, where the swans once glided is now a flat stretch of grass with a children’s playground at one end, but I imagine that the bowling green and pavilion looks much as they did in Dylan’s childhood. After the Return Journey performance we stopped at the cafe, which serves home-made lemonade and ice cream, although we stuck to the tea and Welsh cakes.
From here it was just a stroll across the park to our next destination in the search for Dylan Thomas, at the house where he was born, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. The Dylan Thomas birthplace has been restored and is open to the public, not so much as a museum but as a recreation of the Thomas family home, as if they had just stepped out leaving us to peep into their domestic arrangements.
You can even stay in the house, entertained by books, games and an old gramophone player, but you’ll have to do without the flat screen TV although thankfully there is central heating. We had arranged to meet the owner and curator of the Dylan Thomas Birthplace, Geoff Haden, who kindly gave us a personal tour of the house.
The Thomas family bought 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in August 1914 when it was newly built and Dylan was born in the upstairs front bedroom in the October of that year. It was the sort of house that a bank manager or doctor might have owned and fitted with the aspirations of DJ Thomas who had hoped for higher things than a school master of the grammar school. The house cost £500 and Mrs Thomas was able to contribute £150 that she had inherited from her father.Dylan’s mother Florence was keen to have a modern house with mains drainage to provide a healthy home for her children, 8 year old Nancy and new baby Dylan and the bathroom with plumbing and separate upstairs lavatory would have been considered very genteel at the time.
The Thomas family lived at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive for 23 years and when they retired to Laugharne they were able to rent it out to provide some additional income. After the house was sold, it was over the years a family home, student bedsits and was leased by Swansea Council who eventually gave it up to concentrate on developing the Dylan Thomas Centre in the Marina. Geoff told me how he was passing one day and knocked on the door, “This was the birthplace of the most famous person in Wales and yet it was a student bedsit, and if you were looking for a student house this would be number 10 on your list”. When the council gave up the lease in 2004, Geoff decided to take it over and using his experience as a structural engineer, spent 3 years restoring the house to the condition it might have been when Dylan Thomas was born there in 2014.
In order to bring it back to the appearance of Dylan’s childhood, Geoff enlisted the help of the Thomas family’s former maid Emily, who was just 15, about the same age as Dylan, when she worked there. She had a very happy time working for the family and kept in touch with them after she left their employment to get married. She told stories of having mock fights with Dylan, armed with a fly-swatter and since she was about the same size, was the model for pullovers that his mother knitted for him.
Since the Thomas family left 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, little had been done to modernise the house, so Geoff was able to restore many of the original features. The original paintwork was discovered under layers of wallpaper and colour schemes were recreated with Emily’s help and through reference to letters and stories that Dylan had written. The dark green walls and deep red William Morris curtains of the front sitting room that was only used for ‘best’ recalled the Victorian era and would have been typical of a conservative family of the period.
Dylan features the sitting room in the scene from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” in which the fat uncles snore in front of the fire after the Christmas Day lunch. Geoff managed to find all the furniture from within 20 miles of the house, from car boot sales, auctions and house clearances, since few people want the kind of furniture their grandparents used.
The front of the house looks towards Cwmdonkin Park and young Dylan would jump over the fence into the field and take a short-cut into the park. We moved upstairs to look at Dylan’s bedroom, which he joked was so small that he had to go outside to think. The single bed along the wall was wedged up against the fireplace, making it unusable, with a small desk in the corner with the pictures and posters that a teenage Dylan might have kept around him. This is a recent addition and the result of extensive research by Matthew Hughes who covers marketing for the house as well as conducting tours. I felt touched that the messy desk with posters covering every spare wall-space reminded me of my own teenage son’s bedroom (minus the beer and cigarettes).
