Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hartland and the North Devon Coast

The Hartland Quay Hotel on the North Devon coast of England is a romantic kind of place. Not the romance of the pampered paradises featured in travel magazines. The view at Hartland Quay may be just as spectacular as a luxury five star hotel perched on a seaside cliff, but the appeal of this simple and quirky hotel is all about the location. A hotel since 1886 but before that a bank, an oast house and a stable, the hotel exudes the romance of Treasure Island (the 1950 version was filmed there) of shipwrecks, rugged coastline and crashing seas. This is a place for ancient mariners and seafaring tales. On a good day, you can easily imagine Long John Silver striding up the pier exclaiming “Aaarghh, them that dies is the lucky ones.”

The Editor and I spent the night there recently based on the recommendation of a local resident. We arrived late in the afternoon, just in time to see the Hartland Quay Museum opposite the hotel. This small, independent museum, devoted to the rich history of the Hartland Coast, provided the perfect introduction to the area. Shipwrecks, smuggling, fishing and the old coastal trades of lead, lime and coal feature prominently in the meticulously documented displays. After our visit, we retired to the bar where we met backpackers from all over Europe who were there walking the 630 mile long South West Coast Path. Everyone took their drinks outside to sit by the cliffs on a particularly beautiful evening. The atmosphere was friendly and informal.

For dinner, we made our way to the Red Lion Hotel in nearby Clovelly which is an extraordinary village hanging off of a 400 foot cliff. The carless main street descends spectacularly through flower festooned 16th century cottages ending in a restored 14th century quay. All of Clovelly is owned by one family which is one of only three since the Norman Conquest. Being too steep for motor vehicles, for centuries, donkeys were the main form of transportation. Today, each cottage has a sledge in front which is still used to haul goods up and down the street. Nowadays, the donkeys spend their time ferrying children and posing for pictures.

Dinner at the Red Lion Hotel was magic It was June 23rd, one of the longest days of the year. The sun was shining over the picturesque harbour. We ate red mullet and turbot which tasted as if it had just been pulled out of the sea and watched the boats go in and out. The waitress laughed at the Editor’s jokes although I suspect she thought he was “unusual”. The local teenagers provided the after dinner entertainment, diving off cliffs, throwing each other into the still freezing water and pulling off each others pants. I couldn’t decide which I enjoyed more, the food or the show.

After dinner we retired back to Harland Quay, grabbed some beers and watched a spectacular sunset. Breakfast the next morning was full-on English which we walked off on the coastal pathway. In honour of Jane Austen, we hiked over to see the cottage, part of the Hartland Abbey estate which was recently used in the recent BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. Watching the film at the time, I wondered, “Where did they find such a beautiful, remote, unspoiled location to make this movie?” Now I know, they made it in Hartland on the North Devon Coast. If you are looking for something beautiful, remote and unspoiled, you will find it there too.

Useful Addresses

Hartland Quay Hotel
Hartland, Bideford, North Devon
EX396DU, England
Tel: 01237 441218
Fax: 01237 441371

Red Lion Hotel
The Quay, Clovelly, Bideford, North Devon
EX39 5TF, England
Tel: 01237 431237
Fax 01237 431044
Email: redlion@clovelly.co.uk

Hartland Abbey
Hartland, Bideford, North Devon
EX396DT, England
Tel: 01237441264

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