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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Seaside stories: Fowey
Fowey harbour
A 50-passenger cruise liner anchors in the harbour
English seaside resorts are not all candyfloss and kiss-me-quick hats. As the Blairs begin a short break in Carlyon Bay, south Cornwall, BBC News Online's Megan Lane visits a nearby port seeking to reinvent itself.


Fowey, Cornwall


An historic seafaring town, with literary links to the likes of Daphne du Maurier and Kenneth Grahame, handy to nearby beaches and the Eden Project.



Fowey is not your common-or-garden seaside resort.

The deep-water port has more sea walls than sandy stretches, and as such, there's few buckets and spades in evidence among the families, pensioners and yachties crowding the quayside on a foggy Monday.

Map
And, this being Cornwall, pasties are at least as popular as fish and chips when it comes to their takeaway of choice.

The quaint town has long attracted "discerning" - affluent and elderly - holidaymakers.

Even the gulls cruising for scraps are better behaved in comparison to those plying the nation's brasher beaches.

Yet like other forward-thinking resorts, Fowey (pronounced "foy") has woken up to the fact that it must adapt or become a ghost town.

Castle guarding harbour entrance
Fortifications built by Henry VIII guard the port
Not only does it cash in on its proximity to the Eden Project, the town is chasing the lucrative cruise liner market.

This year, Fowey will play host to 14 cruise visits - and the hundreds of high-spending tourists on board - compared with just one ship two years ago. Already, a few shops accept US dollars.

Fowey's harbourmaster, Captain Mike Sutherland, hopes this will rise to about 50 ships a year by 2006, under a new scheme to attract more cruises to the small ports of Devon and Cornwall.

Cruisin' together

The initiative - dubbed Destination Southwest - is awaiting confirmation of European subsidies, as both counties are eligible for employment-boosting funding.

Captain Mike Sutherland
Mike Sutherland: "The town's gone upmarket"
"Cruise passengers are looking for something different - they're starting to say, 'Oh, we're bored by the Caribbean'. We're offering them a new experience," Captain Sutherland says.

The new experience is billed as a Celtic trail, involving small ports in the South West, Ireland, Scotland and Brittany.

"The international figure for cruise passenger spending is 36 a head a day. I believe it's probably in the 50s, once you take into account the harbour dues and such like."

In addition, the harbour accommodates more than 7,500 visiting yachts and 1,500 residents' crafts, and 600 container ships loading china clay for export each year.

The Eden effect

What many of the visitors come for is the Eden Project. More than one million people have visited the botanical attraction since it opened in March, far exceeding the yearly target of 750,000.

Fowey map
Tourist trap: First literature, now Eden
As well as providing much-needed jobs in an unemployment black spot, Eden has injected a real sense of optimism into the area.

The locals are lining up to work there. This has, however, left some cafe owners and hoteliers in Fowey short of staff - after all, why wash dishes and change linen when you can tend plants in a giant greenhouse?

Some local businesses have had "staff wanted" signs in their windows for weeks, to no avail.

1 January - 30 June, 2001
Counter enquiries up 44% on last year
Phone calls up 76%
Written queries, including faxes and e-mails, up 126%
Source: Fowey Tourist Information Centre
Lynn Goold, the manager of the tourist information centre, says this is the first year in memory that no shops have stood vacant. She has taken on extra staff.

"Eden has made a tremendous difference to us. People looking on a map for an attractive place to stay near Eden often end up picking Fowey."

Literary links

At the nearby Daphne du Maurier centre, up to 700 visitors a day come through the doors to find out about the author who lived in Fowey for more than 20 years.

Rebecca
Daphne du Maurier set her novel Rebecca in Fowey
"This time last year, we'd get no more than 500 on a good day," says assistant Jo Marsh.

Property prices, too, are on the up. Although a bargain compared to the hyper-inflated south-east, buying or renting in Fowey is increasingly beyond the reach of those who work there.

Let's buy it

For a town of just several thousand permanent residents, Fowey is remarkably well-served.

Tony Jones's Cry of the Gulls gallery
Galleries stocking local artists are on the up
Not only is there a busy Post Office, three of the major banks have branches - not just cash machines - in the high street.

Those looking to pick up a trendy fleece, organic olive oil, or local artwork will be spoilt for choice. Surfwear shops, delis and galleries line the narrow tangle of streets around the harbour.

"The town has changed," says Captain Sutherland. "It's gone more upmarket as people buy up holiday homes.

"But harbour towns such as ours, we've got to keep them as working places to keep people coming down. Ours is a beautiful view because it's a moving view."



Click to see more pictures of Fowey


Your comments:

I spent one of the most rotten birthdays of my life in Fowey and nearby Polruan. Despite it being July, the weather was fowl - misty and drizzly. But I think the main reason for my negativity was the gift I received from my boyfriend - a cheeseboard! When the mist eventually lifted, the beautiful sight of the harbour and fishing boats in the sunshine is a memory that will last with me for a long time - unlike my memory of the boyfriend, whom I binned on the journey home.
Leyla, UK

As a proud Cornishman, I've spent all me life in Fowey and a beautiful place it is too. Fit for a king, let alone a prime minister.
Martin Bredin, Cornwall

As kids we used to visit my gradparents at Polruan, which is on the other side of the river. My grandfather used to stand on steps by the edge of the harbour with a knife tied onto the end of a pole, and caught fish by spearing them as they swam by. We used to cook mackeral fresh from the sea - the most beautiful taste in the world.
Paul Walter, UK

I am a Cornishman in London, and my home town is Par - three miles from Fowey. The Eden project is already paying off for the local economy and long may it continue.
Jason Collings, UK

Fowey is a real jewel in Cornwall. But part of the charm is that it is a real working place and that should never change.
Chris, UK

Fowey has clearly changed a great deal since I was there as an A-level geography student with a school party from Hertfordshire in 1970. There were some interesting sights in and outside the pubs with lots of very rough looking - but interesting to talk to - sailors from distant parts of the world and rusty little freighters taking the clay off to other parts of the UK and Europe.
Steve, Canada

You did not mention the wonderful annual Sailing Regatta, with fireworks.
Celia, UK

We've been going there for years now. Good pubs in Fowey and Polruan (across the water). Good fishing in the bay. Miles of deserted beaches nearby. Great stuff!
Steve, UK

My parents (mid-40s) have been going to Fowey every year for at least four years - they love the peace and quiet combined with water sports and pubs a plenty (fresh crab is also a bonus). They live in the Cotswolds in a beautiful village, yet they have fallen in love with Fowey so much they are seriously considering retiring there. It's got to be pretty good if they want to move from where they are now.
Jemima, UK

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See also:

15 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Blairs prepare for UK break
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