Here was Shakespeare next to Greta Garbo, a bottle of Hancock’s Mild Ale and a packet of Woodbines on the table sharing space on the crowded desk with his notebooks and a copy of the Koran given by his friend Daniel Jones. His tweed jacket and checked shirt were thrown over the back of the chair, with a copy of the Telegraph that his mother would bring him with breakfast in bed. This is where Dylan would have written most of his poems until he left home at the age of 20, including his first book “18 Poems” which was published in 1934. Dylan was doted on by his mother, Florence and perhaps it’s no coincidence that the year his parents moved out of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive was also the year he married his wife Caitlin, replacing the Cwtch (a Welsh word meaning cosy, warm and secure) of his family home with a wife to look after him.
Next door, older sister Nancy’s room was decorated in Edwardian style of pale yellow with tiny floral curtains, Welsh blankets and eiderdowns on the beds. It brought back memories of staying at my own grandparents as a little girl, snuggling up in a big bed with my sisters, in a house with no central heating. Geoff said that many of his visitors feel moved by childhood memories when they visit the house. When Prince Charles came to visit, he couldn’t help stroking the quilted floral eiderdown too, saying it reminded him of his own grandmother’s house. “It took me a moment to realise that he was talking about the Queen Mother” Geoff told me.
In the back bedroom, where Dylan’s parents slept, Geoff had opened up the side window that had been bricked up after bomb damage during the war. From here Dylan could look down the hill towards “the misty sea where ships sailed across the rooftops” and in an early poem he talks of “Leaning from windows over a length of lawns, on tumbling hills admiring the sea.” In DJ Thomas’ downstairs study, Geoff played us a video introduction about the house that President Jimmy Carter, a longtime fan of Dylan Thomas, had recorded when Geoff travelled to visit him in Atlanta.
At the back of the house, the kitchen had been restored with its pantries and cupboards, although a modern cooker has been installed as a concession for guests staying in the house. Beyond is a small garden which Dylan described as “sufficiently large for wash-house, clothes line, deck-chair, and three sparrows”. He uses it as a scene from his short story “Patricia, Edith and Arnold” in which two maids gossiping over the wall in the back garden discover they are both being courted by the same man, who they go to confront in Cwmdonkin Park.
By the end of our tour of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive we’d had a fascinating insight into Dylan Thomas’ family life in Swansea where he wrote two thirds of his published work. Those who met him often commented on how polite and well mannered he was, a result of his loving and stable middle-class upbringing. While he loved to mix with all classes in the pub and in London he lived the Bohemian lifestyle, he was essentially that Grammar School boy and his time in Swansea was one of the most creative in his life.
Visitor Information: You can visit the Dylan Thomas Birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uplands, Swansea for a guided tour at 11am, 1pm, 3pm but it’s best to ring ahead to confirm as the house sometimes has guests or is used for events. Price £8. If you are passing the house there is an information notice and you can always ring the phone number to check if you can have a tour. The house can also be booked for overnight stays from £150 and there are regular events such as Dinner with Dylan that are ideal for group visits.
Articles and Videos about the house:
Video about 5 Cwmdonkin Drive with music from Osian
Guardian article: House of the rhyming son
South Wales Evening Post: Jimmy Carter records a special message for Dylan Thomas fans
BBC News article: Dylan Thomas’ Swansea Childhood bedroom opens
Swansea’s Maritime Quarter
Geoff kindly gave us a lift back to the Dylan Thomas Centre and Maritime Quarter where we had a final hour or two enjoying the afternoon sunshine. On Saturday afternoon the locals were out in force, strolling around standing in the sun with pints in hand and we joined them sunning ourselves in the cafe of the National Waterfront Museum with tables outside overlooking the Marina. I noticed the Dylan Thomas Theatre nearby with murals of many of his characters on the outside, including blind Captain Cat from Under Milkwood.
Dylan was a keen amateur actor, performing with the Swansea Little Theatre who rehearsed in Mumbles, although Dylan was often distracted by the refreshment offered by the local pubs. I also spotted the statue of Dylan Thomas by John Doubleday and elbowed away drinkers from the nearby pub who were using it to rest their pints, so that I could have my photo taken with Dylan.
