Clovelly Quay and its bay are sheltered from all the strong westerly winds. Hence the settlement has been here since the 13th century. Landing a boat on the treacherous North Devon coast with its cliffs and rocky foreshores has never been easy. As long ago as the 13th century a rudimentary quay was constructed. Hence a small fleet of fishing boats from Clovelly was working Bideford Bay in search of herring and mackerel.
Building the Quay, It’s hard to imagine how the men of Clovelly managed to drag such huge boulders across the foreshore and hoist them into position. They could work only at low tide; using ropes and pulleys, brute force and determination. The stones had to be fitted as tightly as possible; behind them they inserted a backfill of smaller stones to create a firm bed. Medieval mortar, made very often from a mixture of lime and ash or lime and sand, was not as waterproof as modern mortars, so it seems likely that it often had to be replaced. It was a formidable achievement, but the result was invaluable: they had created the only safe haven for boats along the entire stretch of rocky coast between Appledore and Boscastle.
The Devon antiquary, historian and topographer Risdon, writing in about 1630, described the work as a ‘pile to resist the inrushing of the sea’s violent breach, that ships and boats may with more safety harbour there’. Clovelly fishermen in later years certainly appreciated the effort it had taken to build the quay. The village evolved into a bustling and prosperous centre for fishing. When fishing was good they would land up to 9,000 herring at one time!