Fowey to Polridmouth

The route follows St Catherine's Parade to Readymoney Cove and then joins the coast path to St Catherine's Castle. The walk continues along the rocky coast to Polridmouth via some small coves. Footpaths and tracks lead via Coombe Farm to join the Saint's Way to Readymoney Cove. The walk follows the final part of the pilgrims' journey to Fowey, along the waterfront to the mediaeval heart of the town. The return route is via the church, along some hidden alleys and the higher roads in Fowey with views over the rooftops and estuary.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.7 miles/7.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Readymoney car park
  • Parking: Readymoney car park. On entering Fowey, follow the signs to the Readymoney car park, which is after the main car park. Satnav: PL231DG
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Picturesque historic port town of Fowey
  • Sandy beaches at Polridmouth and Readymoney Cove
  • St Catherine's Castle at Readymoney Cove
  • Spectacular views over the Fowey Estuary

Directions

  1. Follow the Readymoney Beach sign from the bottom-left of the car park to emerge on a wider path. Turn left onto the path and follow it down the valley until it ends on a lane.

    St. Catherine's Parade was originally created in the mid 19th Century as a private carriageway from the main road to Neptune House, overlooking Readymoney Cove. A photo from 1908 shows a majestic, neatly maintained track with a footpath running alongside which a guidebook of 1892 describes "the use of which Mr Rashleigh and his lady have generously and opportunely presented to the respectable inhabitants of Fowey of all classes". In 1949, the carriageway was leased to the council by the Hanson Estate for 50 years as a public walk. In 1970, it was donated permanently as a public footpath by the Hanson family in memory of their ancestors; there are granite dedication stones at either end. Sadly, the Council was not clear if the verges had been donated as well as the footpath, and the confusion over ownership led to them becoming overgrown and swallowing the carriageway. Fowey Town Council have worked hard to sort the situation out and the state of the path is now being steadily improved.

  2. Turn right onto the lane and follow it past a Saints Way signpost and around the back of the cove to reach another footpath signpost by the overhanging cottage.

    The limekiln at Readymoney Cove was built in 1819 which was able to produce a more potent fertiliser than the beach sand which had been formerly used for raising the pH of the acidic local soils. After Point Neptune was sold in 1935, the limekiln was converted into a store room with a garden on top which includes ornamental turrets. A public shelter and toilets have also subsequently been added.

  3. Follow the path signposted as the Coast Path past the cottages and up the valley until you reach a waymark by a wooden fence at a junction of paths.

    The cottage set back behind the beach is Readymoney Cottage.

    In the late 1930s, the stables and carriage house of Point Neptune were converted into Point Neptune Cottage, now generally known as Readymoney Cottage, and made available for rent. Daphne Du Maurier moved to Readymoney Cottage in Fowey in April 1942. Whilst she was living there, she wrote Hungry Hill, based on the stories of her wartime lover Christopher Puxley who used to stay in a hotel in Fowey to spend time with her. In 1943, her husband was hurt in a glider crash and Du Maurier brought him to Readymoney to nurse him. But after he rejoined his colleagues in north Africa, it is said that she grew tired of life in the cottage and moved to Menabilly in September 1943.

  4. At the junction by the fence, turn left and follow the path towards the headland until the path splits.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.

  5. At the junction, bear left, as indicated by a sign on a slate for Gribbin, to reach a sign for St Catherine's Castle.

    St Catherine's Castle is named after the headland (St Catherine's Point) and was initially constructed in Tudor times as part of Henry VIII's south coast defences. It was maintained during the Tudor period and manned by Royalists during the early part of the English Civil war. By 1684 it was described as ruinous, although it was used during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1855 it was refurbished and two 64-pounder guns were mounted below the blockhouse but it was abandoned again by the end of the 19th Century. During WW2, concrete defences were added (most of which have since been removed) and two naval guns were installed; the gun emplacements below the castle are the remains of these, adapted from the Victorian cannon emplacements.

  6. At the St Catherine's Castle sign, keep right, ignoring any paths to the left, to reach a fork in the path where a path to the right leads uphill to a shelter. Take the middle path ahead (ignoring the upper path to the shelter, and a lower path) and follow it to a waymark.

    English Heritage began in 1983 as part of the government responsible for that ran the national system of heritage protection and managed a range of historic properties. In 1999 it was merged with the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and the National Monuments Record. In 2015 a charity was formed called English Heritage Trust which was split off from the government to manage the National Heritage Collection (which is still owned by the state). The "English Heritage" name is now associated with this charity. The remaining government body is known as Historic England and is responsible for the statutory and protection functions that were part of the old organisation.

  7. At the waymark, turn left, go through the gate and keep left to follow the path along the coast. Continue all the way across the field to reach a stile, just after the path enters the bushes.

