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Published: September 25th 2016
A Few Views from our Travels to the River Yealm
we didn't realize the south coast was so beautiful!
After our wonderful but long time in Dartmouth we were definitely ready to move. Whenever you talk to people on the dock you pick up tips on places to go. Our friends Sandi & Colin had given us many pointers as well so after all of this input we noticed that a few of the same places kept popping up on everyone’s list. One was Salcombe which wasn’t too far away from Dartmouth and the next one was the River Yealm. In looking at our weather we decided to take advantage of a good day and traveled the longer distance to the River Yealm as we figured we could always stop in Salcombe on the way back east.
The coast line here is beautiful with large cliffs, hills with plenty of sheep in the fields, and lots of rocky outcrops. Quite spectacular indeed. On this leg of our journey we were treated to a large pod of dolphin that played near the boat for a few minutes before tiring of it and heading off to visit someone else. Surprisingly we were even able to catch a couple of them with the camera when they were partially out of the water
One of Many Lighthouses Along the Coast
to help protect mariners from dangers here
– only two of the many that were around, but we were happy to catch even that! It is amazing how excited we still get anytime we get a chance to see dolphin. We always call them our good luck charm!
The towns along this coast are tucked back on small inlets/rivers/estuaries, but fortunately between the navigational aids and our charts, the entrances aren’t too difficult to find. The entrance to the River Yealm has quite a large sandbar across a good section of it so you need to time your entry for high water so that you have plenty of water under the keel. Fortunately they also have good navigational markers as well as range markers on the land to line you up correctly to get around the sandbar safely. We had an extra bonus in that we had a couple of other boats ahead of us so we were able to use them as a guide as well. Once we made the few turns at the entrance it started to open up some, but not too much. It is still quite a narrow location with plenty of boats moored so it was somewhat difficult to even find
the fairway to get through the numerous boats there. We meandered through the boats for a while looking for an open mooring or a place on one of the pontoons. Fortunately we found a 47’ boat on the pontoon and after asking were able to raft up to him. You find that rafting with another boat is very common here and even more so during the school holidays. We thought the area was quite crowded, but others told us that it really was quite empty! Guess it is all in your definition of what looks crowded! We had left Dartmouth about 10AM and were settled in at River Yealm about 5PM. Not a bad day sailing with our genoa and mainsail with sun thrown in now and then during the day for good measure. We didn’t bother putting our dinghy in the water that evening as we figured we could explore the next day. The harbourmaster gave us information on a couple of hikes we could do and told us where the pubs were. All very important information here in England.
Well, things always change when you are dependent on the weather so after checking it again, we decided
that we should keep moving west along the coast. Our next port of call was going to be Fowey (pronounced as Foy which rhymes with joy) as it was high on everyone’s list of recommended places to visit. The typical weather pattern in this area seems to be winds from the west and with wanting to move west, we took advantage of calm weather. We knew we would be more of a motor boat than a sailboat for this leg of the trip, but figured it was better than fighting strong winds on the nose.
It was quite a cloudy day with fog coming in later in the morning, but cleared off by early afternoon. With flat seas we were able to spot a few more dolphin – not a large pod like we did the day before, but a couple of pairs of dolphin traveled by as they didn’t seem interested in visiting us today. With the fog in the morning (or was it just low-lying clouds) we unfortunately didn’t get to see much of the coastline here as we heard it is quite beautiful. Hopefully it will be better when we travel east again through this same
Need to Get Around a Sandbank at the Entrance
to the River Yealm - good navigational aids help
When you come into the River Fowey you find that there are actually 2 villages here, Fowey is on your port side (left) and Polruan is on your starboard (right). When you enter the harbor you call on your VHF (radio) to find out where you can moor. We had been told we could look for any blue colored mooring ball or check out the pontoons that they have for visitors. We had hopes of staying at a pontoon so traveled up the river and saw that there was an open pontoon, but in looking closely found that they were reserved for a rally that was going to be arriving soon. We hadn’t seen any openings when we first came in, but after turning around we fortunately found a place on a floating pontoon and headed for it. It wound up being a great place to be as it was just across the river from Fowey and close to Polruan so it was an easy dinghy ride to either one. If you don’t have a dinghy they do have water taxis here that can take you to shore for approximately $2.70 for a one way trip. We definitely
used our “family car” as this gave us greater flexibility and saved money to boot! For people that come to this area by car there are two ways across the River Fowey – a passenger ferry between the two towns and farther in there is a car ferry so the river is not a problem for exploring both areas.
