Medieval and Georgian buildings populate a picturesque Cornish town on the mouth of the River Fowey. The sun is often shining down as tourists and locals alike mill around a hillside fishing village filled with small passages, meandering lanes, and ancient alleyways. Inhabited since time immemorial, Fowey is a must-see on any Cornish adventure. Pronounced ‘Foy,’ and filled with things to do, here’s your guide to the very best things to do in Fowey!
Introducing Fowey, the estuary town filled with history
Cornwall has been inhabited since time immemorial and Neolithic ritual and burial sites can still found in abundance today. The history of Fowey itself dates back to the beginning of the 14th-century when a local medieval priory granted a charter to the people living with Fowey itself. Nearby, manor houses have been attested to since the Domesday book of 1086.
During the time of Henry VIII, the strategic point of Fowey along the Cornish coastline meant that St Catherine’s Castle was built at nearby Readymoney Cove, with the purpose of defending the estuary. On the opposite side of the river, where Polruan now stands, a similarly fortified structure was built.
In more recent times, Daphne du Maurier is by far the most famous resident of the area. The iconic author lived at Menabilly, a little way out of the village in a house that can seldom be glimpsed through the wooded copse which surrounds it. Now, it’s possible to follow in the footsteps of Daphne du Maurier in Cornwall and beyond!
Things to do in Fowey
St Fimbarrus Church, dedicated to St Finbar
With the second highest bell tower in all of Cornwall, the dizzying heights of the belfry reach high above the small fishing cottages in the surrounding town. Dedicated to St Finbar, who allegedly passed through Fowey in the 6th-century, wander inside and you can expect to find an ornately carved rood screen, as well as stunning stained glass windows. The current church was constructed in the 1500s at the behest of the Earl of Warwick, as the previous church was destroyed by French marauders.
Place House, Fowey
Just behind the church, and visible from pretty much every vantage point in Fowey, Place House is a castle-like structure that dominates the town and countryside surrounding it. Owned by the Treffry family (whose name is of Cornish origin) since the 13th-century, their descendants still live in the palatial-like fortified mansion to this day.
When the French marauders invaded Fowey in 1457, they not only destroyed the church but also besieged many family homes in town, including that of Place House. Lady of the house at the time, Dame Elizabeth Treffry assembled a small group of men and fought back against the French.
One local legend tells of Dame Treffry and company stripping the roof of lead, melting it, and pouring it over the French marauders. Whether this is true or not, the house remains one of the very best historical parts of Fowey. Although the house is closed to the public, (it is a private house, after all), the mansion can still be viewed from various places across Fowey, most notably the river.
Readymoney Cove & Beach
A sandy and secluded cove overlooks the Henrician fortifications and the quaint fishing community of Polruan. For those wishing to partake in watersports activities, there’s also the opportunity to rent canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards from the Fowey River Hire.
To the edge of the slipway leading onto Readymoney beach, there’s also a small café serving local ice creams and traditional Cornish pasties (a local speciality), as well as some public conveniences. A nearby public carpark offers suitable parking space away from the centre of Fowey and dogs are allowed on the beach during the winter months.
St Catherine’s Castle
The hillside fort of St Catherine’s Castles dates all the way back to the time of Henry VIII and is perhaps the smallest fortification in Cornwall. It is also one of the best castles in the county and is well worth a visit, if only to enjoy the panoramic views offered by the windy precipice, and step into a piece of real-life history. Built in the 1530s, it’s free to enter and is normally open during daylight hours when the weather is clear.
Take the ferry to Polruan
For the very best views of Fowey, head to the fishing village of Polruan, which is on the other side of the bay. Polruan is accessible during daylight hours via the regular passenger ferry from Fowey. Once in Polruan, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you wander the ancient streets. There’s also a stunning cliffside garden in the form of Headland Garden. However, it is worth noting that this green oasis is only open on Thursdays and costs a small fee to visit!