    The two fields alongside the valley of Coombe containing benches are known as Allday's Fields. This was previously a golf course, hence some of the lumps and a number of the benches are located on former tees. The course stretched down into the valley of Coombe where two of the greens were located. The Fowey Golf Club was founded in 1907 and the 9 hole cliff-top course was played until WW2 when the land was requisitioned. An attempt was made to resurrect the course and the club after the war but it only lasted a few years. The land was eventually bought by a wealthy businessman (James Allday) who gave the fields to the town in 1951.

  8. Cross the stile and follow the path down the steps to reach a waymark at the back of the cove.

    During the late mediaeval period, piracy became a big problem and so merchant fleets began to include some heavily armed ships who were licensed to attack any pirate ships. This evolved into "privateering", where shipowners could obtain Letters of Marque from the Crown which allowed them to attack enemy shipping in a certain area and sell the cargo for profit. It was essentially legalised piracy but allowed the Crown to bolster its navy very cheaply. Partly due to the rapidly shifting allegiances of mediaeval wars and partly due to over-enthusiasm, some privateers were accused of piracy, i.e. attacking shipping without a licence.

  9. Continue ahead at the waymark to reach a stone stile. Climb the stile and follow the path up the side of the valley to a pedestrian gate.

    Some of the most notorious privateers, and allegedly pirates, in Fowey were the family known as either Michaelstow or Mixstow. The first record of the family is in 1357 when Richard de Michelstow hired his ship to the Black Prince for £20. The family gained their notoriety in the 14th and 15th Centuries when privateering was a major part of the port's commerce. The settlement of Mixtow, just upriver from Bodinnick, is thought to have been their family home.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the path along the edge of the field to a gate before a gulley.

    Smuggling was also a major part of the economy from Tudor times until the 19th Century.

    In 1828, customs officers seized the Fowey sloop Lucy when they discovered that her sleek hull was not purely for hydrodynamic reasons. In a hidden compartment either side of a false keel, 100 small barrels were concealed below the waterline, each filled with spirits.

  11. Go through the gate and cross the gully to a gate on the other side. Go through the gate and follow the path along the edge of the field to reach a gate in the far hedge.

    In March 1937, the 3500 ton Kanteong, at the time the world's largest tin dredger, was on tow from the builders' yard in Holland to the Far East when she capsized in a storm off the Eddystone reef. She had to be abandoned, and drifted down the coast until she hit the rocks at Fowey, broke up and sank. At low tide, a huge iron gear wheel is visible above the surface of the water, and below the surface is the remains of the massive dredging arm, complete with buckets.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast to another gate in the far hedge.

    The headland in the distance with the stripy tower is Gribbin Head.

    The 84ft tall tower on Gribbin Head was erected by Trinity House in 1832 as a daylight navigation aid for shipping, enabling ships to distinguish Gribbin Head more easily from other headlands along Cornwall’s south coast. It is now owned by the National Trust and can be climbed on some Sundays during summer; a flag is flown to show when it is open.

  13. Go through the gate and follow the path down the steps until you reach a waymark at the bottom of the valley next to a Coombe Farm sign.

    Polridmouth is pronounced locally as "pridmuth". The cottage behind the beach is thought to be the inspiration for the boathouse in Daphne Du Maurier's novel "Rebecca". The ornamental lakes by the cottage were created in the 1920s by the building of a dam. It was used as the basis of a decoy airfield in the Second World War to emulate Fowey harbour. Dams additional to the one remaining were built to create a fake harbour and lights were then placed around the lake, orchestrated to emulate those in Fowey. At least one bomb is known to have been drawn away from Fowey, and on average, it has been estimated that around 5% of German bombs were diverted by decoys, saving thousands of lives across the whole of Britain.

  14. At the waymark, turn right as indicated for Coombe Farm and follow the path through a gate. Continue on the path until it ends at a field gate with a pedestrian gate alongside.

    On the rocks on the right-hand side of the beach are the remains of the Romanie.

    In January 1930, The Romanie was on her way back from Fowey to Par when she was caught in a sudden storm. The three masted iron sailing ship of just over 100ft in length was pushed into Polridmouth Bay where she lost power and she drifted helplessly onto the rocks. Her captain and crew managed to escape without loss of life but the ship was a write-off. The rusting remains can still be seen at low tide and when Daphne Du Maurier walked along the beach during the mid 20th century, the wreck inspired her to make the beach the setting for the murder of her character "Rebecca", and the wreck of her boat.

  15. Go through the pedestrian gate and follow along the right hedge, past one field gate, to a second field gate with a pedestrian gate alongside.
  16. Go through the gate and follow the track until it emerges at a junction of tracks and lanes.
  17. Take the second right down a track through a gate with a footpath signpost for Readymoney. Follow the track until it ends in a parking area.