We found out that most of the boats that were on the same pontoon with us were already long time friends and came to Fowey quite regularly. Fowey has an annual regatta and it last for a full week – many told us that they really enjoy the Fowey regatta over other ones due to its small town atmosphere and plenty of activities for those of all ages. Like true partiers they got into the spirit of the regatta by decorating their boats with flags – we had thought of putting up all of the courtesy flags we have on board from the various countries we have visited, but left the decorations to our neighbors. One day we did get a delivery from one of the neighboring boats – they presented us with a Cornwall flag. Fowey is in the
county of Cornwall and very quickly you find out that residents here are very proud of and loyal to their area. They told us they noticed that our boat was not properly “dressed” and that we had to have a Cornwall flag which we promptly put up. Very thoughtful and generous neighbors indeed. We were very fortunate to have gotten to Fowey before their regatta week started so we were against the pontoon, but of course had someone raft up to us. That is no problem and it gives you a chance to meet other people immediately. Our neighbors were lovely and had us over for a drink on their boat where we of course picked up more local knowledge and had a chance to talk about their thoughts on Brexit and their major worry about Donald Trump in the US. It seems that everyone we met here is quite concerned about the US elections as they really feel that Trump will not be good for the US or the world at large. These definitely make for interesting topics of conversation.
We knew as soon as we walked through the town of Fowey that we would stay for the
whole week of activities (even though it meant staying a week more than we had planned) – there is just something indescribable that just hits you as being very welcoming. As we have found while cruising that plans are always tentative and it works best if you are willing to be flexible with your schedule. We bought a schedule for the events that were to go on during the week and they looked like they would be fun to watch (and quite different than what we have ever heard of before). Regattas we find have plenty of things for people on land to enjoy, but they are definitely about the sailing races as well. There are 2 yacht clubs located in Fowey and one in Pulruan – these get together to help sponsor the races. This is the only regatta we have heard of or been to that was definitely a community event. The activities were definitely family based and included all ages of “children”! As a result many people that we met state that they come to this regatta over any other along this coast due to its small town feel.
We had a few days before the
regatta activities would begin so took advantage of the time to take a few hikes around the area as well as hook into a 90 minute walking tour of the village with a local resident. It was very informative about the history of the area and got us to a few places we hadn’t seen yet. One “interesting” story that he told us was about a time when Queen Victoria came to Fowey. The way into the village was down a steep hill and through a toll gate. When the Queen came to the toll gate she looked at it and felt that it did not look safe to pass through. Her solution was to have the band that was with her to play their drums while going through the gate. She felt that if it was strong enough to hold up after the band went through with their loud music, it would be safe for her to pass! Not sure how true the story or if it has changed some over the years, but there is now a bar (Toll Gate Bar) that still bears the timber where the toll gate was located.
We had walked through the
A Couple of Dolphin we "Caught"
always excited to have them visit our boat
St. Fimbarrus Church when we first arrived, but the guide took us here as well filling us in on some of the details of the Church. One thing that catches your eye almost immediately is the Celtic Cross that stands in the church courtyard. When the Romans left Britain in 410AD the Saxons came in. Churches were destroyed and the survivors fled westward to Ireland, Wales and Southwest England. This Celtic Church was cut off from the rest of Europe and formed a strong bond with Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. In fact it became one of the routes from the north to the south on their pilgrimage. Many missionaries came through Cornwall from Ireland and Wales which helped develop the Celtic Church in this area. The date of the original church is not completely clear but around 1150 it was re-built of stone in the Norman style. Unfortunately all that remains from that period is a stone font still used in the church today. A new church was to be built in 1328 but wasn’t dedicated until 1336. Due to most of the men of Fowey being fishermen and away from town they did not suffer as much as
many other towns with the Black Death. During the 14th
centuries war with France saw the men here help the monarch in battle, but they also did some pirateering with ventures across the channel to France. Due to this France retaliated in 1457 and burnt down the town, except for Place House where Elizabeth Treffry is credited with defending it. With the destruction of the church another was started in 1465 but wasn’t finished for 40 years. This is what is standing today with a few modifications. During the Reformation some of the statutes and images were removed. The pulpit was added in 1601 and the timber is from a Spanish galleon showing very extensive wood carvings. One thing stands out with the location of the church – it stands between two hills with a creek running next to it and the main “street” actually ran through the church yard showing how central it was to the town. We also now understand more about the connection of Cornwall with the Irish and the Welch. In fact we find that we see many red-heads here and can figure out the connection with their ancestors.
