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Saturday 16th February 2013

Clovelly

Entry, Parking and 2 Museums £6.50

Then at 14.30

North Devon League Intermediate Division 1A

CLOVELLY AFC 4 (Kearney 8 18 77 88)

TORRINGTON RESERVES 2 (Frost 7p Reddick 64)

At Clovelly Parish and War Memorial Hall, Higher Clovelly

Free Entry

Nothing for Sale

With a bed for the night in Dorset it seemed logical to look for something interesting to see in the South-West, as well as a football match afterwards. I ended up settling on Clovelly because I hadn’t been there since childhood, and I fancied a low-level game; sometimes you need to re-connect with the grass-roots and get muddy feet!

During the 100 mile 2 hour journey, I questioned my decision regularly. I stopped at the Cerne Abbas Giant, partially as part of yesterday’s “Prehistoric” tour, and as a final attempt to find something “Unworldly” in Hardy’s Wessex. Once again I was foiled, the thick fog making the chalk carving in the hill invisible.

I crossed in to Somerset, then into Devon, and gradually became aware of the Holiday Parks and Theme Parks, that have become the tourist industry’s way of coping a climate that whilst temperate, can’t compete with the Spanish Costas. In turn that scene changes once you turn right off the Barnstaple Road, and head downhill to Clovelly.

Roughly 1,600 people live in this pretty fishing village, famous for its cobbled streets, and steep gradient down to the sea. Due to this, and the narrowness of the streets, motor transport is banned by the Hon. John Rous, a descendant of the Hamlyn family who have owned Clovelly since 1738. That is where there’s some controversy, as its highly unusual to be charged simply to visit a viable village where people live and work normally.

Certainly the visitor centre is dreadful, simply a tourist catch-penny, I scuttled through quickly, but the village whilst beautiful, has more to it than meets the eye. With access restricted, if you live here you have to find a way of getting anything heavier than a bag of shopping down to your house. The solution is  two bread baskets tied together with wooden runners to form a sled. I spent some time trying to take pictures avoiding them, until I worked out what they were. Another surprise was the sheer number of cats! Yes, there is no lack of fish, and our feline friends would have no issue with the slope, but everywhere I looked there was a cat in need of a cuddle!

One of the two museums your entry fee gives access to (the other is a fisherman’s cottage) is the home where Charles Kingsley grew up. He was a social reformer, and a supporter of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. His book The Water Babies is influenced by Clovelly, and Westward Ho! by the North Devon peninsula.

For all of that I clambered back up the hill, pausing to watch a lady tending to a garden with a 1:3 gradient, still pondering what it would be like living in a village that’s part tourist attraction, part working environment.

With the inevitable boxes of fudge for my family stowed in the back of the car I drove the mile or so up the hill to Higher Clovelly. This is a far more typically Devonian village without the yoke of restrictions imposed on its sister down the hill. As is so often the case, the football club plays on a pitch by the village hall, but in this case there are two factors to consider. Firstly its quite a village hall, with billiard room, kitchen, bar and mini-theatre. In fact, the referee changes in the stage area, with the curtains drawn! However it’s view from the little stand that is the ground’s selling point.

You can see the Puffin sanctuary island of Lundy isolated in the Bristol Channel. These days it only has a population of 28, with plenty more visiting on day-trips to view the wildlife and to visit the Bronze Age Burial Mounds, and Mesolithic flint work. With a full hour before kick off, and the ground deserted, I stood and watched a boat sail across the channel between the island and the mainland, and took a deep breath. Here was my unworldly moment, in the place I’d expected it least!

It got better as the players and officials arrived. To a man and woman, all were friendly and both teams put on an entertaining game on a heavy, bobbling pitch that seemed to have been cut for rugby rather than football. The undoubted star of the show was Clovelly player-manager Robin Kearney whose clever late runs were incomprehensible to the Torrington defence. He scored all 4 of Clovelly’s goals, ably assisted by captain Ian Chan’s long throws. Torrington tried hard, and will feel that 2 goals is scant reward for good play, taking account of the level (10 promotions from the Football League) and the playing conditions.

I smiled as I watched the last five minutes as a couple of hours before I wondered whether paying £6.50 to visit Clovelly was good value for money. I’d realised that when you take Clovelly AFC into account too, it’s a real bargain.