Book Tour

Take a stroll around the harbourside town of Fowey and discover its fascinating literary connections.

The port of Fowey on Cornwall’s south coast is not a surprising inspiration for some of the country’s most celebrated novels: The waterborne activity in the harbour, the ancient buildings creaking with a long and vibrant history, the stunning beauty of the cliffs and coves that fan out east and west, all make a stimulating framework for some cracking storylines.

If you stand near the slipway to Bodinnick ferry and look across the river, you’ll see a blue and white painted house called Ferryside. It was here that world famous author Daphne Du Maurier first stayed in Fowey in 1926 when her parents brought the house as a holiday home. Du Maurier was not only the author of universally popular novels such as “Rebecca” and  Jamaica Inn” but she also wrote remarkable short stories that have been made into cult films including “Don’t Look Now” and “The Birds” and it was at Ferryside in 1931 that she wrote her first novel “The Loving Spirit” based on the boat building Slade family who lived in Polruan.

The figurehead you can see attached to the house overlooking the river was a gift to Daphne not long after the novel was published and was salvaged in nearby Pont Creek from the wreck of the Jane Slade, a schooner named after the real matriarch of the family who features in “The Loving Spirit” as Janet Coombe.

Carry on along North Street towards the town centre and look above you on your right. Here you’ll see Reith Terrace where the writer Leo Walmsley lived with his wife and daughter until his death in 1966. Born in Shipley, Yorkshire in 1892 and after seeing active service in WW1, Walmsley was determined to become an author and eventually wrote over two hundred novels and short stories during his lifetime.

Just before you turn in to Fore Street and the Post Office on the corner, look left and you’ll discover a tunnel-like flight of stone steps leading down to the shore between two ancient fisherman’s cottages. Many believe this is the little secret passageway featured in Kenneth Grahame’s famous novel “Wind in the Willows” when he writes, “...I take to the road again, holding on southwestwards for many a long and dusty day; till at last I reach the little grey sea town I know so well, that clings along one steep side of the harbour. There through dark doorways you look down flights of stone steps, overhung by great pink tufts of valerian and ending in a patch of sparkling blue water”

Further on, and on your left is Albert Quay so named after a visit by Queen Victoria and her consort in 1844.  Well-known for keeping a diary throughout her life, the young queen on the day she visited Fowey mentions, “some of the narrowest, steepest streets in England and the hilly ground covered with fields, and intersected with hedges".

On to another quay, this time Town Quay with its dramatic views of the harbour. From here you should look to your left where you can see Hall Walk, a wooded promontory between the river Fowey and Pont Creek. You will see a tall granite stone, accessible on foot from Bodinnick, erected as a memorial in honour of Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, another of the town’s luminaries born a few miles away at Bodmin in 1863. A noted lecturer, essayist and literary critic, Quiller-Couch is best known locally for his novels on a Cornish theme such as “The Astonishing Story of Troy Town”, a rollicking Victorian farce in which the characters and locations of Fowey are affectionately used as a canvass for the book.

This is also the ideal place to read the opening paragraph to Leo Walmsley’s book, “Love in the Sun”; you’ll recognize the fictional seaport of St Jude he writes about as the pages come vividly to life as Fowey.  Walmsley had first come to the town in the 1930s with his second wife and lived in a disused army hut on the banks of Pont Creek across the water. In this semi-autobiographical novel he evocatively captures the idyllic existence of two young people who run away to a Cornish seaside town, live off the land, fish in the river and make furniture for their ramshackle home from driftwood.

Walk back from the quay and on the corner of the street is Bookends, a shop crammed with array of books on Cornish themes. The shop also stocks a huge range of novels from authors associated with the town and just opposite is The Du Maurier Centre housing a small exhibition depicting the life and novels of Fowey’s most famous literary resident.

Around the corner past the 15th century church where Kenneth Graham and his wife Elspeth were married in 1899, is Trafalgar Square. Here at “The Dolphins” the writer Janice Elliot lived until her death in 1995. Known for her mystical stories as well as her detailed, poignant slant on everyday life, one of her novels, The Sadness of the Witches, tells the story of a young couple from London who move to the fictional village of Poltrue in Cornwall where they are plagued by a local witch.

From here head uphill to the road leads to The Esplanade, a street lined with grand houses built in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Go as far as the lane down to the Polruan Ferry and the beach at Whitehouse and on the corner is The Haven, home to Quiller Couch until his death in 1944. He had always promised himself that he would buy somewhere to live in the town when he married, so in 1892 on his marriage to local girl Louisa Amelia Hicks, The Haven was a perfect wedding present

Just a stone’s throw away is the imposing Fowey Hotel. Built in 1883, the hotel has seen many celebrated guests come and go and it was here in 1899 that Kenneth Grahame, who became a great friend of Quiller-Couch, stayed and wrote letters back home to his son. Addressed lovingly to “Mouse”, his son Alistair, the letters are in the form of short stories about Mr Toad and his adventures on the river, a winning storyline that would later form the basis of his most famous work, “Wind in the Willows” published in 1908 and one of the world’s biggest selling novels, to date topping over twenty five million copies. You can see facsimiles of the letters hanging in the hotel’s foyer.

From here, walk up Daglands Road and turn left on to St Fimbarrus Road where house number three was once the home of book illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell. Atwell was born in Mile End, London and later in her life, until her death in 1964, lived in Fowey. Famed for her stylised, cute rotund depictions of children, Atwell illustrated many books, including her perennial annual, from 1922 to 1974, and in 1921 was invited by J.M Barrie to illustrate the gift-book edition of Peter Pan.

Finally head towards Readymoney Cove passing Point Neptune, present day home to TV star Dawn French who achieved great critical and commercial success with her memoir “Dear Fatty” and you’ll reach the beach. Behind you is the Coach House where Daphne du Maurier and her two children stayed during WW2 when her home Ferryside was commandeered by the US navy. Du Maurier features this cove many times in her novels especially in the infinitely swashbuckling “Frenchman’s Creek”, in which the plucky heroine Lady Dona takes refuge at Readymoney before pursuing the dashing pirate she’s in love with.