One place that stands
out when you arrive in the harbor is what almost looks like a castle on the hill in the village of Fowey. We found out that this home called “Place House” has been in the Treffry family since the 14th
century and is still occupied by them today. It has seen many renovations and changes over the years, but the modifications to the current Gothic style occurred in the early 19th
century. This family is an important one in the history of the area. Many held the position of sheriff or other similar roles of keeping the peace. They have always been well-liked as they have done much to develop the area. John Thomas Treffry in the first half of the 19th
century developed tramways, canals, aqueducts and made major improvements in the local mining industry. Two improvements that he is well known for was the establishment of sick pay for the miners as well as medical attention provided to the miners as well as their families. Tin, copper, granite and china clay were extensively mined here and china clay is still an important export from this area. China clay as its name implies has been used for china such
Top right - St. Catherine's on the Fowey side
bottom left - Polruan Blockhouse protects the harbor
as the Wedgwood and Bentley Co., but now it is mainly used in the production of cosmetics, glossy paper for magazines and medicines.
We had been told before coming to Fowey that large freighters come into the River Fowey. Once we arrived we had a hard time imagining it, but it was true! Some of the smaller freighters can carry on straight through the many moored boats back to where the loading area is for the china clay as they can turn around in that area before heading back out to sea. Others we learned (and saw for ourselves) must be turned around in the wider section of the River right in front of the village of Fowey. Two tugs typically assist them with this maneuver and one time we saw them come quite close to a motorboat on a mooring, complete the turn, and then the tugs move the freighter stern first into the area where the loading docks are. Once we were on our boat when one of these went by and we tried to capture it in pictures – hard to do, but hopefully you can get an idea of what this was like when you
see them. Now I guess we will never complain about turning around in small places again (although they do have the aid of tugs!)
At the entrance to the harbor there is a castle that we walked out to. The original structure was a gun tower built between 1538-1540 by Thomas Treffry for King Henry VIII. Defensive walls were added later and then again in 1855 two heavy gun installations were added. Across the harbor a blockhouse had been built in 1380. A 16” thick chain ran between these two structures and lay on the seabed until an attacking ship approached which was when the chain would be raised in order to prevent access to the River Fowey. This method of defense appears to be a common as we know it had been used in numerous other areas.
Another day we hiked up to the top of the hill behind Polruan across the river from Fowey. It was a clear day which gave us a wonderful view of the coastline. On top there is a National Coastwatch Station. They welcome visitors so we stopped in to find out what they do. They informed us that many of the
Coast Guard stations had been closed and to fill the gap this volunteer organization stepped in. They provide weather information from their stations and in general watch the activity along their section of the coast reporting any problems to the coast guard or to the LifeBoat stationed in Fowey. We had noticed a station like this one along the coast when we sailed to Fowey and found out that there are a number of them dotted throughout this area.
The beginning of the regatta week started with various musical groups playing at the Town Quay, the crab catching contest where the greatest number of crabs caught wins, the crowning of the queen (which appears every year to be a young girl with two lovely attendants), and then on Thursday night they had a wonderful fireworks display. We had an excellent location allowing us to view it from the boat. With a beach they had to have a sandcastle competition and a raft race. We found out that many have entered the raft competition year after year making improvements to their design each time. They had various categories which included adults as well as children in this fun but quite
wet event! Stores in town competed with decorating their display windows with this year’s pirate theme in mind and many of the employees dressed the part. We heard that one of the major events is “the Giant Pasty”. First, for those of you that do not know what a pasty is, it is a well known Cornwall delicacy – pastry stuffed traditionally with meat, vegetables and potatoes, but they also have everything from sweet potato and feta filling to pork and apple cider and spicy thai chicken. These are made to be a “pick up and eat” food and we got hooked on them. Now back to the giant pasty. The giant pasty is actually made across the river in Polruan, then transported across the river carried by the infamous Fowey Town Band. A side on the band – we learned that the only requirement to be a member of the town band is that you must not know how to play an instrument! They use all types of items as drums and none of the music keeps to a beat – just think of a room full of 3-4 year olds banging on pans and you get the idea.
