Blending Victorian elegance with unassuming cool and a friendly welcome, Clevedon in north Somerset is an under-explored gem that warrants a stop-off, says JENNY OLDAKER.
Exiting the M5 one’s first glimpse of Clevedon doesn’t shout ‘seaside idyll’ as rows of modern housing estates roll past. Within minutes, however, the seafront opens up to reveal an elegant destination with a ream of attractions to entice all ages and inclinations – whether your tastes run to fine dining and scenic walks or the traditional pursuits of a seaside resort, washed down with fish and chips.
This small town is sandwiched neatly between gentle hills and the Severn Estuary; its stony beaches offering views across to Wales on a clear day. Originally a tiny rural village, Clevedon expanded quickly in the 1800s as the Victorian craze for fresh sea air and coastal holidays brought a rush of growth. Visitors flocked here from cholera-ridden Bristol, and wealthy industrialists took up residence – the resulting villas are a lasting legacy of this prosperous era and still dominate the seafront and the roads stretching back from the water.
Today’s Clevedon retains its air of traditional seaside resort jollity, and all the usual suspects are here: amusement arcade, fish and chips, mini golf and a seasonal miniature railway that runs around Salthouse Fields (a sea-fronted public space where picnickers and bouncy castles abound in summer). Unlike the glitzy seaside rides and attractions of nearby Weston-Super-Mare, however, don’t expect an ostentatious display of bright lights and action – the attractions in Clevedon are resolutely low-key, which lends a charming old-style vibe to the place.
Nowhere is this charm better epitomised than in the town’s pier, jutting splendidly out into the Bristol Channel. Described by the poet John Betjeman as ‘the most beautiful pier in England’, it opened in 1869 and today remains a favourite with visitors and locals alike for its sweeping views, grand Victorian architecture and vibrant programme of events. Food and drink are on offer too, with the Pagoda Cafe and The Glass Box restaurant both serving up impressive panoramas alongside their daily menus.
The pier may be the most recognisable of Clevedon’s landmarks but another firm favourite is the Marine Lake, a tidal pool that opened in 1929 for safe seawater swimming and which attracts swimmers and watersports enthusiasts year round. Access is free (though donations are appreciated) and though some hardy souls continue to swim here throughout the winter months, the space really comes into its own in summer when bathers, crabbers, paddle boards and canoes take to its Instagrammable waters in their droves. Even if you’re not a fan of getting into the water, the views from the edge make this an eminently pleasant place to while away an afternoon.
Clevedon’s attractions are not limited to its seafront, and this friendly, creative town has a growing roster of independent shops and eateries that are well worth visiting too. For a small destination this place punches well above its weight in terms of foodie offerings, with places like Escala on the seafront helping put Clevedon on the gastronomic map. Its lovely setting and Spanish-inspired tapas menu (with a focus on seafood) have made this place a permanent fixture of the town, after it originally opened in summer 2022 as a pop-up. Puro and Murrays of Clevedon, both on Hill Road, are more must-visit staples for a taste of the town. Murrays combines a delicatessen, bakery, restaurant and wine shop; its blend of Italian and English produce making it a firm local favourite.
Cool places for drinks include The Fallen Tree Micropub for local ales and friendly atmosphere, and Vintage & Vine, serving up a wide selection of drinks in a cool, contemporary space. Both venues are on Hill Road and once you’ve supped something refreshing this vibrant street also has some lovely independent shops to browse, with the likes of Books on the Hill, Wilfred & Alice (gifts, homeware, crafts and toys) and Panache of Clevedon (more homeware).
Store for the Curious on Alexandra Road is a trove of eclectic treasures, while goods from local makers can be found at the Clevedon Craft Centre, just a little outside the main town. Housed in the outbuildings of a 17th century Somerset ‘long farm’ that was once part of the Clevedon Court Estate, the studios and workshops here play host to a diverse range of artists, showcasing crafts of all kinds to buy. There’s also a tea shop for refreshments while you make up your mind.
After a spot of shopping there are fine views and fresh air to be enjoyed, courtesy of the varied walking routes that are just waiting to be stomped around Clevedon’s wooded hills and bracing coastline. The Discover Clevedon website is a great resource for finding a ramble to suit you, but two favourite routes to help you get a feel for the locale are Poet’s Walk and Lover’s Walk.
The first takes its name from the poets who’ve found inspiration here over the years, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who honeymooned in Clevedon in 1795 and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who wrote In Memoriam for his friend and fellow poet, Arthur Henry Hallam, who is buried at St Andrew’s Church in Clevedon.
Poets’ Walk follows a route around Church Hill and Wain’s Hill, taking in the Sugar Lookout (built in 1835 for importers to watch the sugar ships arriving from the West Indies) and St Andrew’s Church along the way. Lines from In Memoriam grace the steps that lead into the walk from the seafront. In the other direction (heading north up the estuary) Lovers’ Walk leads to the quiet cove of Ladye Bay, which is a perfect spot for watching the sunset – keep walking from the bay along the coastal path to end up in Portishead.
Both walks showcase Clevedon’s gentle natural beauty and provide a snapshot of the history and geography that underpin this understated, friendly destination. Next time you’re heading to or from the south west, take time to venture off the motorway and spend time in this town, where elegant architecture speaks of an illustrious past and innovative independent businesses form the beating heart of a vibrant future.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION..!
If Clevedon looks familiar to you it could well be because you’ve seen it on screen. The town is a perennial favourite with film and TV crews and it has wide ranging credits to its name…Hill Road and St Andrew’s Church were among the town’s locations that featured in ITV’s acclaimed drama, Broadchurch, while Clevedon Pier has appeared in several TV shows as well as the movie Never Let Me Go, starring Keira Knightley.
The Pier also found pop culture fame as the backdrop for a One Direction music video (for the song You and I). Some scenes for Channel 4 series Truelove, starring Dame Julie Waters were filmed in the town in summer 2022.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car: Clevedon is located just off junction 20 of the M5 and as such makes an ideal stop-off en route to or from Devon or Cornwall. The seafront itself is just five minutes’ drive from the motorway.
By train: Yatton station is well served by trains from London (around two hours) and Exeter (just over an hour) as well as connecting services at nearby Bristol Temple Meads. Yatton is a short (roughly ten minute) taxi ride from Clevedon.