The Best of the English Seaside
Hours can be wiled away wandering the streets of charming Fowey and the comfortable Waterfront Apartment above Haveners pub is a comfortable quayside base
Review by Lara Protheroe
As we entered the steep and narrow streets leading down into the heart of Fowey I got butterflies as it became abundantly clear that we were entering a true gem of a seaside town; I was filled with childlike excitement at the prospect of a week of summer fun. We passed all manner of intriguing little shops and cafes before rounding the last corner past the aquarium, arriving at the quayside and our home for the coming week.
Built right on the quayside, Haveners pub occupies Fowey’s prime location, with views in both directions along the estuary and across to Polruan, and easy access to the Esplanade in one direction and the main thoroughfare in the other.
There are several rooms above the pub, but we were to stay in the two-bedroom Waterfront Apartment. The apartment occupies the first floor above the estuary-facing wing of Haveners, thereby benefitting from those same fine views but slightly elevated, plus of course the view down over the hustle and bustle of the quayside itself.
You access the apartment via a spacious private roof terrace and step straight into the Grade-II listed three hundred-year-old beam-vaulted dining room, with exposed brickwork and ancient wooden support system. The dining room and sitting room are both adjacent to the terrace. In the heart of the apartment is the kitchen, which although not beautifully fitted out will serve you perfectly well.
The bathroom is large, slightly unimaginatively laid out and again not exactly elegant, but it is more than adequate for the morning and post-beach ablutions. The two comfortable bedrooms at the rear of the apartment overlook the quaint town square and quayside below.
The apartment really does have a lovely sense of being out on the water’s edge, with the expanse of the estuary visible from every single room, and the terrace looking across to Polruan and out to sea. The decor is simple and neutral with some nautical touches. The fixtures and fittings are not quite in keeping with the grandeur of this 300-year-old building nor indeed the incredible quayside location, but if you are after a perfect waterfront base camp at the heart of an enchanting Cornish town then you would struggle to find better.
I’d not visited Fowey before and didn’t know this part of the Cornish coast at all. The Fowey Estuary is the deepest port between Falmouth and Plymouth, and there is constant access to the sea from the lower estuary at all states of the tide. Consequently, this stretch of water is constantly active with a huge variety of vessels, from small pleasure boats through mid-size sailing boats right on to naval ships and industrial vessels shipping China Clay from the freight dock up the estuary from the town.
The Haveners itself belongs to the local St Austell Brewery, which has an estate of around 40 pubs. It is a wonderful (and wonderfully convenient) spot for a drink or lunch and we enjoyed an early supper one evening with our toddler who delighted in his burger, nevertheless requiring near-constant dissuasion from sharing it with the manifestly jealous sea gulls. The staff are friendly and welcoming, and deputy manager Andy couldn’t have been more assiduous in his care of us both at the pub and when it came to our needs within the apartment.
Hours can be happily whiled away on the narrow streets of Fowey town, dipping in and out of various pubs, bakeries and boutique shops. You won’t find yourself short of a decent cup of coffee, a top-notch pasty and all manner of other tempting baked goods and ice creams.
No trip to the seaside would be complete without fish and chips; and Fowey boasts a superb chippy, where welcoming staff fry up local catch and triple-cooked chips so good that we indulged, ahem, four times in the one week… As obvious grockles, our reception in local establishments was bemusingly (though predominantly amusingly) mixed, but in the chippy we knew we would be met with smiles, friendly conversation and local tourist tips – all of which turned out to be winners.
Readymoney Cove (an early tip), along the esplanade at the west end of Fowey, is home to a delightful little beach overlooked from on high on one side by St Catherine’s Castle – an easy climb up from the beach and a great vantage point for spectacular views – and on the other side by a grand and handsome manor house perched on the opposite clifftop. The beach is small but lovely, expansive at low tide and miniature when the sea comes in. There is a lovely little cafe right on the beach with a very friendly welcome, great coffee and ice cream. One evening our little boy spent two solid hours throwing pebbles non-stop into the sea with determination and pride before finally becoming distracted by seagulls that required urgent chasing in the dwindling evening light.
At the east end of town, the Bodinnick Car Ferry hops you swiftly over the river and drops you right next to Daphne Du Maurier’s beautiful white and blue home right on the water’s edge. We took the car over a few times to explore some of the more isolated beaches over in that direction, along with the well-documented delights of Polperro.
There is a regular passenger ferry service shuttling back and forth throughout the day between Fowey and Polruan, on the opposite side of the estuary. The ferry lands you right in the heart of this ancient fishing village, with its strong boat-building heritage. Polruan clings to the hillside, and as soon as you depart the harbour area you are confronted with a steep climb up through the maze of narrow alleys and steps that meander between cottages. It has a peaceful and old-fashioned feeling – with a more residential feel than Fowey, despite the constant small stream of tourist arrivals and departures by way of the ferry.
A short drive west from Fowey to Charlestown and you can take in this wonderfully picturesque harbour, now of Poldark fame. We had a truly superb lunch at The Pier House (another St Austell Brewery property), situated right on the Georgian harbour. The restaurant faces the sea and has a large terrace for alfresco dining – beautiful when the sun is shining.
The menu left us truly spoiled for choice, but our ultimate selections did not disappoint. I had a classic prawn cocktail as a starter; so generous that it could almost have passed as a main, and so fresh and tasty I wouldn’t have minded if it had; while the husband had a duck salad that he said he could eat every day for the rest of his life. My (actual) main was a huge seafood medley of mussels, king prawns, scallops, cod, garlic & coriander prawns, turmeric rice. It was mouth-wateringly tasty – perfectly cooked and seasoned – and it was only the medical advice of my other half (far better fresh, he claimed) that prevented me from requesting a doggy bag for the leftovers that it seemed tragic to abandon.
The Eden Project is a mere six miles away from Fowey and is well worth a visit, and it’s a short hop from there on to St. Austell, where you can arrange a tour of the eponymous Brewery. This was experience we all thoroughly enjoyed, especially the husband: a long-time fan of Proper Job and Tribute ales, he was agog at the sight of the keg line and like a kid in a candy shop during the beer tasting that comprised no fewer than eleven St. Austell ales, most of which he had never even heard of let alone sampled.
Our final night in Fowey, we enjoyed a princely BBQ on the terrace (accompanied of course by triple-cooked chips from the nearby chippy); we watched the local Morris men strutting their stuff in the town square outside our bedroom windows in view of the customary promenade of locals and tourists, before returning to the terrace to take in enchanting view of the estuary and Polruan beyond, its higgledy-piggledy hillside dwellings bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. This is the best of English seaside and Cornish scenery all rolled in with back country quaintness, quirkiness and charm. What a place.
Enquiries: Haverners Bar & Grill, Town Quay, Fowey, PL23 1AT / 01726 834591 / www.havenersfowey.co.uk/