The Fowey Estuary starts at Lostwithiel where the medieval bridge marks the upper limit of tidal navigation. From here it is 11kms to the river mouth and the river and its shoreline are protected by Fowey Harbour Commissioners.
The estuary is known for its unspoilt beauty, it has a rich maritime history with many iconic buildings and landmarks, most of which have remained unchanged for decades.
Take time to explore the picturesque surroundings of the Fowey and its coastal villages by discovering some of the delightful local walks or explore the tranquil creeks and wildlife on a river cruise or a hire boat.
The entrance to Fowey Harbour is guarded by St. Catherine’s Castle. Built in 1542 it was constructed as part of Henry VIII’s chain of harbour defences, which ran along the English Channel coast. During the Second World War the fort became an observation post and detonation point for a controlled minefield, which was laid across the harbour entrance to protect from German invasion.
Today English Heritage manage the castle, admission is free and it is open all year round. It’s well worth a visit to enjoy the panoramic views of the harbour and out to sea.
Just below the Castle is Readymoney Cove, a popular beach for families with rockpools to explore, sandcastles to build and a beach café for an ice cream. The cove is an excellent, safe place for a swim as it’s buoyed off and no boats are allowed in during the summer period.
A pair of ancient blockhouses defended the harbour during medieval times. Positioned at Fowey and Polruan, the four storey towers were linked by a chain which could be raised across the Harbour in the event of an attack. Polruan blockhouse is still accessible but on the Fowey side you can just see the ruin.
Fowey, on the western side of the estuary is a picturesque town set amongst prominent historic buildings. These include Place House which stands above the Port and has been the home to the Treffry family since the 15th century, and St. Fimbarrus Church which is the parish church of Fowey and marks the end of the ‘Saints Way’, a signposted walk which links the Cornish coasts from Padstow to Fowey.
Fowey has a strong Celtic connection, maritime history and literary involvement with Daphne du Maurier, Rosamunde Pilcher and many more including the Poldark series.
Keep a look out for the ‘Rook with a Book’, a sculpture inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds’, it overlooks the Fowey river to Bodinnick and the house ‘Ferryside’ where du Maurier once lived.
The village of Polruan can be found on the eastern side of the Harbour. Shipbuilding and repair has been an important trade here since medieval times with Polruan’s shipwrights building ships for use in the early tin and wine trades, china clay ships in the mid-nineteenth century through to commercial fishing vessels in the modern day.
Upstream, the waterside village of Golant lies on the western side of the estuary. A railway line runs along the riverside embankment in front of the village. This rail link was opened in 1869 to transport china clay from the mines in St Austell to Fowey Docks, it is still used for this purpose to this day.
On the opposite shore lies the tranquil Penpol creek, the woodland surrounding it is a heron nesting site and is thought to be one of the largest heronries in Cornwall.
The river branches at St Winnow Point to Lerryn, the largest tributary of the Fowey. Dowr Leryon in Cornish, the Lerryn River means ‘river of floods’ which is quite appropriate as parts of the village can flood on a high spring tide. When the tide flows out, it reveals an enchanting series of stepping stones which cross the river.
Back on the main river Fowey and beyond the saltmarshes of Shirehall Moor, which is home to a diversity of birdlife, you will find Lostwithiel.
During the 12th and 13th Centuries, Lostwithiel was the administrative capital of Cornwall, seat of the Duke of Cornwall and a thriving stannary town. In the 14th Century, Lostwithiel was
the main port on the Fowey River, the water
was deep enough then to allow ships to travel upstream to load tin. But it was the act of tin streaming on the moor that eventually silted up the riverbed and Lostwithiel’s shipping trade was lost to Fowey. Today, Lostwithiel is a busy town, popular for its antiques and independent shops. A host of events are held in Parade Gardens with the beautiful back drop of the Fowey River.