The South West of England: Pt 23 – Fowey, Cornwall

After departing the impressive city of Truro, we arrived in the small town of Fowey, and were soon greeted by some impressive views…


Status: Cornwall Unitary District & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: River Fowey, Quayside, Fowey Parish Church, St Catherine’s Castle, Readymoney Cove, Fowey Cannons, River Views, Working Mens Club, The Ship Inn etc

Fowey 1

When we arrived, we followed the signs for St Catherine’s Castle, which lead us to a small car park at the top of a small hill above the town. A path came off the Car Park, sloping downwards, so we followed it to see what we could find. This is the view we got at the end of the path, looking down into Readymoney Cove, which its lovely sandy beach. It was a nice unexpected find, and a pleasant way to start our exploration here.

Fowey 2

And atop the rocky outcrop on the far side of the cove, we just spotted the top of the ruins of St Catherine’s Castle peaking out between the trees. Built by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) in the 1530’s, the Castle has guarded the entrance to the river mouth, protecting Fowey from sea faring invaders. It saw active use numerous times throughout it’s history, from the English Civil War (1642 – 1651), to the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815), at which time it was armed with a number of cannons. After a period of decline, the Victorians rearmed the Castle and created a battery here, which were rebuilt during World War II. A lot of places along the South Coast were particularly vulnerable to attack by the Germans, but a number of them such as Kingswear/Dartmouth already had Castles which had protected them for centuries, so these were reinforced. The same happened with St Catherine’s, and it was disarmed after the war.

Fowey 3

We left the Cove, and started making our way down into the town centre. En route, we found a fantastic vantage point to look out over the river, and Fowey’s accompanying village, called Polruan, located on the other side of the river. It turns out St Catherine’s has a sister fort, which is visible in the centre of the picture, in the shape of a ruined, short square tower. The fort was built around the same time as St Catherine’s, and together they form an impressive defence network for the two settlements.

The view from up here is incredible. Polruan looks like a pleasant little fishing village, and behind it the English Channel stretches far into the distance. Fowey itself wasn’t visible from this vantage point, hidden below the brow of the hill we were stood on.

Fowey 4

We pulled up opposite “The Ship Inn”, a fine 16th Century Inn, most of which is still original. The Inn is located at the end of Market Street, and indeed this small area of the town that we had arrived in appeared to be an enclosed Market Square, with buildings on all sides. Just around the corner was the Tourist Information Office, but unfortunately it was already closed as it was quite late in the day when we arrived.

Fowey 5

Moving down South Street, which runs in front of the Ship Inn, and following it round to the left, we found Fowey Parish Church, a beautiful old stone Church tucked away in the dense suburban streets. We were at the East End, the back of the Church, with the tower at the West End at the front. Whilst it is locally known as the Parish Church it’s official title is the Church of St Fimbarrus or St Nicholas, and originally dates back to 1336. Like most Churches that have traversed the seas of time, it has been extensively refurbished and restored over the years, such as a new roof being added in the 15th Century and a full restoration of the building being carried out in 1876.

Clad in Slatestone Rubble, the building makes fine use of various other materials, such as Slate on the roof and Granite around the edge of the windows. It is also one of a number of Listed Buildings, and looking at the large concentration of them in the town centre it shows how well the town has been preserved historically.

Fowey 6

One notable feature of the Churchyard is the Fowey War Memorial, erected sometime prior to the conclusion of World War I. There are photographs available that show it completed by 1920, placing its construction date between 1918 and 1920. It honours the war dead of both World Wars, and is a quite place for reflection on days past.

Fowey 7

Fowey in itself is a very compact town. There was no such thing as a car when the town was 1st conceived, and the tight winding streets between the buildings illustrate this perfectly. There are of course a few main thoroughfares such as around the Market Square and the Church, but they are still quite tight, especially for larger cars. Fowey is almost like a snapshot back in time, a beautifully preserved, historic town.

Fowey 8

Moving on, we passed one of the more obvious recent additions to the town (of course I use the term recent quite lightly, referring to the Victorians onwards) in the form of the “Working Mens Institute” of 1868, build out of typical Victorian Redbrick on the site of the old Fish Market. It does look slightly out of place in a town like Fowey, yet at the same time its fascinating to see the different additions of eras long gone.

Fowey 9

With Fowey being at the mouth of a large river, and so close to the English Channel, it was of course an important port in previous centuries. The area where we were now stood was once a bustling harbour, where goods were imported from all over Europe. When this industry eventually declined thanks to new thriving ports like Plymouth, the industry in Fowey garnered more towards fishing.

The River Fowey, which runs between the town and neighbouring Polruan, as well as the small village of Bodinnick located immediately upstream of Polruan, began its journey at Fowey Well on Bodmin Moor, before running around 8 miles through to Fowey itself. The town is connected to both Polruan and Bodinnick by ferries, as the nearest physical crossing over the Fowey is in the town of Lostwithiel, 7.5 miles North.

Fowey 10

In keeping with the defensive position of the town, a number of cannons are located on the waterfront, although I am unsure if they are original or not.

Fowey 11

You get some stunning views out across the river and into the surrounding countryside . It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and made the water glisten, with some of the tightly packed buildings of the town by this time in the day reduced to shadow, silhouetted against the the scenery.

Fowey is only a small town, and it was a great stop on our Cornish adventure. It is slightly off the beaten track, and lacking a train station, although there is one at Lostwithiel for local services in Cornwall. Fowey is also reasonably close to the A390 main road which runs from Truro eastwards towards Devon. We moved on from Fowey, and found ourselves driving through the small town of Lostwithiel…


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