A Walking Weekend in Fabulous FoweyThe British coastline is not just about splashing in the waves, building rock towers and sand sculptures, eating fish and chips in the rain and crabbing. There is some spectacular walking to be experienced, and Fowey is the perfect place to base yourself for some easy South-West coast hiking with kids.
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A peaceful moment on Fowey Quay[/caption]
The town itself boasts spectacular scenery, great food and a good choice of activities. Join a boat trip or hire a boat (or paddleboard, kayak or canoe) in town and explore the Fowey Estuary on the water. Jump in the car to reach other popular attractions such as Lanydrock (National Trust), the Eden Project or the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Fowey is the starting place for a number of great walks which are relatively easy. Having said that, all of the walks include steep hills, some with rocky sections and steps, so they’re not buggy friendly. If you’ve got little ones, this is back-carrier territory. I’ve described the walks that we did but also given some suggestions of how you could adapt them for your family.
Britain’s South West Coast Path stretches from Minehead in Somerset to Poole harbour in Dorset, covering 630 miles.
MEDIUM Approx 4 miles, allow for 2h – 2h30min including the boat trips
Fowey Estuary Circular Walk (Fowey ‘Hall’ walk)
This 4-mile walk includes two ferry trips at the beginning and end. Who doesn’t love a walk which includes a boat trip? This walk is also the best way to see Fowey harbour, from above with Fowey itself mirrored by Polruan. Much of the footpath goes through National Trust land and it’s very well cared for. We were lucky to be there in early May when the bluebells were still in flower, so the woods looked and smelled amazing.
Starting the walk on the car ferry (£2 per adult, 80p per child) from Caffa Mill car park, climb the steep hill up through Bodinnick on the other side before finding the footpath sign to the right. Very quickly you’ll begin to see the views, and happily there are benches staggered at the best viewpoints. We really enjoyed being able to look back on Fowey, a place we love.
The footpath turns inland along steep-sided woodland, decorated with bluebells, following the line of Pont Pill, a creek off the Fowey River. Our dog was happy exploring off the lead as we weren’t in any fields with grazing animals. After about an hour or of walking so the path begins to descend a steep hill to cross the creek at Pont hamlet. Our dog was looking forward to a drink of fresh water and a splash-about, but a territorial swan scared him off. After crossing the creek you’re on the homeward stretch with most of the miles behind you. This is easy walking territory, staying high most of the time through woods and the occasional field. The footpath leads directly into Polruan harbour where the Polruan ferry plies its trade back and forth across the estuary to Fowey (£2.20 per adult, £1 per child, 80p per dog). Finish up with fish and chips on Fowey Quay if you’ve got your timing right! We left Fowey at 10:30 and our ferry arrived into Fowey at the end of the walk just before 12pm. Official guides suggest that this walk should take up to 2 and a half hours.
MEDIUM Approx 4 miles (just over 2 miles each way); suggested time 1h each way
Fowey to Gribbin Head, and back to Fowey
From Readymoney Cove at the edge of Fowey, the coast path rises up above St Catherine’s Castle before striking out towards Gribbin Head, a promontory with a very visible beacon, Gribbin Daymark, painted in bright red and white stripes. The walk skirts the coastline, taking you through woods and over fields. It drops down into Menabilly Beach before climbing to the striking beacon at the top of Gribbin Head. We suggest walking up to the tower first and enjoying the views before coming back down to relax and play on the beach.
Gribbin Daymark is open to visitors on Sundays between July and early September. The 26m tall tower was built in 1832 to mark the entrance to Fowey’s harbour.
Menabilly Beach in Polridmouth Cove is the first beach after Fowey’s own Readymoney Beach. Unlike Readymoney, Menabilly accepts dogs year-round. There are rocks to clamber on and rock pools to explore, and a little river running through the beach. There are no facilities here, or at the daymark above, so pack a picnic and enjoy the views.
It’s possible to make the walk between Gribbin Head and Fowey a 4-mile circular walk. Both the South West Coast Path website and the National Trust website have detailed instructions and maps and follow.