    It has been suggested that Readymoney Cove was a very early pre-mediaeval trading place, which is consistent with the Saint's Way meeting the coast here. The name ‘Readymoney’ is thought to be from redeman meaning "stony ford"; red was an Old Cornish word for ford (as in Redruth) and men means stone. The "stony" part is often assumed to mean "pebbly" but could alternatively be a reference to exposed bedrock such as that seen on the path down to the cove which may have originally continued across the river crossing before the area was developed.

  18. Cross the parking area to a gravel path opposite and follow this to a gate.

    Blackthorn trees were planted as hedges to keep out cattle and they are still common in Cornish hedgerows today. In Celtic tree lore, blackthorn was associated with evil and in the Celtic language of Ogham was known as Straif. This is thought to be the origin of the English word "strife" and a bad winter is sometimes known as a Blackthorn Winter.

  19. Go through the pedestrian gate next to the gate and follow the path across the field to the two gateways in the left corner of the field.
  20. Go through the rightmost of the two gateways, marked with a waymark. Then turn left and follow the left hedge to an iron kissing gate.
  21. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path downhill, keeping left at any forks, to emerge on a path at a waymark.

    Both navelwort's latin name and common name are based on its resemblance to a belly button. Other common names include wall pennywort and penny pies. It is a member of the stonecrop family which are able to survive in barren locations by storing water in their fleshy leaves. The succulent leaves can be eaten and used in a salad. Older leaves become more bitter so the younger leaves are recommended. Care should be taken not to pull roots out of wall when breaking off leaves.

  22. At the waymark, turn right and follow the path to a waymark in front of a wooden fence at the junction of paths that you encountered earlier on the walk.

    The path that you are following down to Readymoney Cove is part of the Saint's Way.

    The Saints' Way runs for 30 miles from Padstow to Fowey, and follows one of the likely routes of early Christian travellers making their way from Wales and Ireland to the Continent during the Dark Ages. Rather than risk a premature martyring on the rocks around Land's End, they would disembark their ships on the North Devon and Cornish coast and cross the peninsula, on foot, to ports on the south coast such as Fowey. The Bush Inn at Morwenstow is thought to be one of the stopovers from the North Devon ports. The route from Padstow to Fowey was in use before the Dark Ages which is evident from Roman coins found along the route. However it is thought that it was likely to have been in use even earlier still, in the Iron Age.

  23. When you reach the fence, turn left and follow the path to the lane at Readymoney Cove.

    At the end of the 18th century, record catches of pilchards were made in Cornwall. In 1792, one of the largest pilchard cellars in Cornwall, known as St Catherine’s Cellars, was constructed at Readymoney Cove on the site of a former gun emplacement by Philip Rashleigh. In one year alone, 60,000 hogshead barrels, each containing up to 3000 pilchards caught in St Austell Bay, were exported from Fowey.

  24. Follow the lane behind the beach and up the hill. Continue until the lane ends in a T-junction.

    Point Neptune, the house with the high walls and large gates on road to Readymoney Cove, was originally built in the mid 19th Century on the site of an old Napoleonic gun battery. The granite butresses rising from the sea are the remains of this. It was remodelled by William Rashleigh of Menabilly in 1864 to create a 40 room house. It is now the home of actress Dawn French, which are two words that would have caused considerable excitement to the occupants of the original gun battery.

  25. At the junction, keep right and follow the lane ahead with the no entry signs until you reach another junction.

    During the 6th century AD, an enclosed settlement was established at Fowey by a small religious community containing a small church and dwellings. Fowey developed its fishing and sea trading industries during the Middle Ages and by 1260, was the most important port in Cornwall, taking over from Lostwithiel when the river silted up as a result of streaming for tin in the river valleys. Fowey was a busy port even during the 20th Century with china clay taking over from the ore exports after the tin and copper prices collapsed in the late 19th century, and china clay exports continue although on a smaller scale than previously.

  26. Again bear right at the junction, along the lane signposted Tourist Information and follow this until it ends at a T-junction opposite a postbox.

    The location of Fowey close to the mouth of the estuary made it vulnerable to attack by sea. The town was destroyed by fire during invasions by French, Spanish and other pirate ships in 1330, 1380 and 1457. Following the 1380 raid, blockhouses were built on either side of the estuary mouth. A chain spanned between them that could be raised to close the channel in times of need. The chain was later confiscated by the King after boats from Fowey and Polruan were convicted of Piracy.

  27. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane to the Ship Inn.

    The Ship Inn is the oldest surviving pub in Fowey, dating back to Tudor times. It was built by the Rashleigh Family in 1570 and some of the 16th Century interiors are still present. It was once linked by a first-floor bridge above the road to 1 Lostwithiel Street and this formed the tollgate to the town.

