Loving Fowey

BBC says scuddering clouds and mostly sunny.

I decided that yesterdays walk was way too short so this morning I rose at 6am and was out and up the Saint’s Way by 7. The Saint’s Way is a long distance footpath which stretches from Padstow on the north coast to Fowey in the south. It runs directly outside the house we’re staying at. I wanted to get to Helman Tor, about a four mile walk. Which is why I left at 7am.

The first stretch is up the side of the valley towards the main road. A very sunken lane with a lot of erosion, leaving a deep gully in the middle of the track which makes walking a bit awkward at times. The lane ends in a farm yard full of dairy cows, mud and manure. It’s times like this that I wish my boots didn’t have holes in them.

Pilgrims cross on Saint's Way, Cornwall

The worst stretch was a stroll along the A390. As usual with these things, there is no footpath and you are dodging speeding cars – not very nice at all! It was for about a third of a mile and then it was a turn into an equally busy road. At this junction was the first medieval cross. These crosses are marked on the OS map, generally, and indicate spots where the pilgrims would stop and do whatever pilgrims do. Pray, I guess.

After this road, it was across a field and down a hill, passing the single standing stone of Pelyn Tor and up on up to the small village of Lanlivery. A magnificent tower attached to the church of St Brevita, is visible for miles around (I’d been seeing it whenever we drove down to Fowey) and the church was not a disappointment. Twin aisles, one with a wagon roof, dotted with beautifully carved bosses. Sadly there was no guide.

Apparently, nothing is known of St Brevita. Early histories claim the it is the parish of St Vorck, which is where the name of the village derives: Lan-le-Vrock became Lanlivery and means Holy Place of St Vorck. However, according to Nicholas Orme in his Saints of Cornwall, this is completely wrong and St Brevita was probably a Breton saint who could have been Brivet, Bryvyth, or any number of variations. The Latin name Briueta was recorded as early as 1423. Orme claims this could be a shortened version of the Latin phrase brevis vita, meaning short life. I guess we’ll never know! It’s not often I come across a saint who remains unknown which makes a welcome change from all the St Pauls, St Matthews, St Georges and St Marys!

After Lanlivery, there was a walk of about a mile and a half (passing what appeared to have once been a small chapel but was now employed as a chicken produce shed) until I reached the sunken lane, which leads all the way to Helman Tor.

It was a wonderful path. Both sides were very high – you could hear the cows munching grass just by your head – but every now and then you’d get a brief glimpse of the target. With each glimpse, the granite blocks grew larger, until I was standing in a car park, looking up.

View of Helman Tor from the car park approach

Like most moorland in the south west, the granite blocks atop Helman Tor were formed by the erosion (through weathering) of the hill over the last few million years. The granite originally formed during volcanic activity and is therefore very strong. For this reason it does not weather as fast as the surrounding rocks. So we end up with these hills, crowned by massive blocks of stone, as if some giant has placed them there like so much Lego.

The views were magnificent. 360º of beauty. I had to be back at the apartment by 11 so I could only manage a 15 minute rest on the summit, taking in the views and holding onto my hat – it was very blowy! It was then back down the sunken lane, back past the little chapel, back through Lanlivery.

I had decided, in the depths of my own stupidity, to try for an alternate route for my return. Marked on the map is a small path that passes through Pelyn Wood and comes out opposite the driveway of Castle. I decided to head for this, rather than walk along the A390. FOOL! There is no path through Pelyn Wood! It’s bollocks! Instead, I had to walk along the A390 for a few miles before turning into the B3269 (the narrow, scary road into Fowey) for another quarter of a mile before reaching the relative safety of the small single track down to Castle. It was bloody awful. Never again! Anyway, I walked into the apartment at 10:40, well within my time limit.

We decided to have a final day in Fowey today, seeing as we’ve fallen in love with the place. After a ridiculous excuse for a shower, we were off. We parked up in the cheap, puddle strewn, Caffa Mill car park and walked around to the main town centre.

After a brief visit to a boutique, arty crafty type shop to make sure Mirinda really wanted to buy the cormorant, we headed back to the Quay Hotel for lunch again. It’s really very relaxing sitting back, an arm stretched across the low wall that separates you from the harbour, listening to seagulls screeching, boats putt-putting, eating a leisurely lunch. Genius.

Speaking of the gulls, it’s about time I discussed the wonderful gull guards that dot the outside walls of most of the houses in Fowey. In the South East, we have problems with foxes invading our rubbish and strewing it all over the road and paths. It’s not that we mind them getting a free meal from our scraps but it would be really nice if they’d put the bits back they don’t want, rather than litter. Anyway, putting your rubbish in the big Otto bins helps keep the foxy litter bugs at bay.

In Fowey, they have a similar problem with the big scary seagulls. Some genius came up with the idea of these gull guards. The idea is to put it over the top of your rubbish to keep the pesky birds out. They are easy to attach and detach so the garbos don’t mind them and they store away in these cute little metal cylinders to which they’re tied. Much better having a load of these things on the wall than miles of rubbish along the street.

Gull guard in Fowey

Anyway, back to the hotel…once we’d supped sufficiently, we were back to the cormorant, having it bubble wrapped and carefully packed. I carried it, as delicate as a babe in my arms, back to the car while Mirinda wandered slowly back to the quay. Having deposited the new infant and secured it beneath my raincoat, I hit on the excellent idea of hopping aboard the small harbour taxi back to the main quay. What a brilliant idea. As we pulled into the main quay, I waved frantically at Mirinda who was peering out at Polruan. My feet were very happy. Mirinda was upset that I’d had an extra adventure but it couldn’t be helped.

We booked onto the next harbour tour, making sure it was on a normal boat and not the stinky, smoky one we’d watched from the Quay Hotel terrace. It was gross! I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take a tour of the harbour in this obnoxious craft. It was really very smelly! And that was from the shore. We had a spare half an hour so we popped into the Ship Inn for a pint and a half before boarding the Beef’r tour boat.

Tour boat belching out smoke on the River Fowey

The tour around the harbour was excellent on such a calm and sunny day. For 45 minutes we were motored around, learning all sorts of things about Fowey and the surrounding area. I spotted quite a few boats I’d like to own and Mirinda was checking out the houses.

One of the big things that Fowey is known for is the set off point for China White Clay which is mined from near St Austell. Standing at the main quay and looking out at the boats and greenery does not prepare you for the site a little way down the river where the ships are loaded. The reason it is on the River Fowey is because the river is naturally deep making it possible for ships to come and go without gouging out the bottom of the river. During my walk into Lostwithiel, I spotted what I thought was a disused railway line but, no, it was actually the Mineral Train Line, which brings the clay into the factory on the dock.

There was also a big old tall ship parked in the river. According to the guy driving the tour boat, this has been used in countless films and TV shows. Production companies pay to have it painted different colours and change the sails and flags in order to make it look different. For one particular production it was painted two different colours (one each side) so it could be two different ships in the same program!

Tall ship on the River Fowey

Arriving back at the quay, we were just in time for the Fowey version of the Petit Train! We hopped on for the land equivalent of the boat tour. Through the tiny little streets, round the tight turns, up the steep hills we went. Our guide was good and entertaining. Apparently (for he told us) Lenny Henry & Dawn French have purchased Point Pelican House and are doing it up. They are wishing to be anonymous. I can see that happening!

We were finally deposited back at the main quay where we popped into the deli for some dinner (pasties and salad) then some beer and cider, before walking back to Sidney for the journey back to Castle. A perfect day though I must admit to a very sore pair of calves and delicate feet.

I not only had my folk concert tonight but my favourite was played. Yay!

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