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(Original Text dated 1992)
About 35 miles west of Plymouth, but not quite as far as St Austell if you look on a map, you'll find the estuary of the River Fowey on the south coast of Cornwall. The town of Fowey is on the west side of the river with the villages of Bodinnick and Polruan on the east.
Unless you're a load of China Clay, the rail network will be useless to you, so you will arrive by car. The two main routes to Fowey both start at Exeter. Either take the A38 to Plymouth and on through Liskeard to the village of Dobwalls, then the A390 through Lostwithiel and then turn left for Fowey onto the B3269; or take the A30 from Exeter to Bodmin, then take the B3269 all the way.
I normally go down on the A38 because the Tamar Bridge is free going west, but come back on the A30 to avoid the eastbound toll.
The A30 is probably the best route in both directions, being dual carriageway all the way to Bodmin, but it's nice to have a change now and then, isn't it?
If you look closely at the map, you'll notice a car ferry across the river between Bodinnick and Fowey. It only takes 8 cars and the summer queues can be quite long, so I would NOT recommend it on your initial journey down.
Having arrived, the first important lesson is how not to upset the locals. In ancient times the town was called Foye, and the W is silent to this day. Pronounce it like boy or toy and you'll be all right, tell the shopkeeper how much you like it "here in FoWey" and you'll be in for an ear bashing!
Like many small Cornish towns, they don't exactly welcome cars. The best bet is the car park at the top of town and a walk down. The walk down is okay, it's the walk back up that cripples you as it's very steep!
The six foot six width limit means exactly what it says, so if you're no good in tight spaces, definitely don't drive down. It is possible to get down to the hotels etc., but be warned that although there are no yellow lines to make the streets look messy, the whole town is a no waiting at any time zone and the wardens are VERY hot on it. They give you about two minutes to throw your cases out of the boot into the hotel, and no more.
Having arrived, either for the day or to stay a while in a pub or hotel, the best bet is to walk around and get a feel of the layout. Most people end up on the Town Quay and, while you're there, the aquarium is worth a visit. It's not huge, but very good for a town of this size. Also while you're on the Quay you can pop into the King of Prussia for a drink. Don't have too many though, as the only exit is down a set of steep steps!
From the Town Quay you can walk north to the Albert Quay which has a yacht pontoon attached to it in the summer, and on north to Caffa Pill where the car ferry to Bodinnick leaves.
If you head south from the Town Quay you first come to Whitehouse Slip where the passenger ferry to Polruan will take you across the water for a wander round "the other side", known to the Fowey side of the river as "Little Russia". They don't get on you know!
If you go past Whitehouse Slip heading south, keep walking and you will come to the lovely Readymoney Cove beach. The name comes from the pirates of yesteryear and conjours up thoughts of being accosted by a bearded gentleman with a cutlass.
If you're really energetic, take the wooden steps off the beach and continue round to St Catherine's Point for a truly splendid view of the estuary, and possibly one of the clay ships going in or out.
The docks are up river, to the north of Caffa Pill. Wander up there if you wish, but don't expect to come across the most beautiful part of Cornwall! However, don't be put off, you wouldn't know from the town itself that the docks were there at all.
Probably the best quick view of the docks, if you really want one, is if you hire a self-drive motor boat from the Town Quay and include it in an hour exploring the rest of this beautiful river.
When the tides are right you can also go on an organised boat trip up the river as far as Golant or Lerryn. One of the trip boats is even a Victorian steam barge. You can also join trips which go out to sea, either for fishing or just to explore the coast as far as Polperro to the east or Mevagissy to the west.
If you want to stay in town, there are a variety of cafes and restaurants to suit all pockets. As you would expect in a town in this position, most of the eating places have a wide selection of fish to try. But if, like me, you're not a particularly fishy person, don't worry as there's a complete selection of menus including an American burger bar and an Italian restaurant in the short stretch between the Town and Albert Quays.
One word of warning though, most of the eating places close down for December, January and February.
Whether you're spiritually minded or not, the church of St Finbarrus, just behind the Town Quay is worth a visit. Apparently St Finbarrus, or just Finbar as he's known, was an Irish priest who ran out of money on his way to Rome and built the church in Fowey while he was waiting for funds and a ship to take him on the next stage of his journey. I won't spill the beans on the rest of the story, it's in the church so I'll leave you to have a read.
When you come out of the church, don't head back down to the Quay, but try a look round some of the even narrower lanes behind it. Just above the church is Place House which apparently has wonderful gardens. Trouble is, it's not open to the public so you have to be satisfied with trying to peek over the high walls.
You're now in the land where cars really ARE banned and most of the lanes are cobbled. This, in my opinion, is Fowey at it's best.
For the serious drinker, the town is full of pubs starting with The Safe Harbour at the top of town. That one's a good stop just before you get back to the car park, AND they do a good orange juice for the driver! If you're a member of an affiliated club, then you can use the British Legion on the Town Quay, which is a lot bigger and better than your average Legion.
If you want to walk, eat and drink, then I can definitely recommend Fowey. Being a small Cornish town, I can't say there's an awful lot to do other than walk, eat and drink, but it IS a beautiful place to do it.
Fowey is basically quiet and that's what gives it it's charm. It's one of those places you wonder if you ought to write about, in case too many people visit and make it too commercialised.
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