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
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey