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Help and advice for Clovelly, from 'The Cruise of the Tomtit' 1855

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Extract from

The Cruise of the Tomtit

Household Words (ed. Charles Dickens), vol 12 (1855) pp. 490-99.

". . . About noon we sailed for Clovelly. Our smooth passage across the magnificent Bay of Bideford is the recollection our our happy voyage which I find myself looking back on most lovingly as I now write. No cloud was in the sky. Far away, on the left, sloped inward the winding shore, so clear, so fresh, so divinely tender in its blue and purple hues, that it was the most inexhaustible of luxuries only to look at it. Over the watery horizon, to the right, the autumn sun hung grandly, with the fire-path below, heaving on a sea of lustrous darkest blue. Flocks of wild birds, at rest, floated, chirping on the water all around. The fragrant, steady breeze was just enough to fill our sails. On and on we went, with the bubbling sea-song at our bows to sooth us; on and on, till the blue lustre of the ocean grew darker, till the sun sank redly towards the far water-line, till the sacred evening stillness crept over the still air, and hushed it with a foretaste of the coming night. What sight of mystery and enchantment rises before us now? Steep, solemn cliffs, bare in some places - where the dark-red rock has been rent away, and the winding chasms open grimly to the view - but clothed for the most part in trees, which soften their summits into the sky, and sweep all down them, in glorious masses of wood, to the very water's edge. Climbing from the beach, up the precipitous face of the cliff, a little fishing village coyly shows itself. The small white cottages rise one above another, now perching on a bit of rock, now peeping out of a clump of trees; sometimes two or three together; sometimes one standing alone; here, placed sideways to the sea, there, fronting it, - but rising always one above the other, as if, instead of being founded on the earth, they were hung from the trees on the top of the cliff. Over all this lovely scene the evening shadows are stealing. The last rays of the sun just tinge the quiet water, and touch the white walls of the cottages. From out at sea comes the sound of a horn, blown from the nearest fishing-vessel, as a signal to the rest to follow her to shore. From the land, the voices of children at play, and the still, faint fall of the small waves on the beach are the only audible sounds. This is Clovelly. If we had travelled a thousand miles to see it, we should have said that our journey had not been taken in vain.

On getting to shore, we found the one street of Clovelly nothing but a succession of irregular steps, from the beginnning at the beach, to the end, half-way up the cliffs. It was like climbing to the top of an old castle, instead of walking through a village. When we reached the summit of the cliff, it was getting too dark to see much of the country. We strayed away, however, to look for the church, and found ourselves, at twilight, near some ghastly deserted out-houses, approached by a half-ruinous gate-way, and a damp dark avenue of trees. The church was near, but shut off from us by ivy-grown walls. No living creature appeared; not even a dog barked at us. We were surrounded by silence, solitude, darkness and desolation; and it struck as forcibly, that the best thing we could do was give up the church, and get back to humanity with all convenient speed. The descent of the High Street, of Clovelly, at night turned out to be a matter of more difficulty than we had anticipated. There was no such thing as a lamp in the whole village; and we had to grope our way in the darkness down steps of irregular sizes and heights, paved with slippery pebbles, and ornamented with nothing in the shape of a bannister, even at the most dangerous places. Half-way down, my friend and I had an argument in the dark - standing with our noses against a wall, and with nothing visible on either side - as to which way we should turn next. I guessed to the left, and he guessed to the right; and I, being the most obstinate of the two, we ended in following my route, and at last stumbled our way down to the pier. Looking at the place the next morning, we found that the steps to the right led through a cottage-garden to a snug little precipice, over which inquisitive tourists might pitch quietly, without let or hindrance. Talk of the perils of the deep! what are they in comparison with the perils of the shore?
. . .
The first sounds that woke me in the morning were produced by the tongues of the natives of Clovelly assembled on the pier, staring down on me in my nest of blankets, and shouting to each other incessantly. I assumed that they were making fun of the interesting stranger stretched in repose on the deck of the Tomtit; but I could not understand one word of the Devonshire language in which they spoke. Whatever they said of me, I forgive them, however, in consdieration of their cream and fresh herrings. Our breakfast on the cabin hatch in Clovelly harbour, after a dip in the sea, is a remebrance of a gustatory bliss which I gratefully relish. When we had reduced the herrings to skeletons, and the cream-pot to a white sepulchre of emptiness, we slipped from our moorings, and sailed away from the lovely little village with real regret. . ."