Move to...the Fowey Estuary

Fowey, Cornwall. Photo: Gordon Bell/Shutterstock

Two harbour communities set on either side of this Cornish waterway offer the chance to live in either a smart town or a pretty village. By Lesley Gillilan.

The author Daphne du Maurier began her lifelong affair with Fowey – pronounced Foy – in the 1920s. In those days it was still a hard-working china clay port, but she fell in love with the romantic creeks, the salty fishing quays and the views of pretty Polruan village on the opposite side of the estuary.

Visitors are still drawn to these boaty little places, the sublime woodland setting and the National Trust coastline. Described as the St Ives of the south coast, Fowey is now one of the smartest, most celebrated harbour towns in Cornwall – with some of the region’s highest property prices – but, in essence, it hasn’t changed much.

The Fowey River that Derbyshire-born Deborah Boden, co-ordinator of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, fell in love with is cleaner, brighter and more touristy than in du Maurier’s day. Tankers still slide up-river to the port of Golant, past ferries, fishing boats and numerous pleasure craft. A foot ferry zips between Fowey and Polruan, the two river communities which stare at each other from terraces of coloured houses that tumble down to the water’s edge.

Deborah loves the bustle of Fowey, but put down roots in Polruan. ‘It’s my kind of place. It feels like a working Cornish village with a real sense of community,’ she says. ‘And though it’s as pretty as Fowey, it’s not quite as busy.’

Trips over to Fowey, with its streets of stylish shops, galleries, and boutique hotels, take her across the river on the Bodinnick car ferry. ‘What better way to go shopping,’ she says. Deborah enjoys the vibrancy of the river in the summer, but her favourite time is the dusky, misty afternoons in winter. ‘There’s always something to look at, and always something happening, even out of season.’

The choice, according to locals, is between ‘the money side’ (meaning pricier Fowey) or ‘the sunny side’ (Polruan gets the best of the evening sun). Fowey also has the shopping and the life; rows of grand Victorian houses extend along the Esplanade towards Readymoney Cove; tight-knit fishermen’s cottages and Georgian merchant houses huddle around Fore Street and the Town Quay. Prices range from £180,000 (a one-bedroom back-street apartment) up to £2 million (for a prime waterfront property). Polruan is smaller, quieter and, on average, around £40,000 cheaper. Both places offer a wide spectrum of character properties with fantastic views of the estuary.

Sailing, kayaking and messing about in boats is one of the best ways to enjoy this beautiful estuary, which offers two yacht clubs, two sail training centres and a calendar of races and harbour regattas. Walkers can take the South West Coast Path from Fowey’s Readymoney Cove to sandy Polkerris, or from Polruan to the National Trust’s Lantic Bay – among Cornwall’s finest beaches. Fowey’s busy Fore Street offers a wiggly line of galleries, shops, salty old pubs and chic restaurants – including Kittows Deli (, the Quay Bakery (, Sam’s Bistro (, The Ship Inn ( and Q’s waterside restaurant at The Old Quay House. Annual events include the literary Fowey Festival (in May) and a vibrant Christmas market (

Though Fowey is still a working port, with boatyards on both sides of the river, over half of its economy relies on tourism. Deborah Boden commutes to Truro (an hour each way) but most local workers stay within Fowey and the St Austell Bay area (St Austell, the centre of the china clay industry, is nine miles away). The 270-mile journey to London takes around five hours, either by road or by rail (Par station, on First Great Western’s Paddington to Penzance route, is four miles west of Fowey). The nearest airport is at Newquay (30 miles).

Fowey’s state-run Community College has had poor Ofsted reports (it was rated as ‘inadequate’ in 2013), though the school is improving under a new headship and has recently been granted Academy status.

Both areas suffer a lack of parking (a parking space in Fowey was recently for sale at £26,500) and some of the smaller, older properties have no direct vehicle access and little in the way of outside space. The nearest supermarkets are in St Austell, a 20-minute drive (from Polruan, add extra time to cross the estuary on the Bodinnick Ferry).

The semi-retired industrial docks at Par – founded in the 19th century to serve Cornwall’s thriving copper and china clay industries – are at the heart of a proposed regeneration scheme which might, if all goes to plan, include a luxury marina and a new, sustainable eco-town development. The reality may be a long way off, but present-day Par has a station, nearby beaches, and though it’s a short drive from Fowey, properties are half the price.

The Hall Walk, a four-mile circular route linking Polruan, Bodinnick and Fowey – via ‘sylvan woodlands’ and the foot ferry across the estuary. ‘The paths are mostly easy (with a few steep climbs here and there) and you can do it safely in winter because they are so sheltered. The views from Pont Pill are sublime.’

Deborah’s local, the Lugger Inn on the harbour at Polruan (01726 870007, ‘A traditional village pub, it’s had a recent revamp and offers an interesting new menu of reasonably priced dishes – all using local produce and seasonal ingredients. 

Fowey Fish on Fore Street (01726 832422,, for fish and seafood, fresh off the day boats into Looe harbour (or from Fowey’s own small band of fishermen). ‘It’s so nice to be able to buy really fresh, locally caught mackerel, plaice or red mullet – and they do very good wines, too, including Cornwall’s Camel Valley.’

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