  28. At the Ship Inn, turn right and follow the road past the museum and aquarium to the Town Quay.

    The King of Prussia Inn, on the town quay in Fowey, is thought to have been converted from a 17th Century merchant's house or market building which was only 2 storeys high. The Inn is named after the smuggler and privateer John Carter, nicknamed "The King of Prussia", who is said to have resided at the Inn in the 1780's. It was demolished and rebuilt as a 3 storey building in 1886, but retains the original 17th century granite columns which form the undercroft area.

  29. Turn left between the Working Men's Institute and King of Prussia and follow the lane a short distance to a junction, then turn right down Fore Street towards The Lugger. Follow Fore Street to the bend at the end, and bear left up Customs House hill to another bend with a public footpath sign on the left, outside Upalong Cottage.

    The Lugger was a type of sailing boat widely used for fishing until the 20th Century, and was the principal vessel of the Cornish fishing industry. The type of sails it used were known as "lugsails", and were positioned asymmetrically with respect to the mast so more of the sail was behind than in front of the mast. The origin of the name is uncertain, but one suggestion is that it might be from "ear-shaped-sail", which a French name for the class of boats ("aurique") also points to.

    In the early 20th Century, small petrol-paraffin engines became available which allowed the boats to enter a harbour more easily. At this point, the boats also began to last longer because oil spills from the engine soaked into the timber, both preventing rot and also killing off woodworm and woodlice that, formerly, had gradually devoured wooden vessels. Some of the vessels from this period have survived, converted to pleasure craft.

  30. Turn left up the steps of Bull Hill and keep right along the path to emerge next to the Tourist Information Centre.

    The design of the Cornish Lugger was honed into a high-speed vessel for use in smuggling. The largest were up to 75 feet long with three masts of stepped height, allowing a large area of sail to be set. The fastest could average twelve knots between Cornwall and Roscoff, which is fast sailing even by modern standards. The decks were often lined with a dozen or more cannons and another dozen anti-personnel swivel guns loaded with shrapnel-like grapeshot.

  31. Pass the Tourist Information Centre and take the second of the gates on the right into the churchyard (the first just goes to the memorial). Follow the path beneath the arch to a flight of steps.

    From the surviving place name of Langorthou, it is thought likely that the church is on or close to the 6th Century Celtic enclosure, and the church is dedicated to Saint Finbarr - a 6th Century Irish bishop. The current building was originally built in the early 14th century, replacing a previous Norman church on the site. The church was damaged when Fowey was ransacked by the French in 1457, and repaired in 1460 by the Earl of Warwick. It is thought that the aisles and the clerestory may be additions from the 15th century when the carved wagon roof was added. The four stage tower was added a little later, in the 16th century.

  32. Climb the steps on the other side of the church door, cross the path and climb the steps opposite to reach a street. Turn right up the street and follow it uphill to a flight of steps on the left just past no 15. Turn left and climb the steps to reach Harbour View.
  33. At the top of the steps, turn right and head down the narrow path beside no 14. At the end of the path, bear left up the steep slope to reach a lane.

    At the top of the steps, to the right of the path is a nice view over Place House and the church.

    Place House was built around 1260 by the Priory as their headquarters within Fowey and soon after became the ancestral seat of the Treffry family. Sir John Treffry fought under the Black Prince at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, and captured the Royal Banner of France. In 1457, French marauders besieged the house, but met with Dame Elizabeth Treffry who gathered men together and poured melted lead, stripped from the roof, upon the invaders. The house incorporated fortified elements designed to repel any attacks including what was described in Tudor times as "a right fair and strong embattled tower". The building still includes 15th and 16th century fabric but was largely rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries.

  34. Turn left onto the lane and follow it around a bend past no 14 to reach a junction on the right with a number of garages.
  35. Turn right at the junction, and keep right up the hill. Continue until the road ends at a T-junction at the top of the hill.

    As you approach the top of the hill, the large house opposite is Fowey Hall. Hanson Drive, the road that you meet, was once the private driveway to the house.

    Fowey Hall was originally built in 1892 as a country house for Charles Hanson, the first Baronet of Fowey who went on to become Sheriff and, later, Lord Mayor of London. Kenneth Grahame, author of Wind in the Willows, spent much time in Fowey and the building is thought to be part of the inspiration for Toad Hall. It later became a hotel, and still is. Residents have included the well-known Cornish author Daphne Du Maurier and it was the venue for the marriage of Dawn French to Mark Bignell.

  36. Turn left at the junction and follow the road, keeping right at Gallants Drive, back to the car park to complete the circular route.

    When "The Wind in the Willows" was completed by Kenneth Grahame in 1907, it was met with critical disdain and rejected by publishers both in the UK and US. Fortunately Grahame had a stroke of luck: two years after the book was completed, US president Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Grahame to tell him that he had "read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends". Roosevelt eventually persuaded US publisher Scribner to take it on. A.A. Milne was also a fan, stating: "The book is a test of character"... "The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly".

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa
  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is also useful.

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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