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Last month, I took Stu on an off-season weekend break to Cornwall for his birthday. I’d found the incredible deal on Travelzoo and gifted it to him a few weeks beforehand for Christmas, in order to ensure that he didn’t book any work in that weekend.
Being well aware of just how expensive accommodation can be in Cornwall, I thought that £99 (plus a £10 supplement for the Saturday night) for a two-night stay including breakfast at a harbour front hotel in Fowey was an absolute bargain that was far too good to miss.
Fowey (pronounced “Foy”) is a historic town dating back to the 14th century that rests on the west side of the Fowey estuary in southern Cornwall (actually not far from Looe, where I spent last October with mum). As well as being a picturesque town in itself, with winding lanes and ancient alleyways lined with medieval and Georgian buildings, Fowey is surrounded by an abundance of coastal walking trails, hidden coves and historic fishing communities.
Here are eleven wonderful things to do in and around Fowey, along with some practical information about how to get there and where to stay in town.
1 | Stand inside a little piece of Fowey’s history at St. Catherine’s Castle
This was the first of Fowey’s attractions we visited when we arrived in town, primarily because the trail to the castle is signposted from the Readymoney Car Park and we needed to return to the car park to collect something we’d left in the car.
St Catherine’s Castle was built in 1540 and was one of several fortifications commissioned by Henry the Eighth to protect Fowey Harbour from French invasion. The castle remained in use for many years, defending the town during the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, and the Second World War.
Access to the castle is via a wooded trail from Readymoney Cove, and although the ‘castle’ is really only a single tower, the views alone are worth the trip here.
On a hill behind the castle is the Rashleigh mausoleum. It was built in 1871 and is where William Rashleigh (an English politician and landowner from Cornwall), his wife and daughter are buried.
Good to know: Admission is free and there are no restrictions on visiting times.
2 | Relax in Readymoney Cove
You don’t need to make a separate trip specifically to visit Readymoney Cove as you’ll bypass it on route to St. Catherine’s Castle. The cove shelters a south-east facing sandy beach, so it’s a fantastic place to relax and enjoy the sunshine in the summer months. However, being the only beach in Fowey that’s accessible at both low and high tide, it does get ridiculously busy when the weather’s good. However, on a dull and overcast day in January, the only people we saw on the beach were a few local residents walking their dogs. Oh, and the odd swan or two.
You might also be interested to know that the house in the photo above used to be Daphne du Marier’s. The author and playwright spent most of her life in Cornwall and although she is best known for living at Ferryside in Bodinnick – from where she wrote her first novel, ‘The Loving Spirit’ – she moved to Readymoney Cove in 1942. It is from her home in Readymoney Cove that she wrote ‘Hungry Hill’.
Good to know: Toilets are available on the beach, and are kept open even during the winter months. There’s no charge to use them but there is a donation box outside, where any money deposited goes towards their upkeep.
3 | Take an aimless wander through Fowey’s winding lanes and ancient alleyways
If you’re not a fan of hills, you can skip past this activity right away; Fowey is hilly! However, for me this fact only made the challenge even more inviting. I loved that the town is built on so many different levels. It made exploring all the little lanes and alleyways feel like a real adventure.
A loop around Fowey will take you up sets of stone steps like those in the photo above and towards tree-lined avenues high above the town.
It will lead you past the parish church (more about that in a moment), a number of art galleries and a couple of sculptures, through some quaint and colourful residential streets, along the esplanade, down by the harbour, and along the main shopping street – where you’ll also find a few independent cafes, bakeries and restaurants to tempt you in.
4 | Peek inside Fowey’s Parish Church
Dominating the town’s skyline is its parish church. Records indicate that there has been a stone church here on this site since Norman times (around 1150), and although there is little left of this Norman church (it has been subject to several rebuilds and restorations over the years), the ornate 12th century Norman font can still be seen inside the present church.
Fun fact: The church tower is the second highest in all of Cornwall. Probus Parish Church holds the title for the tallest, at 39 metres.
Good to know: Admission is free but donations are welcome.
5 | Get up close and personal with some sea creatures at Fowey Aquarium
Fowey’s aquarium has a great central location in front of the parish church, but unfortunately it was closed for maintenance when we were in town. We were a bit gutted about this fact because firstly, it receives great reviews online and secondly, it would’ve been the perfect wet weather activity for the morning we ended up holed up in our hotel room waiting for the torrential rain and howling wind to die down.
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay
Ordinarily though, it’s open on Saturdays throughout January and then observes more regular daily opening hours from February onwards. However it closes for the winter from 27 November until the end of December. Further details are on the website here.
Good to know: Admission is £4.50 for adults and £2.50 for children. It says on their website that they do not accept credit or debit cards, so remember to bring sufficient cash with you; there’s a cashpoint just around the corner by the Ship Inn.
