Take your pick for a stroll in this heavenly corner
Everywhere there are choices, and this is never more the case than when you're in in a beautiful Westcountry location pondering where and how far to walk.
Fowey is a case in point, because it is richer in truly fabulous hikes than most coastal towns where the choice tends to simply be along the coast either one way, or the other.
Being located on the banks of an estuary – (or ria, or sunken river valley, to be geographically correct) – Fowey is also on a chunky peninsula. What this means is that the sharp coastal angles within range of the town provide plenty of opportunities for circular walks.
Cross the river and to the east and you have the famous Hall Walk which I will always insist goes into a Top 10 of best Classic Walks in the region – but the magical coastal zone to the south and west of Fowey offers wonderful walking country as well.
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And the area continues our theme of choice... You can either enjoy a delightful little hike – ideal for anyone who finds themselves with an hour or two to spare in Fowey – or you can do the truly classic three-hour amble which takes you right around the Menabilly peninsula made famous by Daphne Du Maurier in her novel Rebecca.
We set out from the car park which serves the Bodinnick Ferry in the valley at the north end of town, but those wishing to enjoy the walk without strolling through Fowey's narrow but charming streets could go straight to Readymoney Cove.
For this is the first place of note on both the longer or shorter hikes. Not that we actually go down to the beach on the way out of town, but turn right up a leafy lane just a few yards the other side of the tiny strand. We're on the trans-peninsula Saints' Way here, which meanders all the way north to Padstow.
It's a long-distance trail that plays a central role in a novella I wrote a decade ago about a mythical crime-solving photographer working for this newspaper – and is now an ebook called Cornish Snapper and the Pilgrims. I give it a shameless plug here because... Well, why not? The Saints' Way really is central to the ebook's plot.
Anyway, our track makes as gentle an ascent as it can up the steep contours of the valley to eventually reach a lane at a place marked on the map as Lawhyre, where we must now decide whether we're doing the long route or the short.
The former follows the Saints' Way by turning right along the lane, passing around Lankelly Farm, then plunging into deep countryside – crossing a valley to Trenant and then another to Tregaminion.
Here it meets the Menabilly Barton lane, where the walker must do a quick right, then left, down the track that leads to Polkerris, the sea, and the inevitable South West Coast Path. The longer walk follows the SWCP down the coast of the peninsula to Gribben Head and around to Polridmouth – pronounced Pridmouth.
Alas, when I found myself in Fowey recently it was with the usual time constraints that busy journalists suffer from – so I had to be content with a promise to self that I'd follow the longer route another time and belt around the shorter, but still hugely enjoyable, hour-long hike.
This meant I had to turn left at Lawhyre and walk down the lane towards Combe Farm. There's a National Trust car park here and we pass it, walking directly on down the lane which continues south as an unpaved track. Soon we find ourselves out in fields that slowly but surely begin to introduce us to views of the sea. The path does a few right-angle turns around the edge of fields and then, suddenly, we are treated to a view of the deep valley that terminates at the beautiful cove of Polridmouth.
Our track takes us directly down into this Cornish corner of heaven where a lake hovers elegantly above the shoreline looking all calm and serene compared to the tormented sea beyond. It's all part of the Menabilly Estate which has been in the ownership of the Rashleigh family for 400 years. The big house itself is north of this picturesque valley and will, as every reader will know, forever be associated with du Maurier's Manderley in Rebecca.
The place certainly has the brooding feel to it that anyone who has read the book will recognise. I first visited a dozen years ago when I started writing walks for the WMN, and shall never forget the atmosphere the place exuded in the silvery evening light.
The area has another Du Maurier claim to fame. It was the original setting for her short story called The Birds – later to be the subject of Alfred Hitchcock's famous thriller – though Hitch's studios insisted that the movie was set on the coast of northern California. I watched this film again the other night and enjoyed it hugely, save for the ending which is as limp as a bit of Polridmouth bladderwrack.
That first time I was here all those years ago, I turned west and walked up to the Daymark on the top of Gribben Head – which I strongly suggest you do even if you are on the shorter hike. Both walks, however, finish by climbing east out of Polridmouth and crossing along the top of Lankelly Cliff. There's half a mile of ups-and-downs past Southground Cliffs to eventually drop into the tiny cove at Coombe Hawne.
This lies directly under Coombe Farm and you get the impression that the whole set up would have made an ideal location for the smugglers of yore. And it was indeed a case of brandy galore. Or perhaps, many cases. Even as late as the mid-1800s they were bringing in large amounts of contraband here – no less than 400 gallons of the strong stuff were recovered by Fowey Customs in 1845.
Now the path begins its final stretch along the coast back to town and walkers are treated to tremendous views of the cliffs that stretch beyond Polruan, past Pencarrow Head to the headlands on the other side of Lantivet Bay. At last we reach the hill above St Catherine's Castle – built in 1542 by Thomas Treffry, who lived at Place – the massive house that dominates Fowey.
What remains of the castle now overlooks Readymoney Cove – a mercenary-sounding place you might think had something to do with smugglers bartering their wares for cash on the nail. The name actually comes from the old Cornish 'redeman' – thought to mean 'pebbly ford'.
Which is a shame really. There's nothing like a bit of swash-and-buckle and I always imagined Readymoney referred to some dark dealings. However, I guess Fowey already has enough history in its annals to fill a shelf full of adventure thrillers and romantic novels combined. Arthur Quiller-Couch and Daphne Du Maurier certainly thought so.