By the end of our day in Swansea I was entranced by the stories of the city’s most celebrated poet and felt I had glimpsed the childhood stories behind his work. Swansea may not be the prettiest of towns, but if you’re a Dylan Thomas fan it’s definitely worth a visit to soak up the places and people that inspired him. Read Part 1 of this story, in which we spend the morning visiting the Dylan Thomas Centre and follow the Promenade Performance of Return Journey, stopping at all the places that Dylan Thomas knew.
Coming up next on the Dylan Thomas trail … our visit to Laugharne, the pretty village in Carmarthanshire where Dylan Thomas lived with his family in the last few years of his life.
For more information about Dylan Thomas on the official Dylan Thomas Website and about the events happening for the Dylan Thomas centenary year on the Dylan Thomas 100 website. For more information about things to do in and around Swansea including the Dylan Thomas attractions visit the Visit Swansea Bay website
Our thanks to Visit Wales who hosted our weekend in Wales discovering Dylan Thomas
We stayed at Morgans Hotel in Swansea
While in Swansea we stayed at Morgans Hotel, that has been converted from the Harbour Trust Office. The building was completed in 1902 and is a grand reflection of the confident Edwardian era when Britain ruled the waves and Swansea was a great port and industrial powerhouse, known as “Copperopolis” due to the large amount of Copper smelted there. Our large corner bedroom looked as if it had once been an executive office with high ceilings and plaster mouldings and was named Sketty Belle after one of the Swansea ships of the period.
Heavy mahogany doors and arched windows were complemented by a pale green colour scheme with cream brocade curtains. The bedroom was well equiped with fridge, kettle and trouser press and an enormous dark wood TV stand. The bathroom was full of marble and limestone, with a brilliant rainforest shower over the bath, although the glass shower screens made it a bit awkward to lie down in the bath. Lots of nice Molton Brown toiletries made us feel very pampered.
Downstairs at the entrance was a very stylish bar area with leather sofas, ideal for a cocktail or pre-dinner drink. The restaurant upstairs where we had breakfast was in a magnificent room, formerly the banking hall of the Harbour Port Office, with original maritime mural over the entrance and copper globe lamps which recalled Swansea’s industrial heyday.
I’d highly recommend Morgans Hotel as a place to stay if you’re looking for a luxurious hotel as a base for exploring Swansea and the Dylan Thomas trail.
Morgans Hotel, Somerset Place, Swansea, SA1 1RR. Book online or phone 01792 484848. The Sketty Belle room £175 per night, other rooms from £125 or from £90 in the adjoining townhouse
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Beautiful, wild, green North Devon. This corner of the south-west epitomises unspoiled rural England, with narrow lanes and high hedgerows, country walks and a rugged coastline dotted with fishing villages. This was where I was headed with friends, for a relaxing weekend with fresh air, woodland walks and a sight of the sea.
Our home for the weekend was Beech Tree Cottage available through Premier Cottages, set in the leafy grounds of an old Rectory, where the six estate cottages of Penhaven Country Cottages had been renovated to make holiday homes. Our cottage overlooked farmland on one side and gardens on the other and we learned that the Rectory had formerly been a country house hotel but was now awaiting planning permission for further renovatation of the main building and other holiday cottages. The small village of Parkham where the cottage was located had an impressive church, a farm shop open on weekdays and the 13th century Bell Inn just a short walk up the lane. The setting was the best of rural Devon, with banks of primroses and daffodils outside our bedroom window and plenty of muddy woodland walks from the front door.
I hope you enjoy the video below about our cottage stay in North Devon with Premier Cottages
Settling into Beech Cottage
Arriving after work on a Friday night, we left our coats and walking boots in the tiled lobby area inside the front door and unloaded the bags of food and belongings onto the practical oak floor of the hall. It didn’t take long to settle in to our cottage which was well equipped with everything that you could need for a country break. The good sized sitting room had comfy sofas and a brown shaggy rug in front of the stone fireplace that was just meant to have a wood-burning stove to complete the country feel. There was a purple colour theme going on with a velvet easy chair and purple lightshades, an oak coffee table and sideboard and a flat screen TV in one corner.