There’s a car park above Menabilly giving access to the beach at the Gribbin Daymark without having to complete the full walk from Fowey.
LONG (6.6miles, allow up to 5 hours to complete)
Fowey to Polkerris circular walk
For more of a challenge (due only to distance rather than terrain) try the Fowey – Polkerris – Fowey circular walk. This walk takes in the ancient Saints Way as well as the South West Coast Path. We chose to walk to Polkerris on the Saints Way, the shorter stretch of the walk, and then take our time coming back along the coast in the afternoon, allowing the boys to play at the beaches if they wanted to. Climbing out of Fowey above Readymoney Cove the well-marked path takes a right along Love Lane. In early May these woods were flush with wild garlic giving out their very heady scent.
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The Saints Way between Fowey and Polkerris travels through a variety of landscape, from woods, to fields, through villages and working farms. There are some, but not many, stretches of the path on the road. We reached Polkerris after about an hour and a half.
Play a game to pass the time
We played a variation on the memory game, ‘I went shopping and I bought…’ to pass the time. We added the challenge of choosing each new item in alphabetical order, and let the boys choose the setting. The soundtrack to our morning’s walk was therefore ‘I went on a walk in the woods with Bear Grylls and I brought…’ We brought everything from an amphibian to a pirate, our dog (Oakley) and a catapult. Making it alphabetical made it a little more difficult to think of items, but it did make it easier to remember them!
We could have packed a picnic but we knew that The Rashleigh Inn, in Polkerris harbour, serves great food. Once in Polkerris the kids explored the beach while we ordered some food and drink. We then refuelled with crab sandwiches, whitebait and nachos. There’s also Sams on the Beach (a branch of the popular and successful Sams restaurant in Fowey) as well as a beach shop and tea room.
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After a break in Polkerris hike back up the hill, then turn right towards the coast, joining the South West Coast Path. Very soon the narrow path sits on a cliff precariously high above the sea. Those views though! I wasn’t too nervous of our boys walking on this path as, for the most part, it was a relatively safe distance from the edge. I did put the dog on the lead for some of the narrower sections to keep him close.
Unlike our morning walk, when all members of the family were full of energy, we had to stop for a few more leg-rest breaks. Our 6yo’s legs were getting tired (or he was getting bored). The after-lunch stretch was longer than the way to Polkerris, so we weren’t surprised to hear a little complaining. We were armed with our usual pack of chewy sweets, so handed those out every so often. Gribbin Daymark was the favourite stopping place. I couldn’t get enough of that red paint!
Below the lighthouse we explored Menabilly Beach for a little while, allowing the dog some free-running time and a quick swim in the sea. The kids clambered on the rocks and delved into the rock pools excitedly spotting little fish, urchins and scuttling crabs.
Back in Fowey our fitness watches registered that we’d walked 14km which is just over 8 and a half miles. All that off the path exploring and walking on the beaches added to the official distance. Allowing the boys their moments of freedom off the path is crucial to keeping everyone in a good mood and happy to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get home.
- Anyone who spends anytime in the outdoors knows that layers are key. We were walking on a day where the temperatures were in their mid-to-high teens. The boys wore shorts and t-shirts with light fleeces on top. We were confident that it wasn’t going to rain so we didn’t carry our waterproofs (but most days I’d usually suggest having a waterproof for added wind protection as well as protection against the rain).
- They both wore walking boots with walking socks which they find extremely comfortable. The coast path was almost entirely dry when we were there, but the inland route had some soggier sections. Due to the nature of the hills (rocky, steep and uneven steps) I’d suggest walking boots or walking shoes rather than trainers, giving feet and ankles a little extra support.
- Bring plenty of water and little snacks. We knew that we’d be having a decent lunch, but packed a couple of cereal bars anyway, just in case. As reward or incentive we usually have a pack of chewy sweets which we ration out at key moments.
- For the Fowey estuary walk bring cash for the ferries.
- Consider packing light items for the beach, such as a towel. If the weather had been warmer it would have been hard to convince the boys not to spend time in the water.