The village once owned by England’s first queen

In the heyday of aristocracy, this was common. A landowning family would not only employ people to work their farms, but lease them homes and shops, too. But in the same way that so many of the grand houses of yesteryear had to be given up, so too did the villages. It was no different at Clovelly, where, by the 1980s, Rous’ family had been selling off parts of the estate – which spreads over 2,000 acres of North Devon – to be able to finance the rest.

“It was a very difficult time. There was not much income being generated from the estate – a little bit of tourism income,” Rous said. “I thought, I don’t really want to get involved in a sort of managed decline. We’ve got to try and stop the rot and be self-financing. And so, I realised that we needed to make some major investment in tourism.”

This meant building the visitor centre and, for the first time, charging an entrance fee to the village, rather than a car park charge. To his surprise, visitor numbers went up, not down. (Today, there are about 150,000 a year.) Still, the move was viewed with scepticism. Even now, more than 30 years later, a quick look on Tripadvisor shows that plenty of visitors remain irritated about having to pay.

But that income has kept Clovelly intact, Rous said. And it has allowed for a programme of renovation of the cottages, some of which date to at least the 15th Century – and all of which are subject to the wet, wild, windy weather that this part of the English coastline is known for, with all of its upkeep challenges, from mould to damaged roofs.

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