We loved the large kitchen with cream painted cupboards, cheerful multi-coloured tiles, a terracotta tiled floor and a large wooden table with plenty of space for cooking and dining. The cupboards contained the usual sets of cutlery and crockery, all the saucepans and oven dishes you might need and there was a dishwasher, microwave, fridge and freezer – in short all the conveniences you’d expect at home. Gone are the days when cottage owners leave behind their second best household belongings and as Premier Cottages specialises in 4 and 5 star independently owned cottages, we knew that everything would be of a reliably high standard.
Upstairs Guy and I bagged the master bedroom, which had its own en suite shower room and was furnished in a primrose yellow and leaf green colour scheme that echoed the spring flowers and woodland outside the window. Our friends settled into the second bedroom with twin beds that could be pushed together to make a double with a grey and cream colour scheme while the third single bed room had a warm red scheme with red velour throw and patterned curtains. Throughout the bedrooms the furniture was solid oak wardrobes and chests of drawers and the second bathroom upstairs had a jacuzzi feature as well as a shower above the bath.
Saturday morning – a visit to Clovelly
On Saturday morning we awoke to birdsong and while the others were surfacing with strong coffee, I had a wander around the Rectory gardens where spring was in full flower with bushes of camelias and wild rhododendrons. Taking up one of the recommendations in the book of useful information left in the cottage, we made a plan to head for the nearby village of Clovelly with the hope of a nice long walk along the cliff tops and a pub lunch.
Clovelly is one of those timeless fishing villages you find in many parts of Devon and Cornwall, where the old whitewashed cottages tumble down the steep hillside to the harbour at the bottom. The village is privately owned by the Clovelly Estate and is now run as a tourist attraction, so you leave your car in the car park at the top of the hill and enter through the visitor centre, paying an admission fee of £6.75 to visit the village, which is partly a living museum, partly a thriving village community. It was raining lightly as we arrived and the narrow cobbled lane leading down to the harbour was slippery and steep, so we walked down gingerly, admiring the pretty cottages and flowers around every doorway and window. The street is too steep for any vehicles, so donkeys have traditionally been used to transport the necessities of life into the village, although plastic sledges are more commonly used these days and we saw some at the top of the hill waiting to be put to use by the residents.
Down to the harbour at Clovelly
Reaching the small harbour and pebble beach at the bottom of the hill, we could see lobster pots and a few fishing boats in what was once a thriving fishing port, where the fleets of boats would go out to fish for herring and mackerel. The small harbour was sheltered by the protective arm of a thick stone sea wall that we walked along and then stood for a while sheltering from the rain under the eves of the Red Lion Inn, on the quayside.
Walking halfway back up the hill on the single street known as “Up-Along, Down-Along” we found The Fisherman’s Cottage which is open to the public as a fascinating reminder of how families in Clovelly lived in the past. We looked into the tiny parlour where a family would crowd around the fire and squeezed into the small bedrooms where the bed took up most of the space, while the young men working for the family would sleep up in the attic with the fishing nets. On the walls of the cottage were old photographs and reminders of how dangerous an occupation it was to be a fisherman, with newspaper cuttings from 1821 telling the story of a terrible storm when 40 fishing boats and 31 souls were lost, all from Clovelly.
The Fisherman’s Cottage at Clovelly
The Fisherman’s Cottage led into another small museum in the house of Victorian writer Charles Kingsley, who lived in Clovelly as a child and later returned as an adult, writing the novel Westward Ho! in the village. In his study, you can see a model of the author, working at his desk and hear a recording of one of his famous poems, recited by actor and local resident Joss Ackland, about the dangerous lives of the fishermen who sailed from Clovelly harbour. The poem was later set to music as a folk ballard and you can hear a recording of Joan Baez singing The Three Fishers here.
