Fowey is a picture-postcard seaside town near the mouth of the River Fowey in Cornwall. Situated between Mevagissey and Looe, it’s around 25 miles from Plymouth. Neighbouring town Polruan sits on the other side of across the estuary.
History of Fowey
Fowey has a proud maritime history that can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when it served as an important port for warships and galleons. Many of the vessels that sailed from Fowey’s shores became involved in historical confrontations such as the Calais Blockade. Other vessels commandeered by historical figures such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. Both sailed from Fowey’s shores further strengthening the town’s reputation as a major seafaring town
During the 18th century Fowey also played an important role in the exportation of China Clay and was one of the main ports used for the trade. And although tourism is beginning to take over the town’s economy, Fowey remains a working harbour. It still exports 1.2 million tonnes of china clay per year with at least 40% of all South West cargo passing through the port.
Present Day Fowey
Fowey has a population of over 2,000 and lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Rows of pastel-coloured terraced houses sit on the west bank of the River Fowey and cling to the steep hillside that looks out over the bay. These buildings are divided by a warren of narrow streets which are home to numerous antique shops, bistros and restaurants. Most of these can be found in the flatter areas of the town. Visitors will also find a collection of historical buildings around the town including Noah’s Ark; a timbered Elizabethan merchant’s house that dates back to the 15th century.
Fowey Visitor Attractions
There are plenty of Fowey visitor attractions worth seeing, regardless of season. Some are free to the public while others require a small admission fee. Here’s a guide.
St Catherine’s Castle
St Catherine’s Castle overlooks Readymoney Cove and was constructed by Henry VIII to protect against Spanish raids. The castle is one of many coastal fortifications found scattered along the South Coast. Restored in 1855, it is now an English Heritage site and can be reached via winding steps from the beach below. Although in ruins, visitors can still walk along the gun emplacements and battlements.
St. Fimbarrus’ Church
Located at the end of the Saint’s Way trail, this 14th century church has the second tallest tower in Cornwall. The church is dedicated to St. Finn Bar, the first bishop of Cork, and replaced an earlier Norman construction – its carved but unfinished font still remains.
An extensive restoration took place during the late 19th century and the western gallery was removed, with new roof, vestry, choir stall and pews added. Notable features of the church include its pulpit, which is made from the panelling of a Spanish Galleon. A memorial can also be found in the churchyard commemorating Fowey’s war dead.
Fowey Town Hall
The Town Hall, home to the aquarium and museum, dates back to 1793 and replaced the 14th century Guild Chapel. Some of the chapel’s features remain intact such as the barred windows of the medieval jail. An old water tap can be found to the rear of the building – its installation in 1787 was met with great enthusiasm by locals.
Fowey Museum exhibits a number of literary, political and naval artefacts. These include the cloak of General Garibaldi, the great Italian military leader and the mayoral chain of one-time London Mayor, Sir Charles Hanson. Fowey’s famous seafaring heritage is also celebrated through a collection of painstakingly created models, maritime photographs and ship sails.
Fowey Aquarium is a popular attraction that’s housed underneath the town hall. The building previously formed part of the old market until converted in the 1950s. It now offers fascinating exhibits of local marine life, some of which are accessible through a touch pool that allows visitors to view the species close-up.
Place House is located high above Fowey and is home to the Treffry family. Built in 1260, the fortified manor house was the focus of a French attack in the mid 15th century. Although the attack was repelled, a large portion of the house had to be rebuilt due to fire damage. Today it remains a private residence but the gardens are occasionally used for private functions. The building is best viewed from the sea.
Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre
The Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre can be found in central Fowey and presents exhibitions of the famous author and other famous literary figures associated with the town. These include Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, Kenneth Graham and Leo Walmsey. There’s also a 15 minute video about Du Maurier and a gift shop selling her critically-acclaimed books.
Ferryside and Pont Pill
This is the house that Daphne du Maurier once called home – she actually wrote her first novel here, The Loving Spirit, which was based on the Slade family of nearby Polruan. To its right and below du Maurier’s old room, can be seen a rescued figurehead from a schooner, Jane Slade. Further upstream is Pont Pill, meaning ‘Bridge Creek’. It provided Daphne du Maurier with inspiration for her first novel and she also travelled through the nearby waters on her wedding day in 1932.
The bustling town quay is one the town’s most picturesque locations and is the heartbeat of Fowey. The buildings are a mishmash of working boat-houses and pubs. The King of Prussia is central to all this and stands out from the rest with its colourful hanging baskets and window boxes. St Finbarrus Church and Place House, which are situated behind the King of Prussia both overlook Fowey and are often mistaken as the same building. Mercifully, the streets are not crammed with cars and other vehicles. The use of a one-way system and a collection of car parks, situated on the outskirts of the town, keep traffic to a minimum and mean that the Fowey streets are pedestrian friendly.
Ready Money Cove
Ready Money Cove is a popular sheltered beach that lies near the mouth of the Fowey River. It is bounded on either side by St Catherine’s Castle and Neptune House. St Catherine’s Castle was built in 1536 by Henry VIII to repel Spanish raids and is managed by the English Heritage. The castle, which is in poor repair, can still be reached by a short path that runs from the beach. Point Neptune House also overlooks the cove and was home to Daphne du Maurier during the Second World War – a commemorative plaque celebrating this can be seen on its walls.
The nearby Polruan, on the opposite side of the estuary, has a contrasting waterfront comprising largely of working buildings such as boat-houses and ship-building yards. Behind these, Fishermans’ cottages creep up the hill and look out over the wonderful harbour. Although few shops remain in Polruan there is still a collection of popular pubs and inns such as the Lugger and Russell. Ferries leave from Fowey to Polruan every 15 minutes using both Town Quay and the Whitehouse slip, depending on season.
Fowey harbour was central to the emergence of Fowey. Its capacity to accommodate large ships was exploited fully during the China Clay boom. Now, its deep-water harbour is used for different kinds of large vessels, namely cruise-liners. The 205 meter long Boudicca moored up in August 2007 allowing its passengers to explore the town and other nearby attractions. It proved so popular amongst locals and passengers that plans are now afoot to increase the intake of these types of large holiday cruise liners – tourism is fast becoming Fowey’s chief trade.
Famous Fowey Residents
Thriller writer, Daphne de Maurier resided most of her life at nearby Polridmouth Cove. Her life in Cornwall influenced some of her greatest works such as Jamaica Inn. She now has a festival held in her honour which attracts enthusiasts and influential literary figures from all over.
Wind in the Willows author, Kenneth Greene also spent much time in Fowey. He first visited in 1899 to help his recovery from pneumonia and became friends with fellow writer, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (Q). Leo Walmsley is another famous Fowey resident who wrote a great number of short stories relating to maritime life.