The small town of Fowey is tucked safely away on the west bank of the River Fowey, protected from wind and storms by its sheltered position.
The natural, deep harbour lies at the heart of the town, and is the reason for the town’s affluence in the past. Historically a safe haven for trading vessels, and a naval town, the streets are lined with tall, smart merchants’ houses as well as the more traditionally Cornish fishermen’s cottages, which tumble down the hill.
There are tales of piracy and maritime battles, the legacy of which are the 14th century blockhouses guarding the entrance to the harbour, and the 16th century St Catherine’s Castle perched high on the cliffs.
Legend has it that Jesus visited Fowey with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a merchant visiting nearby tin mines. A cross below the cliffs at the mouth of the river is known as “Punches Cross”, thought to be derived from “Pontious Pilate”.
Fowey’s most famous resident is probably the author Daphne du Maurier, who lived there for almost fifty years until her death in 1989; many of her works are inspired by and set in the area.
By the 19th century the success of the harbour relied on the nearby tin, copper and iron mines; nowadays it is a centre for china clay exports, as well as a popular place for cruising yachts to moor up.
Tourism contributes more than £14million to the local economy and accounts for more than half the jobs in the town. Fowey Festival of Music and Words attracts thousands of visitors to the town each May, as do Regatta Week in August and the Christmas Market in December.
Despite being a relatively small town, Fowey is largely self-contained with a wide variety of local facilities, including a post office, banks, chemists, doctors, and newsagents.
Arts and craft fans won’t be disappointed with the selection of shops on offer, nor will fashion lovers – there is a good mix of Cornish chains, such as Seasalt and Quba, and independent traders such as Pink Lemons and Se7en.
The nearest train station is in Par (four miles, 10 minutes by car) on the main line from Penzance to Paddington. A pedestrian ferry runs from Fowey to Polruan, or there is a car ferry from Fowey to Bodinnick. In the summer months a foot ferry service runs to Mevagissey. For those arriving on their own boat, a water taxi is available to take you ashore for supper.
On the water
Life in Fowey centres around the estuary and its associated activities.
It is well located between Plymouth and Falmouth and offers a haven for visiting river users, with moorings and landings in plentiful supply. The Fowey Gallants Sailing Club and Royal Fowey Yacht Club both welcome yachtsmen to use their facilities.
For those new to the water, Sail Fowey offers tuition and sailing experiences, including sunset cruises. Encounter Cornwall provides guided kayak and canoe tours, or for a more sedate river exploration, larger boats can be hired from a number of spots in town.
Readymoney Cove is the nearest beach, just half a mile to the south, (Whitehouse Beach is marginally closer to the town centre, but not accessible at high tide) and is a great place for rock-pooling.
Slightly further afield are Polkerris, Par Sands and Carlyon Bay if you head west, or Lantic Bay and Lansallos to the east.
Continue just beyond Readymoney Cove and you’ll pick up the South West Coast Path. This will take you past St Catherine’s Castle, perched on the cliff top.
Another popular walk that begins (or ends, depending which way you’re going) in Fowey is The Saint’s Way – a 28 mile trail to Padstow on the north coast.
Follow the River Fowey north and you will find yourself at Restormel Castle near Lostwithiel (around nine mile from Fowey) – one of the four chief Norman castles in Cornwall. Once the luxurious residence of the Earl of Cornwall, the building is notable for its perfectly circular design. It is adjacent to the Cornwall residence of the Prince of Wales.
The small fishing village of Polruan is visible on the other side of the estuary, built on a steep hill and surrounded on three sides by water – the estuary to the west, the English Channel to the south and Pont Creek to the north.
Two blockhouses were built in Polruan and Fowey in the fourteenth century to protect the harbour from attack by pirates. A chain was pulled tight across the river between the blockhouses to stop vessels entering. The blockhouse on the the Polruan side has been lovingly restored.
Just outside the village is a house called Ferryside, owned by the du Maurier family. Daphne du Maurier is believed to have written her first novel there in 1928.
A passenger ferry service runs regularly from the quay in Fowey, making the 0.3 mile crossing between 7:30am and 7pm in the winter and 7:30am and 11pm in the summer.
Other notable nearby towns of interest include Charlestown (seven miles), Mevagissey (14 miles), Looe (12 miles) and Polperro (seven miles).
Where to eat
Fowey is not limited when it comes to dining out. The restaurant at The Old Quay House Hotel, presided over by head chef Richard Massey, serves locally-inspired, grown-up dishes and regularly hosts specially themed nights such as wine tastings and tasting menus. The terrace to the rear sits right on the water’s edge.
Sam’s is a Cornish institution, and the restaurant and cocktail bar in Fowey is a popular spot for both families and revellers. The upstairs bar and lounge makes popping in just for drinks possible too.
The recently-opened Havener’s Bar and Grill boasts panoramic views of the estuary, with plentiful seafood and grilled meat on the menu. They have an extensive drinks selection, but if they haven’t got exactly what you’re after, on Mondays they allow guests to bring their own wine with no additional corkage charge.
Other highlights include Spanish tapas restaurant Pintxo (so small they won’t take reservations – you have to take your chances and just turn up), and The Globe, whose ‘Cakey Tea’ has to be experienced.
Images courtesy of Visit Cornwall and The Old Quay House.