Three fishers went sailing out into the West,
Out into the West as the sun went down;
Each thought on the woman who lov’d 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 harbor bar be moaning.
A walk along the cliff from Clovelly
We took lunch at the New Inn and then decided that our long cliff walk was overdue, so we started along the footpath at the top of the village towards Mouthmill Cove. The path lead us through fields and then skirted the cliff edge, guarded by twisted shrubs and trees clothed with ivy with only the acid yellow gorse adding a flash of colour. We passed the intricately carved Angels Wings shelter with a bench underneath and the faces of angels and angels wings carved into the roof. We learned that it had been built in 1826 by Sir James Hamlyn Williams so he could look across the bay to where his daughter lived at Youlston although now the view was somewhat masked by the trees and brambles.
We followed the muddy woodland path, beside ivy and holy trees covered with bright green lichen, an indicator of both the purity of the air and the moistness of the climate. At the look-out point above Mouthmill Cove we stood on the balcony of the beautiful wooden summerhouse overlooking the beach with large grey boulders and stones and gazed over the rugged cliffs and wild sea views. On the return walk the sky was grey and misty, although a little sun was peeping through. The trees on this stretch of open heathland were strangely bare and twisted as if it was all they could do to stay standing against the harsh winds and storms coming off the sea.
Spring flowers blooming at Clovelly Court
Finally we followed the path back up to Clovelly Court, where the church was surrounded by swathes of daffodils and the wild quince was in bloom trained on the wall of the kitchen garden. We took a look around the beautiful old parish church of All Saints, and then walked back up the road to the carpark and drove the short distance back to the cottage in time for tea. On the recommendation of our friend who had stayed in the area before, we had booked a table at The Hoops Inn for dinner that evening, where we had an excellent pub meal with friendly service.
On Sunday morning, I was keen to explore the woods that are owned by the Penhaven Estate, as the cottage information book told us that we were welcome to walk there. We set off from the cottages along the Rectory drive, through some gates marked Private and skirted along a steep wooded area with a road at the bottom and field at the top. The air was damp with a sprinkling of drizzle and you could see why there was so much moss on the tree trunks clothed with ivy. We passed large wild rhodedendron bushes and the floor of the woods were covered with bluebell leaves which would be making a sea of blue in just a couple of weeks, although my friend Julia corrected me that these were harebells, smaller and more delicate. On our return, we had planned a Sunday lunch at the Bell Inn in the village but finding that it was already fully booked we stopped on the way home at the Merry Harriers Garden Centre for their excellent carvery, with all the roast meat you could eat.
It was a relaxing break but all too short to really explore this wild and unspoilt part of Devon. Next time I’ll walk along some of the other coastal beaches such as Peppercombe beach, take a boat across the the island of Lundy to see the wildlife, or visit the villages of Lynton and Lynmouth connected by a cliff railway. Until next time…
Penhaven Country Cottages is ideal for…
- Those who want a relaxing break in beautiful Devon countryside with the coastline and beaches in easy reach.
- Families and groups of friends, who want to rent cottages close together but still have their own space.
- Children who can run around safely on the quiet lanes and in the Rectory grounds
But you should be aware that….
- You will need your car to get around, as the location is very rural and the nearest shop is a short drive away.
- The mobile phone signal is poor in and around the cottages and when we were there the wifi was very weak, although the owner told us there had been a problem with it which had now been sorted out.
Heather and friends stayed at Penhaven Cottages in North Devon through Premier Cottages who specialise in self-catering luxury holidays and short breaks throughout the UK and Ireland. Premier Cottages brings together a collection of independently owned holiday cottages which have all been awarded 4 or 5 star status, and their quality cottages have won numerous tourism awards for excellence. We stayed at Beech Tree Cottage, one of the six cottages sleeping 2-5 people available through Penhaven Country Cottages, in the village of Parkham, near Bideford in North Devon. Many thanks to Premier Cottages and Penhaven Country Cottages for hosting our weekend stay.
More things to do in Devon
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