Watery North Devon Literary Connections

There are some watery literary connections in North Devon. Charles Kingsley author of The Water Babies lived in Clovelly as a child and returned many times as an adult and Henry Williamson lived for some time in Georgeham near Croyde and based his Tarka the Otter stories on local North Devon rivers.

Charles Kingsley was born at Holne Vicarage on Dartmoor. I visited the church, but the vicarage was inaccessible, a couple of years ago when staying in the area. Here is a brief resumé of his life and a picture of the stained glass window in the church of St Mary the Virgin at Holne.

life of Charles Kingsley

Church at Holne

St Mary the Virgin, Holne, Dartmoor

Stained glass window

Charles Kingsley Window, Holne

There is a Charles Kingsley Museum in Providence House (his former home) in Clovelly. The Kingsley family moved to Clovelly from Holne when Charles was 11 and they lived there for six years. Charles Kingsley visited the village frequently as an adult and wrote his novel “Westward Ho!” here.

Providence House Clovelly

Providence House, now The Charles Kingsley Museum, Clovelly

Step inside the Museum with me and see Charles Kingsley at work in his study and his chair and his Christening Shawl.

CK and his christening shawl

Charles Kingsley and his Christening Shawl

CK's chair

Charles Kingsley’s Chair (on loan from the parish of Eversley, Hampshire)

The leaflet supplied to visitors states that “the village also inspired him to write ‘The Water Babies’. I had always understood that Kingsley was inspired to write the book on his visits to Yorkshire whilst staying near Malham Tarn at a house called Bridge End in nearby Arncliffe in Littondale. Here is an article from The Yorkshire Post supporting this fact. Maybe he was also inspired by Clovelly on some aspect of the book?

Tarka the Otter

From a wet and windy Clovelly I headed to Braunton for fish and chips and then to the local museum. I expected to find some information about local writer Henry Williamson who wrote ‘Tarka the Otter’. There was a small display about the author who wrote many more books than this famous nature writing including :

The great work of his mature years, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, [which] stands as a true statement of the social history of this country in all its varied detail, through the life of the main character, Philip Maddison.”

In north Devon it’s Tarka, Tarka everything. The Tarka Line (railway), The Tarka Trail (walking/cycling path), Tarka Holiday Parks (caravans), Tarka Radio (hospital radio) the list is never-ending. But finding places relating to the otter’s author takes a bit more research. The Henry Williamson Society have managed to secure a couple of blue plaques on his two homes in nearby Georgeham and his writing hut still stands in a garden at nearby Ox’s Cross. Through pelting rain I managed to snap the two Georgeham homes and Williamson’s grave but I had to forego finding the shed.


Henry Williamson’s hut at Ox’s Cross

Williamson Skirr Cottage

Williamson’s first home in Georgeham : Skirr Cottage [named after the sound made by the wings of owls on the roof]

Skirr Cottage plaque

Crowberry Cottage

Crowberry Cottage – Williamson’s other home in Georgeham

Crowberry plaque

Read here about a journalist’s search for The Field and other Tarka and Williamson locations.

Williamson grave