travel · U.K.

The Cornish Coast: Charlestown and Fowey

I’m sure Charlestown is lovely. I really am.

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I’m just not sure why our guide scheduled us to arrive after everything had closed and to leave before anything had opened.

And I’ll note – we arrived at 7pm. Nearly everything in Cornwall (save restaurants) closes by 5pm if not earlier and doesn’t reopen until 10 – maybe even 11 the next day. It’s island time.

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We had spent all day traipsing through Lanhydrock House and driving the countryside. I tried not be be annoyed about all the baby-stops along the way that could have chopped up all the driving time. It seemed a little poorly planned to spend multiple hours just…driving. Frankly, there’s so much to see in Europe at such short distances, it seemed a waste. Combine that with the odd “Over there is X famous for Y – we won’t be stopping though. You can kind of see it – just…there!” and the salt seemed to be rubbed in the wound all the more.

For Charlestown, I had marked a few restaurants and a gallery (out of I think 5 places total for the town) but all were closed. Left to me, was a sports bar and the hotel bar…both owned by the hotel.

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The hotel, supposedly exceptionally fancy, had served the various stars of Poldark. A photo of Aiden Turner was at the front desk with copies for sale. The hotel sat overlooking the small port and beach. Charlestown was famous for its sailing ships in port – one of the few left to handle larger ships with all the trappings. They bobbed in the breeze.

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In the morning, I ate gooseberry yogurt and meandered down to the bay. A footpath led away from town and another down to the water. Beach combers and dogs trotted along. At the base of the walkway was a small table with tins full of sea urchins and shells sold on the honor system. A small cash box sat beside them.

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After a 40 minute drive, we arrived in Fowey – touted as one of the crown jewels of our trip. “We will have exactly an hour and a half in Fowey!” our guide beamed. “We’ll do a little drive through and then we’ll have a walking tour and go through the chapel!”

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“An hour and a half?” the man next to me repeated, incredulous. “What if we really like it?”

“You’ll just have to come back!” our guide chirped.

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As I stated earlier, most shops in Cornwall don’t open until late morning and the hours posted really just suggest when the shop might open – it’s not a hard rule. So when we rolled into town at 9:30, nothing apart from the odd coffee shop or bun store would open until 11, maybe.

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And we loved Fowey.

The little church featured a war monument out front and elderly, dutiful parishoners inside. They swept the cemetery walkways and dusted elegantly carved pews as we putzed around.

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Outside, the streets wound tightly with buildings wobbling to and fro with all the character and wonkiness that people imagine when they think of England. As a beach town, they were painted in gorgeous pastel shades of yellow, blue, and pink. Inside, enticing trinkets beckoned, not to be had.

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The town lies on the river Fowey (pronounced Foy like boy versus foe-ey or worse, phooey). Across the water were other little towns, dotting the hillside and spilling into the water. In between swam sailboats and rowers, gliding on the obsidian water in the sun. A ferry, our tour brochure promised, could take us to each of the towns – “not to miss!” it winked. But we would miss it, a traveler complained, as we only had an hour and a half.

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“Really, we should have come here for a half day at least – this is a wonderful town,” one person told our guide. He was half chiding and half enthusiastic.

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“Really, you think so! Some people just hate it and can’t wait to leave! Just goes to show!”

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What it went to show, I couldn’t quite figure, as I absorbed as much of the glorious sunlight as I could and made mental notes of where I needed to return.

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