Many places are described as ‘unspoilt’ but rarely are. Many villages are described as ‘being in a time warp’, but the truth is usually different. BUCKS MILLS in North Devon is unspoilt, completely unspoilt.
Leaving the main road at Bucks Cross, the lane winds down the valley, through the trees and following the path of the stream, falls towards the sea. I often wonder what visitors must think when arriving late at night; no street lights, few houses and a road resembling the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Eventually, as you round the last corner, the valley opens out and the village reveals itself. Tiny white-washed cottages, nestled amongst the trees, the stream still trickling beside the lane, until it arrives at the bottom of the village, where it hurls itself over the cliffs and onto the beach.
A Spanish Tale
Rumour has it that timbers used in the construction of some of the cottages came from ships of the fleeing Spanish Armada. This may or may not be true, but we do know that in 1588, Elizabeth I ordered Bideford to supply 6 ships, to defend the realm from the invading Spaniards. On 22nd June 1588 the Victory, armed with 25 guns and with a crew of 65 battled for two long days with the San Juan, in Bideford Bay. Eventually, the Victory fired a broadside into the Spanish ship’s hull which led to her eventual destruction. And this is where the rumour started; not only the tale of the ship’s timbers but also the ship’s crew! Brothers from the ill-fated Spanish galleon were supposed to have struggled ashore at Bucks Mills; wooed and married local girls and settled, with their families, into North Devon village life. The brother’s name was Braund. Dark-eyed, dark-haired and with olive complexions many of the Bruands resembled swarthy Spaniards. Is it just the Devon sunshine or are they really descended from those swashbuckling invaders?
Meet The Braunds of Bucks
The Braunds continued to live in Bucks Mills until very recently. At one time virtually every cottage in the village had a Braund family living in it. The names of some of the houses are themselves an indication of their past inhabitants – Melinda’s, Emilys’ Marks’, Georges’, Johns and Williams and of course Kings’ cottage where James Braund, uncrowned King of Bucks lived with his family. James and his wife and seven children had been living at the Bluff. It’s likely that an increasing family prompted James to erect this new cottage, with an extension which overhangs the stream, adjacent to his father’s home. In 1855, the North Devon journal described Kings’ Cottage, “Braund’s house, built by himself at the lower extremity of Bucks, on a towering height above the beach, is a real curiosity. The rivulet that comes down between the hills, by and under part of his eagles nest premises. It discharges itself in a cataract on the beach, where it flows into the Atlantic.” This was James Braunds solution to his sewage disposal! Although his inventive and imaginary building may not be politically correct today, it was an improvement on outdoor sanitation of the time.
More recent Braunds living in the village were Grenville and his wife Edith who ran the shop in what was formerly the Temperance Hotel. I have a lasting memory of Edith. I went into the shop to buy some potatoes; I couldn’t see any, so I asked Edith, “have you got any potatoes?” “I don’t know, I’ll go and see.” She seemed to be gone ages but came back triumphant, wearing her wellies and carrying a garden fork “Will these do?” she asked, handing me six huge newly dug potatoes. That’s the sort of people Grenville and Edith were; nothing was too much trouble. They kept the keys to many of the cottages and would just pop in to make sure that all was well.
Noel was the last inhabitant in the village to bear the name Braund - he lived in No 11 until his death in 1997. When we first met Noel he wouldn’t speak to us, but gradually a nod became a grunt which eventually developed into “morning”; then there was no stopping him. I remember him talking for hours while standing in the sitting room of No. 5, clutching a string with several large mackerel attached. He talked and talked and was soon standing in a puddle of seawater and fish blood. He made mats; anything from tiny tablemats, to doormats and bigger, out of plaited string. He would start plaiting in the house, plait out of the door, down the path, down the steps and across the lane. Visitors would have to duck underneath - and cars would have to wait.
Holidays in Bucks Mills
These days the majority of the whitewashed cottages are holiday homes. When the weather is good the beach is a magnet for visitors and locals alike, there are patches of sand for digging and fabulous rock pools, places to swim and bodyboard and even surfing when the conditions are right.
When it’s not ‘beach weather’ the North Devon coast path beckons – Peppercombe in one direction through woods or along lanes with fantastic views or Clovelly in the other direction. Continue past Clovelly to discover the equally unspoilt Hartland Peninsula for some truly wild coastal walks (using the pub at Hartland Quay or The Smithy in Welcombe for well-deserved sustenance.
The Tarka Trail is another attraction for walking or cycling along the old railway line from Bideford to Barnstaple or Torrington the other way. Cycle from Bideford pausing at John’s deli in Instow for delicious coffee and cake or a homemade pasty or cross the river to Appledore for fish and chips (you can order in the shop, enjoy a drink in The Royal and have the fish and chips delivered there!).
For a family day out try ‘The Big Sheep’, a theme park suitable for all ages, even in wet weather it’s a great place to visit with an indoor playground. Or there’s the ‘Milky Way’ farm in Higher Clovelly. It started as a family farm and is now one of the most visited attractions in North Devon, with its award-winning rides and play areas.
North Devon has so much to offer – family entertainment, fabulous beaches, wonderful, spectacular coast path walks and, of course, cream teas! All this is discoverable from this unspoilt little time-warp on the North Devon Coast. That would be Bucks Mills. See for yourself and book a holiday in one of its delightful holiday cottages.
When staying in Bucks Mills itself it has to be a holiday cottage. Melinda’s Cottage in the middle of the village is a nicely-maintained cute and cosy two-bedroom cottage sleeping four, full of evidence of its historic past. It also has that relative rarity in the village: its own parking place!
Or, look it up on Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/melindascottagebucksmills/