6 | Stop by the House of Dragons
If you’re a fan of the quirky and unusual then you’ll appreciate one of my spontaneous finds in Fowey. I was out for a pre-breakfast run (I’m training for my first official half marathon, so I’m doing my best to run regularly, regardless of the weather or where I am) and had inadvertently decided to run up what turned out to be a very steep hill.
At the top of said hill I arrived at a house whose garden was decorated with dragons – in various different poses and in all sorts of dragon-shapes and sizes. It gave me a fantastic excuse to stop and catch my breath for a few minutes before continuing my run. Oh, and to snap a few photographs of course.
Good to know: You’ll find the Dragon House on the corner of Rawlings Lane and Green Lane.
7 | Have a drink at the oldest pub in Fowey
Built by adventurer John Rashleigh in 1570, The Ship Inn is Fowey’s oldest pub. Also known as ‘The Old Lady of Fowey,’ The Ship Inn is a Grade II listed building, and is stuffed to the gills with relics of John’s life.
It’s also a really cosy, dog-friendly place to stop for a drink. But make sure you spend a few minutes exploring this higgledy-piggledy old building with all its nooks and crannies before you settle down to enjoy your beer.
8 | Walk the South West Coast Path to Lantic Bay
One of my goals over the next few years is to hike the Jurassic Coast section of the South West Coast Path, so the opportunity to walk another small section of it this weekend filled me with joy.
Stu and I caught the passenger ferry to Polruan and then picked up the South West Coast Path at the end of School Lane (see below).
There are some stunning views along the way, as – for the most part – the trail hugs the edge of the cliffs. Viewpoints are normally marked by a bench or clearing, but there are no guard rails here so don’t get too close to the edge!
We didn’t actually follow the detour down to the beach itself because, well, it was the middle of winter ‘n’ all. However, we did meet a couple who had been down and were literally on the last leg of their return journey when we bumped into them. They admitted that the walk back up had been pretty hard going.
Had the weather been nicer I probably would have been more tempted to venture a bit further!
9 | Follow the Hall Walk trail
Following the Hall Walk trail was an activity that had been recommended to us by the landlord at the pub Stu drinks at in Shrewsbury, because, oddly enough, he used to live in Fowey. It’s a small world!
In retrospect I’m actually really glad that Stu happened to mention where we were off to that weekend, because I really enjoyed Hall Walk and it’s not an activity that my internet research had returned as one of the things to do in Fowey.
We tacked Hall Walk on to the end of our walk to Lantic Bay, but if you just follow the Hall Walk trail, you’ll be covering around 6.4 kilometres (4 miles) in total. The trail is graded as ‘moderate’ on the National Trust website, due to a few steep climbs and descents.
The Hall Walk Trail is a circular route that includes two ferry rides, so make sure you’ve got some loose change on you to pay the ferry man. The official route begins at Bodinnick, but we caught the ferry to Polruan and completed the route in reverse so that we could check of Lantic Bay first of all.
You may be able to pick up a trail map from the Tourist Information Centre in Fowey, but all we had was a photo of the map from the information board at Polruan harbour, along with Google Maps and it worked out just fine for us.
Hall Walk takes you through a wooded area high above the Fowey Estuary, so it affords some stunning aerial views of Fowey Harbour. You’ll also pass Pont Pill, a picturesque little inlet off the River Fowey. Pont Quay is Grade II listed and is now owned by the National Trust.
10 | Explore Restormel Castle
Despite our best efforts, we didn’t manage to visit Restormel Castle because – as we discovered when we rocked up at its gates – it doesn’t open until the Spring. As it was only a very small diversion on our route back, we hadn’t bothered to check opening times, assuming that even if we couldn’t get inside, we’d still be able to photograph the outside of it and wander around the grounds.
We assumed wrong. We couldn’t even see the castle from the locked entrance gates, and there was no information available regarding opening hours or prices; it was only by searching online that we discovered that it didn’t actually open at all until April.
13th century Restormel Castle is notable for its perfectly circular design and for the fact that it’s one of the four chief Norman castles of Cornwall, the others being Launceston, Tintagel and Trematon.
It hosts theatre performances in the summer months and there’s also a 1.8 kilometre (1.14 mile) walking trail that you can follow through the beautiful Fowey river valley from Restormel Castle to the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery.
Photo by Robert Pittman via Flickr
Good to know: opening hours and prices are available on the English Heritage website.
11 | Get wonderfully lost in the Lost Gardens of Heligan
This was another place that was just too close to Fowey to not visit, even though it probably added an hour to our journey home (due to being 30 minutes away in the opposite direction to home).
