Fowey is hardly off the beaten track, and in summer it rivals St Ives for busyness, but thank goodness the Starbucks effect hasn’t yet reached this captivating corner of south Cornwall. Instead, this jewel of a town, stretched out along the Fowey River estuary, is packed with fabulous, fascinating one-off shops, yummy cafés and interesting little galleries.
First rule of Fowey – never, ever, even think of driving through the middle of town. A warren of narrow streets, no pavements and crowds of pedestrians equals utter nightmare. Instead, you can park up the top and either stroll down the hill or catch the cute ‘town bus’ which does the legwork for you. Or – my top tip – drive into the other side of town (follow road signs to the Bodinnick car ferry) and leave your motor in the Caffa Mill car park. From here, you can amble along the road (only jumping out of the way of the occasional passing car – buggy users, be warned) admiring the cute terraced cottages, and be in the main drag literally within minutes.
Now, if shopping is your main aim you’re spoiled for choice. Even the chain stores are of the rather lovely local type. Take Seasalt, for example. It’s family-run and the first fashion brand in the UK to have organic clothing certified to Soil Association standards. And Quba sells gorgeous jackets, bags and accessories made from sailcloth – you can even design your own. As we visited, Ocean View boutique was just on the verge of opening – it looked promising, so watch this space, while nautical needs are well catered for in the form of Outriggers and Upper Deck. Should you wish to accessorise your new purchase with some eye-catching jewellery, brave the steps up to Cindy Ashbridge’s tucked-away studio and you’ll find edgy but feminine pieces in silver, gold and semi-precious stones. For the little ones, Bird is irresistible, and not just for clothes – there are toys, games and delightful home accessories, too.
Even more than fashion, Fowey is a destination for homeware addicts and there are plenty of intriguing shops to choose from, ranging from French-inspired to English country style. My personal faves are Reed’s for irresistible decorative items for the garden and outdoors, The Clementine for classy furniture, accessories and gifts, and Emma’s Home, a must if you can’t get enough of Cath Kidston and Pip Studio, among other lovelies. What’s more, Tippers Treasures is a trove of vintage and antique pieces, while White Doll Arts has a beautiful and occasionally bonkers selection of ceramics (made on the premises), cards, gifts, accessories and toys. More contemporary craft can be found at the excellent Cry of the Gulls gallery, and there is masses of appealing art, mostly by locals, at the Fowey River Gallery.
After all this rushing around, are you feeling a little more meditative? Fowey is renowned for its literary connections, what with Daphne du Maurier, Arthur Quiller-Couch and Kenneth Graham et al. Browse through Bookends of Fowey for second-hand or antiquarian books, or pick up a bonkbuster from Bookends Too, just around the corner. An ideal spot in which to sit and read is the Old Grammar School Garden, just off the Esplanade with its million-pound townhouses. Step through a black iron gate and into a secret, flower-filled space, with several bench seats and pretty views of boats on the estuary and the village of Polruan climbing the steep cliffs opposite.
If it starts to rain (this IS Cornwall – it was inevitable) simply repair to one of Fowey’s many marvellous eating establishments, which range in style from informal tea rooms to smart hotel restaurants. Don’t miss Sixties-style Sam’s for burgers and fish – I’m told by my GCG buddies that it’s groovy, baby – while our family favourite is quirky and colourful Pinky Murphy’s where the cakes are amazing and the portions of beans on toast have to be seen to be believed. Also brilliant for kids is Sundaes, under the King of Prussia pub on the town quay, where young (and old) can concoct their own sweetie-packed ice-cream sundaes. Sugar RUSH. Finally, for anyone self-catering, Fowey is one of those rare places where there is still a real butcher’s, cheese shop and deli, a fish shop (Fowey Fish – freshly caught by local day boats) and a wine outlet (Fowey Wines). In all, everything you’ll need for the perfect evening in after your perfect day out. Definitely ‘cheers’ to Fowey.