Fowey to Polridmouth

Fowey to Polridmouth

A figure-of-eight walk from Readymoney Cove past the Tudor fort and along the coast where Daphne Du Maurier lived to Polridmouth where the shipwreck inspired the end of her book Rebecca, and then along the mediaeval streets of Fowey.

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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.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 4.7 miles/7.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)


  • 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


  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 downhill, 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 junction of paths by a wooden fence.

    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 has been found in settlements dating as far back as the neolithic period which given its springtime abundance and aroma is not that surprising. Its culinary use was eventually overtaken by domesticated garlic which first arrived with Mediterranean traders and had the advantage that the bulbs could be stored for relatively long periods.

    The growing conditions for trees varies from year to year (e.g. there might be a drought one summer). The "bad years" and "good years" are reflected in the widths of the rings. The pattern of good and bad summers is the same (more-or-less, depending of the location) for every tree so this forms a calendar - the known sequence of wide and narrow rings can be used to assign an exact year to each ring. This can also be done with dead and even fossil trees both to date them and get an idea of what the climate was doing at the time.

  5. At the junction, bear left to reach a signpost 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 junction of paths with a gate to the left.

    English Heritage began in 1983 as a government department responsible for the national system of heritage protection and managing 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 junction, turn left and go through the gate. Then keep left to follow the path along the coast. Continue all the way across the field to reach a gate, just after the path enters the bushes.

    In 1902 land on St Catherine's Point was leased for 100 years from the Rashleigh Estate to build a lighthouse and it was completed in 1905. Shipping fees were increased by a farthing to cover the cost. It was originally powered by gas and was converted to electricity after the Second World War. In 2002, the lease was due to run out so the Fowey Harbour Commissioners purchased the land (permanently this time) from the Rashleigh Estate.

  8. Go through the gate 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 Michaelstow 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 gully.

    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. Enter the field 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 path departing between two hedges.

    Due to blackthorn wood's toughness, it was used to make tool handles, walking sticks and as a traditional Celtic weapon for clubbing people to death! It is still regarded as the ultimate wood for making walking sticks. Once cut and trimmed, the wood needs to be dried for at least a year (often several) which allows moisture to escape and the wood to shrink and harden.

  16. Go through the gate and follow the path until it emerges at a junction of tracks and lanes.

    Alexanders is a member of the carrot family and grows along roadsides in places similar to cow parsley. The leaves are more solid than the lacy cow parsley leaves and the flowers are yellow rather than white. The name arises because the plant was introduced to the UK by the Romans and was known as the "pot herb of Alexandria". It is also sometimes known as horse parsley.

    The collared dove is a fairly easy member of the pigeon family to recognise. The clue is in the name: they are pale with a thin black ring at the back of their neck.

    Before 1930, there were no collared doves in Western Europe and the most easterly part of their range was Turkey and The Balkans. Within just 20 years they colonised most of continental Western Europe and in 1955 they bred for the first time in Britain. They have since become one of the top 10 most common birds in British surveys.

    Their rapid spread seems to be down to both their ability to make epic journeys of over 400 miles and their ability to breed all year round if the weather is mild. They will even start building a new nest whilst there are still chicks in the current one, and take breaks to from incubating eggs in the new nest to nip back to the old nest to feed the recently fledged young. They feed on seeds and grain so arable farming has provided a supply of food.

  17. Take the track on the right (but not far right), indicated by the B&B sign and 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 premediaeval 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.

    Cornwall has at least 8 different words for "valley".

    • nans - valley
    • golans - small valley
    • haunans - deep valley with steep sides
    • keynans - ravine
    • glyn - large deep valley
    • deveren - river valley
    • tenow - valley floor
    • coom - valley of a tributary or small stream (from Old English)
  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.

    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.

  20. Go through the rightmost of the two gateways. Then turn left and follow the left hedge to an iron kissing gate.

    Golf developed in The Netherlands during the Middle Ages and was introduced into Scotland towards the end of this period where it evolved to its present form. The word golf is thought to be a Scots alteration of Dutch colf meaning "club". Golf is first documented in Scotland in a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, prohibiting the playing of the games of gowf and futball as these were a distraction from archery practice.

  21. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path downhill, keeping left at any forks, to emerge on a path at a waymark.

    Extracts from ivy were used in herbal remedies and still form the basis of some modern-day cough medicines. It is said to have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. A study for English Heritage also found that roadside ivy absorbed particulates from the atmosphere which may lead to its use in improving air quality.

  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 buttresses 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. For 15 years in the early 21st Century it was 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 and follow the lane 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 1780s. 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 Enjoy Fowey.

    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 Enjoy Fowey and take the last of the gates on the right into the churchyard. 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 and a curved flight to reach a cobbled path. Cross this and follow the tarmac path opposite up the steps and continue to reach a street. Turn right up the street and follow it uphill a few paces to a flight of steps on the left just past no 15, signposted Long Steps leading Harbour View. Turn left and climb the steps to reach Harbour View.
  33. At the top of the steps, turn right and head along 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".

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