The Lost Gardens of Heligan is a multi award winning botanical garden spread over a massive 200 acre area near Mevagissey in Cornwall. It is so named because ‘lost’ is exactly what the gardens were until just 30 years ago, overgrown with brambles since the outbreak of the First World War. However, a chance discovery in 1990 led to the restoration of this once great estate and ancestral home of the Tremayne family.
Although not much grows in a botanical garden in the middle of winter and I was having to dodge the rain showers for the majority of my visit, I really enjoyed wandering the grounds and feeding my sense of curiosity and adventure. The Lost Gardens of Heligan is not only a place for nature lovers, keen gardeners, and plant and flower enthusiasts; it’s a paradise for explorers and photographers, too.
There are woodland walks, walled gardens, areas of dense jungle and tall bamboo, and an amazing (and tiny bit terrifying!) rope bridge that will have you believe that you’re an intrepid adventurer high above the forest canopy in Costa Rica rather than in a botanical garden in Cornwall.
Where to stay in Fowey
Stu and I stayed at Havener’s as part of the Travelzoo deal I mentioned previously in this post. I paid just £109 (altogether, not each!) for two night’s accommodation in one of their king rooms, with views of the town. The rooms weren’t huge but they were clean, super cosy and warm, and a wonderful, comfortable haven to return to at the end of a busy day.
Considering that a two-night stay for the dates we booked was advertised on booking.com as £228, I think we got a pretty damn good deal!
Our stay included breakfast each morning and 15% off any other food we ordered in their restaurant. Breakfast consisted of a small buffet (juice, cereals, yoghurt and fruit) as well as a cooked option of our choice and either coffee or tea.
My only complaint about breakfast was that they did not offer a vegetarian version of the full English, so my choice was limited to sauteed mushrooms on toast with poached or scrambled egg. But, taste-wise, it was lovely, and was enough to fill me up for most of the day.
If you’d like to visit Fowey and Travelzoo aren’t offering one of their fantastic deals then you can search for Fowey accommodation on one of the sites below.
Get £25 off your first Airbnb booking by registering via this link.
Where to eat in Fowey
I was hoping to be able to recommend three different restaurants here, but our efforts to eat at two of these were unfortunately foiled by unforeseen circumstances.
After loving our experience at Spanish tapas restaurant, Pintxo in Bath, we were keen to try Fowey’s version. However, Pintxo happened to be closed (for reasons that weren’t explained on the sign in their window) on the weekend we were visiting.
The second place we were keen to try was Sam’s on Fore Street. Not only did it get glowing reviews on Trip Advisor but it had also been recommended to us. Unfortunately though, Sam’s had literally just closed their doors for the night when we rocked up at 7 p.m on our last night in Fowey. The reason? They hadn’t seen a single customer for the past five hours!!!! I don’t blame them for closing early but we were gutted we hadn’t stopped by sooner to book a table.
The one restaurant I can recommend though is Havener’s Bar and Grill. We ended up eating here twice and on both occasions the food was beautifully presented and cooked, service was efficient and friendly and there was a lovely relaxed atmosphere inside. Had it not been winter (and therefore dark by 5 p.m), we would also have had lovely views of the harbour while we ate.
If you’re looking for a nice little cafe to stop at for lunch or a mid-afternoon snack and pick-me-up then the Lifebuoy Cafe and The Cornish Bakery get great reviews, and Pinky Murphy’s has been recommended to us (but again was shut when we walked past on a Sunday in January).
Parking in Fowey
The good news is that if you travel off-season (as we did), you’ll be able to park in the Readymoney Car Park for as long as you like completely free of charge. The Readymoney Car Park is located close to St. Catherine’s Castle, a 15-minute walk from the centre of town. Charges come into play from 1 April – 31 October, but it’s free to park between 18:00-09:00 hours any day of the year.
At the other end of town you’ll find the Caffa Mill Car Park. It’s closer to the centre of Fowey (around a five-minute walk), however you have to pay to park between the hours of 09:00-18:00 every day of the year. If you’re visiting Fowey between April and October, the charges are the same for both car parks.
There are a limited number of parking spaces by the harbour below, but as you’d expect it’s expensive and also limited to a maximum of two hours.
Getting to Fowey
By plane | The nearest airport is Newquay, on the north coast of Cornwall, although it mainly handles domestic flights. Otherwise, look at flying into Bristol, London or Birmingham.
By car | From the M5 in Devon, Fowey is reached by either the A30 or the A38/A390. From the A390 it’s 9.8 kilometres (6.1 miles) to Fowey.
By train | The closest train station is Par (6.4km / 4 miles from Fowey), from where you can connect to Liskeard in around 25 minutes. Liskeard is a major interchange station for travellers coming from the north or east. If you’re travelling from London, you’ll need to change at Plymouth in order to reach Liskeard. Alternatively, if you’re travelling from the north, you’ll need to change in Birmingham.
By bus | Don’t even consider it, unless you’re only travelling a short distance!
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