In the very heart of town, the Fowey Museum brings to life the rich and vibrant Maritime history of the town. While Fowey may make a fair bit of its income today from the tourism trade, the town once made its money almost exclusively from the fishing one. Head to the Fowey Museum to explore the Daphne du Maurier collection, old photographs, and more…
Fowey Historic Old Town
Dating back centuries and filled with dozens of small eateries, pubs, and small boutique gift shops, one of the very best ways to truly explore the stunning town of Fowey is by foot. Wander around hidden alcoves, set foot in ancient coffee shops, and discover the very best things to do in Fowey by soaking up the atmosphere of this medieval fishing settlement. Just don’t forget to bring your camera and rainproof jacket- you’ll likely need both!
Du Maurier Literary Centre
Daphne du Maurier, the author of iconic novels such as Jamaica Inn and Rebecca, lived along this stretch of Cornish coastline for well over fifty years. Du Maurier loved the Southwest of England and regularly wrote novels set against the backdrop of stormy coastlines, rugged moorland, and small fishing communities. Nearby, on Bodmin Moor, it’s possible to visit ‘the Jamaica Inn‘ which inspired her story of the same name.
Where to stay in Fowey
With so much history and a prominent place along the Cornish coastline, it’s not surprising that many people choose Fowey as their base from which to explore the wider region. Here’s your guide to the best places to stay in Fowey (based on web reviews and location!)
Fowey Harbour Hotel: If you’re looking for a taste of luxury while in Fowey, the four-star Harbour Hotel can be found close to the water. Highlights of this 19th-century establishment include afternoon tea and waterfront rooms. Check prices and availability here.
The Old Quay House: Well-reviewed, this four-star accommodation was constructed during the Victorian era and overlooks the River Fowey. Close to all of the attractions, amenities include breakfast and a restaurant on-site. Check prices and availability here.
Fowey Hall Hotel: High up above the town, Fowey Hall Hotel offers splendid views of the rest of Fowey and beyond. Home to a swimming pool and offering food facilities on site, this accommodation caters for all ages. Check prices and availability here.
Nearby Attractions close to Fowey
Walk along the Saints Way
Signed by Celtic Cross markers, this 27-mile stretch takes hikers from Padstow in the North of Cornwall, and all the way down to Fowey in the South. If you choose to follow the ancient route, the walk will take around two days to complete and offers various slices of Cornish life as you traverse through the county.
The Saints Way is so called because it follows the route of historic Christian pilgrims who likely followed the route on their way to the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain or to Brittany in Northern France en route from Wales or Ireland.
Explore the Polperro Heritage Coast
An area of outstanding natural beauty, Fowey is located in the very heart of the Polperro Heritage Coast. As such, the fishing community is set in some stunning countryside and if you have a car, you could easily spend an afternoon meandering your way down the coastline, stopping every so often to view a castle, a beach Daphne du Maurier bathed at, or enjoy some British pub grub in a local inn. The town of Polperro itself is also well worth a wander around and is filled with centuries-old fishing villages.
Admire Restormel Castle
A fine example of a 13th century Norman Castle, today the remains of the fortifications are owned and managed by English Heritage. It’s possible to visit the ruins for a small fee and the surrounding countryside is filled with local wildlife and oodles of flowers.
This 15th-century traditional fishing village remains picture perfect and is best explored on foot. Mevagissey is the kind of place that wouldn’t look out of place on a vintage film and is well worth a visit. Highlights of this historic Cornish settlement include Caerhays Castle, a town museum, and a chance to sample some British fish and chips straight from the sea!
Wander around the Lost Gardens of Heligan
An oasis of green, the botanical gardens near Mevagissey are one of the best British cultivations in the UK. A world-renowned parkland, the gardens are filled with fruits, shrubs, flowering plants and more! In the wintertime, there’s the chance to enjoy the gardens lit up by a thousand twinkling fairy lights.