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Clovelly’s Tractor Does the Donkey Work
2011-05-23

A new John Deere 5055E tractor is helping to do the donkey work in the picturesque fishing village of Clovelly in North Devon, close to the main A39 road from Bideford to Bude.

Clovelly estate workers Mike Ashman, on the new John Deere 5055E tractor, and Tony Smith at the top of the village’s steep main street. Further details of Clovelly and its attractions can be found at www.clovelly.co.uk

Clovelly tractor

The village, whose history can be traced back to the Domesday book, and where Charles Kingsley wrote his novels The Water Babies and Westward Ho!, is traffic free. The main street, known simply as 'Up-a-long' and 'Down-a-long', tumbles its cobbled way down 400ft of solid rock to the tiny harbour and lifeboat station, both protected by an ancient stone breakwater. Its beauty and unspoilt charm make Clovelly one of the West Country’s most popular tourist attractions.

As recently as the 1990s, all the goods that needed carrying up Clovelly’s steep main street were carried by donkeys. Hand-pulled sledges are still used by residents to carry goods down the street, but these days the donkeys are more of a visitor attraction, and all the heavy lifting is now done by the new 55hp John Deere tractor.

Clovelly has been privately owned by the same family since 1738, having previously been associated with only two other families since the middle of the 13th century. The Clovelly Estate Company owns all of the buildings in this unique village and a few thousand acres around it, and takes responsibility for all the maintenance.

Last year the estate’s owner and managing director, The Hon. John Rous, was looking for a new tractor to carry out the key tasks of ferrying beer barrels to the village’s two hotel pubs, the New Inn and the Red Lion – the first of which is situated halfway down the main street – as well as general maintenance around the estate.

“We needed a reliable machine of a decent size and power, with a good lift capacity,” says John Rous. “It had to be capable of carrying a link box on the rear linkage to take heavy beer barrels and gas cylinders, as we can’t use a trailer because the main street is too steep and narrow.

“We also wanted four-wheel drive, for extra safety compared with our previous two-wheel drive machines, as we didn’t want the tractor to get stuck on the cobbles or on our back service road down to the harbour. This is a 1 in 3.5 slope, and can be particularly treacherous in winter when it snows.

“I spoke to Bert Stephens at the local John Deere dealer Robert Cole, and he recommended this particular model rather than a smaller compact tractor or utility vehicle, which would not have been strong enough or have enough lift capacity. We had a demonstration of the 5055E and it did the job perfectly, so we bought it. It was the right price and size for us and really fitted the bill, plus it can take a front loader if required, which gives us another useful option.

“In addition to the beer barrels and gas cylinders, we use the tractor to carry laundry from the hotels as well as rubbish from the harbour up to the recycling sheds in our visitor centre car park at the entrance to the village. We’ve even used it to tow a compressor down through the narrow archways on the quayside, which a bigger tractor wouldn’t have been able to get through.

“It has also been used on Hobby Drive, our 200 year old woodland walk, to brush the leaves off and keep it tidy, as well as on various other parts of the coastal path maintained by the Clovelly Estate.”

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