South Cornwall is a beautiful part of the English countryside. The jagged granite coastline is beautiful and imposing with welcoming towns built down steep hills, surrounded by crystal blue waters. The old cargo port of Fowey makes a wonderful place to explore the south Cornish coast.
I have only been to Cornwall once before – a trip to the southern-most tip of the country resulted in more of a culinary tour than an adventure holiday. Not that our recent trip to the Fowey estuary was an adventure, but I certainly felt like I had time to explore the harsh beauty that the southern Cornish coast has to offer. In just two days, I felt we did more around Fowey than we did spending a week in Newlyn.
I’m a fitter person now. When exploring Cornwall for the first time I was burden by crutches and still recovering from illness. For out trip to Fowey, however, I was fighting fit and raring to go. Which is good – because this part of the Cornish coast is like a travelator!
Two days to explore this region was not enough. We could easily have spent a week in the area with Fowey acting as the perfect point to explore further along the coast and inland to the moors. We shall, in all likelihood, go back to explore some more, but here are our experiences of one weekend.
Where to stay
We stayed across the river Fowey from the main town, in the much quieter (and quainter) Polruan. The small fishing town is built down a steep hill to the river mouth and bound by water on three-sides. It has two dog-friendly pubs and a tiny post office and bakery.
Staying in Polruan is for the fit and able-bodied. Wherever you stay you are met with steep stairs and exhausting hills. You can drive down to the river front but the streets are narrow and bendy with few passing points. There are maybe two or three parkings spots at the harbour but these are both expensive and rare to find empty. Instead, we parked at the top of town and walked down to our Air B’n’B. Walking down wasn’t so much of an issue. Walking back up (bags and dog encumbered) was more than a little sweaty!
Two years ago, when completely reliant on walking-aids to get around, the town would have proven exceptionally difficult for me. Therefore, if ease of access is a priority for your travels, I would advise staying across the river in Fowey which is much more accessibility-friendly.
Polruan, however, was perfect for us. Our Air B’n’B was dog-friendly and overlooked the river so that we could hear the tide splashing below us in the mornings. It was also quiet, beautifully so, with stunning views across to Fowey and down the river. The apartment was down about fifty harsh, granite steps from the road and about a further 100 yards from the ferry across to Fowey.
The weather was great, so the apartment was very much a sleeping base but would also have been exceptionally comfy if the weather had been bad. There are communal boardgames in the shared conservatory which overlooks the river and everything you need in the apartment to be comfy and at home for a longer stay. It is one of the nicer Air B’n’B’s that I’ve stayed in and I would book it again like a shot.
What to do
Most of the things to do in Fowey are within easy walking distance – perfect if you’re only staying for a day or two and don’t want to drive for a day or two.
The town itself is filled with the usual seaside shops; a Seasalt filled with striped t-shirts and brightly-coloured waterproofs; art galleries with cute prints of the harbour; local made fudge; over-priced gift shops with model ships and seashell-adorned photo frames. There are some cute vintage shops hidden around the back streets so make sure to venture down those twisted cobbled nooks that might otherwise be overlooked.
Walking around the harbour is a must of any seaside town and Fowey is no different. Pop into the Lifeboat house to find out all about the RNLI or sit and have an ice cream whilst the river boats dart up and down the river. You can also hire little boats to go on your own river adventure – something I’d probably have looked into if I had an extra day.
My own day, however, was spent exploring the South West Coastal Path. It has become a plan of mine to walk the entire thing. It might take me some years though!
Explore Fowey’s beaches
With dog and husband in tow, and having thoroughly exhausted the aquarium (one room, run down and not worth the money) we headed to Readmoney Cove so that Fergus could play in the sea. It is a cute little beach which is sheltered by the natural curvature of the coast. It has a small cafe, toilets and a gift shop.
The beach is a mix of shingle and sand with modest rock pools to explore. It is overlooked by a large picnic area with walls fashioned into medieval-looking turrets. There is an easy, sloping road down to the beach but very limited parking at the bottom. It is also a very accessible beach, with a ramp onto the sand/shingle providing ease of access. Because of this, it was busy in April when we visited. I imagine, come summer, the beach would be a hive of activity.
Climb a castle
A short climb (either by steep steps or gentle sloping path) above Readmoney Cove sit the ruins of St Catherine’s castle; a 16th-century fortress positioned perfectly to bombard any foreign powers tempted to storm the river Fowey.
I love a castle. Give me an area to explore and I’ll always head for the castle. Fowey’s miniature fortress is no exception. The views from the top are spectacular and, if you’d like more of a walk, you can follow the coastal path through long green fields until you get to Polridmouth Cove, another beautifully sheltered beach just a thirty minute walk away.
Eat local seafood
This goes without saying really! Can you be by the seaside and not try their local catch?
Most the of the restaurants sell locally caught crustaceans and fish’n’chips on the harbour walls is a must too. We got take away from Takeaway by Haveners which was everything fish’n’chips by the seaside should be – crispy, salty chips with meaty fish in a light batter. They also gave us a sausage for the dog which stopped him from eating too many of my chips.
Only there for two nights, and with the crossings over the river being on winter hours, we spent our evenings in the dog-friendly pubs of Polruan. The Lugger Inn is a cosy, traditional British pub with a limited but tasty menu. They serve local, seasonal seafood in good, old fashioned and delicious style. We were happy to eat there two nights running as well as propping the bar for a glass of wine or two.
Take a river taxi
The river taxi’s are great for ferrying you from Polruan to Fowey and back again. You can either take the standard ferry that runs back and forth throughout the day (and evening during the summer) or hire a private boat to whip you across the river.
You can also get boats up and down the river to explore the area more.
Relax in the public gardens
The river walls of Fowey are adorned by heavily-planted public gardens with seating and picnic areas. They are gated from the roads but freely accessible to all. They make a beautifully sheltered spot to sit and watch the river life run by.
What to do around Fowey
The harbour town or Polperro is just a few short miles across the river Fowey. Six miles of walking up and down hills along the coastal path is possible but there are roads too, if you prefer the car.
We stopped their on our way home and the place is severely beautiful. An old working harbour protected by huge sea walls, the town is truly a scene from Poldark. The granite cliffs are jagged and the houses seem shrunk into the steep cliffs that they’re built down. There is a beach with deep caves cut into the granite and a coastal path that leads to hidden pools of crystal waters.
Polperro is definitely worth a day trip.
We didn’t explore Bodmin Moors on this trip, but we’ll be certain to head back there when we go again. After all, it does hold Jamaica Inn which is one of my favourite books.
During the summer months, ferries travel between the picturesque town of Mevagissey and Fowey. Mevagissey is another quaint, Cornish harbour town that is definitely worth a day out. Plus, you get a boat ride. And who doesn’t love a boat ride.
Fowey definitely made an impression and I have somewhat fallen in love with the Cornish coast. I’ll definitely be heading back soon so tell me, where in Cornwall should I go next?