Cornwall and Devon Discoveries

We had a day, yesterday, of accidental discoveries. Sometimes, when travelling, these are the best. We planned to drive from Truro to Ifracombe, in Devon, and in our usual way, this meant following a semi-planned route but heading off to places that appeared interesting as we went.

It wasn’t long before we came across the very scenic village of Altarnum. As we descended a hill and turned a corner, we could see the village church with a little bridge that crossed a stream named Penport Water. A Norman church was built here in the 12th century, but the present church was built in the 15th century from un-quarried stone from Bodmin Moor. The church is dedicated to St Nonna, mother of St David. This sounds a bit of a long shot to me but I guess that local people know all about these names.  A Celtic cross from the time of St Nonna is located by the church gate. John Wesley often visited here and the home in which he stayed is now a  museum of Wesley and Methodism. Altarnun features in the novel ‘Jamaica Inn’ by Daphne du Maurier and is set in the parish’s former coaching house by the same name.

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Our second discovery was an old WW2 airfield at Davidstow, just north of Bodmin Moor. The road travelled across an open area and we could see the remains of bunkers. Soon, a runway became apparent and then another one. Further on, we  came across a museum where we stopped for half an hour. It was run by a couple of elderly violunteers who were so proud of their museum located in the the old Sergeant’s Barracks. They explained that the airfield was built in 1942 at the height of WW2 and was used for anti-submarine patrols and air/sea rescue flights. A combination of RAF and Polish Airforce personnel primarily operated Wellington bombers and Beaufighters from here. About 330 men never returned from these operations. I took a photo of the museum, but it was only later when I could look up Google Maps that I was able to see the entire extent of this large airforce base. You can see the current road crossing the centre of the old airfield.

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Our third accidental discovery was the pretty National Trust village of Bocastle. It is just south of Bude. The harbour is a natural inlet protected by two stone harbour walls built in 1584 by Sir Richard Grenville (of HMS Revenge) and is the only significant harbour for 32 km along the coast. The village extends up the valleys of the River Valency and River Jordan.The village is a popular tourist destination.

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Next, as we were heading out of town, the town of Bude, we spied a pub that would suit us for lunch. We swung into its little car park and headed for the bar. We asked the publican about any cute villages in the area and she suggested that we visit one called Hartland Quay. To get there, we travelled down more narrow lanes, with hedgerows over head height, and finally down a steep slope to the little inn and cottages. Apparently, this was a centre for wrecking and piracy in the old days. It once had a little harbour but that has been washed away long ago. The view along the cost was stunning.

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Our next stop didn’t happen by accident – we had planned to visit the little village of Clovelly on the north coast of Devon all along. There is a relatively new visitors centre there at the top carpark and you pay an entry fee to walk the half mile down to the village. It’s a gorgeous spot with a lot of history and is terribly photogenic. 

Clovelly used to be a fishing village and in 1901 it had a population of 621. It is a cluster of largely wattle and daub cottages on the sides of a rocky cleft. Its steep main street descends 120 metres to the pier and is far too steep to allow for wheeled traffic. Wooden sledges are used for the movement of goods. Unusually, the village is still privately owned and has been associated with only three families since the middle of the 13th century – nearly 800 years. The estate is run by the Clovelly Estate Company, led by the Hon. John Rous, a descendant of the Hamlyn family who have owned the village, estate and manor house Clovelly Court since 1738.

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We stopped overnight in the town of Ifracombe. Just before we got there, we passed through a field of a dozen large windmill generators on the hilltop. At home, there was an outcry about building some similar windmills in Gippsland because the rare and endangered Orange Breasted Parrots might fly into them and be killed. I always thought it was a stupid reason for not building them and I daresay these parrots have learned to avoid Ifracombe. I doubt that the sheep and cattle grazing under the rotating blades were suffering from anxiety or stress either.

I selected our hotel in Ilfracombe from Booking.com and I have to say that it wan’t our best accommodation on this trip. It was certainly clean and comfortable and the owners were very friendly. However, the rooms were quite old. They looked as if they were last renovated in the 1950’s. We needed to climb a steep staircase up to our room and then down again to the breakfast room in the morning. It was probably a B&B more than a hotel. but it did us for the night.

5 comments

  1. Trina Bruce · ·

    How wonderful.

  2. Did you figure out the meaning of the statue in Ilfracombe?

  3. Scilla · ·

    Enjoying following your moves with the map at hand. Hope you get to see Lynton & Lynmouth tomorrow. The walk along the river is charming with a lovely tea shop at the end.

  4. John Buchanan · ·

    Hi B& J, interesting post; the best things often off the main drag, JB

  5. Pamela Saunders · ·

    All your Sunday drives rolled into one! What glorious places – from a tourist’s view. And the history!