In the heyday of the aristocracy, it was common. A landowning family would not only employ people to work their farms, but also rent them houses and shops. But in the same way that so many great houses of yesteryear had to be abandoned, the villages also had to be abandoned. It was no different at Clovelly, where in the 1980s Rous’ family had sold off parts of the estate – which spans 2,000 acres of North Devon – so they could fund the rest.
“It was a very difficult time. There wasn’t a lot of revenue generated by the estate – a bit of tourism revenue,” Rous said. “I thought, I don’t really want to get involved in some kind of managed decline. We have to try to stop the rot and be self-funding. And so, I realized we have to make major investments in tourism. “
This meant building the Visitor Center and, for the first time, charging an entrance fee to the village, rather than a parking fee. To his surprise, the number of visitors has increased, not decreased. (Today, there are about 150,000 a year.) Still, that move was viewed with skepticism. Even now, more than 30 years later, a quick glance at Tripadvisor shows that many visitors remain resentful of having to pay.
But that income kept Clovelly intact, Rous said. And it has enabled a program of renovation of the cottages, some of which date back to at least the 15th century – and all of which are subject to the wet, wild and windy weather for which this part of the English coast is known, with all its maintenance challenges , from mold to damaged roofs.