Is it possible to fall in love through the pages of a book? It certainly was for Major Tommy Browning who, after reading Daphne du Maurier’s first novel The Loving Spirit, sailed straight to Fowey where the story was set, to track down its author. The two fell in love – not just with each other but with Fowey as a place, which remained a constant source of inspiration for du Maurier right up to her death; some would say she loved Fowey as fiercely as family. As she wrote in her diary, ‘All I want is to be at Fowey. Nothing and no one else. This, now, is my life.’
Fowey has lost none of its charm since du Maurier met her husband all those years ago. The inlets and coves that line the river mouth are peppered with colourful Victorian terraces; canoes and sailing boats head out to sea and children dangle crab nets over the jetties. Time does seem to pause rather delightfully here – or go round in circles like the tide. You holiday in Fowey in much the same way as all the generations that have flocked here before you did – by messing about on boats and digging in the sand.
Indeed, Du Maurier wasn’t the only author who adored it. Kenneth Graham, who wrote The Wind in the Willows, was said to have based Toad Hall on his frequent visits to Fowey Hall – the sprawling Victorian mansion that sits high on the headland and boasts the best views in town. Rather fittingly, it now plays host to a family-friendly hotel.
With picturesque gardens and enviable views across the water to Polruan, the house does feel like something out of a storybook. I could have easily wiled away the entire summer on the terraced lawn outside my room, with a Cornish cocktail in hand (Gin, Prosecco and Elderflower since you’re asking), composing a story or two of my own, while the children ran riot on the zip wire in the gardens.
It’s rare to find a base like Fowey Hall where you can get as mucky as you like on the beach or out on the water and then retreat, with sandy feet, to a slice of luxury. A top-notch spa boasts a pool and hot tub that looks out over the coast. Kids are entertained by staff in the on-site ‘Den’ and cinema room, not to mention the swings hidden away in the gardens. At bedtime you can raid the children’s library for a story (the shelves are regularly restocked by the independent bookshop in Fowey) before taking full advantage of the baby listening service to enjoy dinner and drinks on the terrace. Never mind the children – it’s a grown-up’s idea of heaven.
What to see
Forget the old favourites Padstow and Polzeath – Fowey has bucket loads of Cornish chic with fewer crowds. Make your way down to the hidden gate at the end of the Fowey Hall grounds and you can meander through the narrow streets filled with independent shops, bakeries and ice cream parlours and be at the water’s edge in ten minutes. The little orange ferry that takes you over to the charmingly rugged fishing village of Polruan is the perfect introduction to the water. But you can also hire canoes, motorboats and paddle boards readily from the waterfront. Beginners can paddle about in the shelter of the river mouth whilst the more adventurous can roam out to sea. The spectacularly Grecian Lantic Bay lies just to the east, along with postcard-perfect Polperro – both worth a visit.
Readymoney cove beach on the Southern-most side of Fowey is a sandy inlet just a short walk from Fowey Hall, perfect for a morning dip or a spot of rock pooling. Warm yourself afterwards with a hot chocolate from the beach café, piled high with cream and toppings of your choosing. Eagle-eyed visitors will spot Point Nepture – Dawn French’s house – perched on top of the cliff overlooking the cove and Daphne Du Maurier’s old cottage – Readymoney cottage just behind it.
The joy of Fowey is that all the ingredients of an idyllic family holiday are on your doorstep; there’s very little need to hop in the car. As the water rat remarks to the mole in The Wind of the Willows, ‘Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’