THE road to true happiness rarely runs smooth so there is a certain irony that Jana Edwards has found her vocation in a village famed for its cobbled street.
By her own admission Jana’s arrival in Clovelly, north Devon’s jewel in the crown boasting an 800-year heritage and iconic status, came about by accident rather than design.
Now though, three years into an exciting new business venture at the tourist magnet, the free-spirited Canadian entrepreneur knows it is where she was meant to be.
Her own self-propelled voyage of discovery is a clear message for us all.
Like Naked Leader she advocates ‘living in the moment’, ‘trusting our own instincts’ and ‘pursuing our dreams’ – all tips she would pass on to those contemplating a similar life makeover.
Jana’s remarkable journey from her home in Canada to Britain’s jagged Atlantic coastline is as stunning as the meandering stroll she embarks on every day for six months of the year in her job as the village’s sole tourist guide.
She savours every minute of telling Clovelly’s fascinating tale during six months of the year and is fulfilled in her role.
Driven to change her circumstances when her mum died of dementia in 2009, with no material ties in her native country and having had her fill of the minus-40 temperatures, Jana decided to take her fate into her own hands.
She sent emails around the world in the hope of finding employment working with animals and received replies to some – among them, one from Clovelly offering her the chance to help look after donkeys in the village.
The rest, as they say, is history.
She packed her bags and for three months worked as a volunteer, during which time she was amazed to discover there was no official tourist operation offering an insight into the Clovelly “story”.
Jana had spotted a unique business opportunity and was dazzled by the glare of her own lightbulb moment as she returned to Canada, pondering her next move. She decided to write to John Rous, who has managed the Clovelly Estate since 1983 and has since been appointed the High Sheriff of Devon.
‘Nobody was giving an historical interpretation of Clovelly so I wrote a script and sent it to John,’ Jana recalls. ‘I wasn’t expecting much by way of reply but he was enthusiastic about it and accepted the script.
From writing to the Lord of the Manor, it seems Jana Edwards was to the Manor Born.
‘I wouldn’t let anything detract from achieving my goal. I didn’t have any trappings, there was nothing to keep me in Canada and so I cut all ties and went with my gut and heart.
‘I moved to Clovelly and work for room and board with donkeys, where I still live, quite simply. I also work as relief community support worker for the learning disabled. I keep my work with both these aspects of my life flexible so I can concentrate on my tours.’
Having arrived in her new home, her head spinning with ideas and armed with a tenacity of will, her immediate concerns were how she would be accepted by the locals in what was a tight community wary of outsiders.
Those were overcome thanks to a friendly and open approach and a willingness to listen to others’ ideas.
‘Slowly I gained some credibility and the acceptance has grown,’ she says. ‘There were one or two negative voices and experiences and it disheartened me at first but I decided not to let it get me down.’
Jana’s visibility has increased and she is about to embark on her third season, complete with Victorian/Edwardian costume and her own authentic kiosk in the visitor centre.
Holidaymakers can book online (www.clovellyvillagetours.co.uk) or decide on the day they would like the tour. Jana has undertaken extensive research on the village and is able to offer a fishing or social history to those interested or an overview of the village, in an interactive and engaging way while thinking on her feet and adapting her delivery depending on the clientèle.
‘I try and catch people’s eyes to incite interest in the tour, that’s my job, to interact and to gain people’s attention,’ she adds. ‘I try to reach out to everybody who walks past me. It’s an outpouring of energy on my part and I’m hoping the website is going to answer questions before people arrive in Clovelly.
Jana’s grasp of business has blossomed through sheer hard work and a capacity to learn, while time is no longer an issue: ‘I had never run my own business and didn’t have a clue. I started out on the top of the cobbled street with a makeshift wooden stand. Now I am in full costume in the visitors centre with my own special reception desk, word is getting out and I am becoming more visible.’
The business relationship with John Rous is one Jana cherishes and she adds: ‘He’s been so supportive and I couldn’t have done what I have without his sanction.
‘He is always telling me how much he appreciates what I’ve done. I have brought him some solid, consistent reviews on trip adviser and so he’s been good for me and I’ve been good for him.”
It’s an extraordinary success story borne from Jana’s unflinching desire to make a better life for herself. ‘It’s just something I’ve done,’ she shrugs. ‘I don’t see it as extraordinary, I’m sure people change their own lives for all sorts of reasons.
‘I am passionate about what I do and it’s something I know I was born to do. I give a positive experience for people in a unique place and it’s very rewarding when I see the reaction on people’s faces at the end of my tours, having learned about a village they knew nothing about.’
Jana’s chance meeting with Naked Leader founder David Taylor and Rosalind Howard, Naked Leader’s chief executive, has broadened her horizons.
‘Being around David I was so inspired,’ she enthuses. ‘I love them both to bits. They have been so supportive of me and it’s not often you come across people who really get you and see what you are trying to achieve.’
Naked Leader’s ethos to ‘just do it’ and take action to achieve your vision is Jana’s accomplishment to a tee and correlation is obvious.
And she agrees with NL’s philosophy to be ‘in the moment’ something that has been easier to achieve in Clovelly, purely because of the logistics of a village sitting on a 400-foot cliff, sloping steeply down to the historic harbour front.
‘In Clovelly it is easier to do as you can’t drive in the village and you can’t hurry,’ Jana explains. ‘You are forced to slow right down whether you want to or not and some people find that hard to do.
‘You have to go with it and embrace it. Life is an accumulation of many moments and you have to be in them, rather than thinking about getting into the next one, as life then just passes you by. It takes a lot of mindfulness.’
Jana admits to having endured upsets in her life and she concedes, ‘my life choices haven’t been great’ although learning from her mistakes has seen her flourish.
Finally, she has found peace and acceptance having been guided by her desire to ‘always try to be better’.
Her mother’s death was a catalyst for change and she adds: ‘It brought it home to me when I saw how she went from being a strong independent woman to a vacant body. That was the accelerator for me to do something different with my life. It gave me a sense of urgency.
‘I would advise people to go with their heart. Live in the moment and trust yourself. We don’t trust our hearts or our instincts enough. We live in fear of what the future holds when today might be the last we have. There has to be a balance of course, a happy medium. For me, it’s about going for your dream. Being where I am now and doing what I am doing, I know it was what I was supposed to do.’