Each year the band picks a theme and this time they decided to dress up and act as firemen from the Victorian Period. This meant that their “fire boat” had to go across the river to Polruan, pick up the pasty (after of course having stopped at all the pubs in town), come back over to Fowey with “smoke” coming out of the boat, march throughout the town with a 6’ pasty (it can’t be any bigger as it has to fit onto an ambulance size stretcher), carry it up the steps (it actually is quite heavy) of the town band’s headquarters (the Prince of Prussia Pub), have the Princess cut the first slice after a few words were said to the crowd, and then brought down the steps so it could be served to those in the crowd that wanted a piece. What a riot this event was! Who would have thought that there would be such a large crowd waiting for the arrival of a giant pasty – I have a feeling it only happens in Fowey!
One main draw for many of the regattas along this coast is the appearance of the Red Arrows, the British
Air Force precision flying team (similar to the Blue Angels). Unfortunately last year they had a very bad accident and as a result have limited the location of the shows that they will perform at. As the Fowey River is quite narrow, they declined to appear. The organizers of the regatta figured they had to do something to compensate so they put on two magnificent fireworks displays. It was hard after seeing the first one on Thursday to think of how they could top it, but they pulled it off. Fortunately they had two good nights of weather for the display. I got a few shots on video, but can’t post them on the blog – you’ll just have to take my word for it!
Yes, it is a regatta so there were also wonderful sailboat races. They have a sailboat, called the Troy that was developed and built here in Fowey. They originated in Fowey specifically for this river back in 1928. They are a 18’ small shiplap constructed (wooden), but have plenty of sail and they can maneuver. Only a total of 28 were built and 25 of them still exist and are lovely cared for by
their owners. It was wonderful to see them racing around the harbor with its numerous moored boats on both sides of the river – quite a job indeed to weave in and out of.
The Falmouth Working Boats we found are another popular boat is seen raced. These are traditional heavy wooden gaff rigged sailboats that carry a tremendous amount of sail and had been built originally as working oyster boats. They were developed due to the bylaws that prohibited dredging for oysters by mechanical means during the winter months of October - March. The sail and oar were now used for this purpose. They vary in size but range from 22-32’ and traditionally were made of wood, but now for racing purposes some have been produced in fiberglass. Fortunately the majority of the ones here were the traditional wooden boats. They carry a very colorful topsail typically and a huge foresail due to have an exceptionally long bowsprit. Traditionally they only do one of their races in the river and the rest outside the harbor, but as the seas were too wild they had more of their races inside the harbor. This definitely made it more exciting for
The St. Fimbarrus Church in Fowey
has a long history with many changes over the years
those of us in Fowey as we could easily see them in action. They were something to watch in action! To get back to the dock they had to be assisted by the harbormaster’s dinghy’s as they do not have engines in them.
Our originally plan was to sail to Falmouth which is west of Fowey, but the winds continued be against us so we decided to take a bus trip there on our 42nd
anniversary. Come to find out they were having their regatta as well as it was the week before the one in Fowey. We learned after having been at the Fowey Regatta that it was a completely different feel as it is a much bigger town. There was quite a crowd as we found out that the Red Arrows were scheduled to perform their aerobatic display that evening. We didn’t stay for it as we needed to catch the train in time to get the last bus back to Fowey. We didn’t do anything specific in Falmouth but had a pleasant walk around the town. The Pendennis Castle is located out on a point which is in a wonderful location for defensive purposes. We took
a walk out to the castle but didn’t have time to actually visit it. On our way out we had a chance to see the Falmouth Working Boats race and walk past the naval dock yards. We now had a glimpse of what Falmouth is like and figured that if the wind doesn’t cooperate later, we could at least say we got a taste of it.
After being in Fowey for a little over 2 weeks it was again time to move on. Our big decision now was to decide if we should continue our travels west or turn around and re-trace our journey east. With looking at the calendar we decided that we had to give up the idea of further movement west and travel east as we have hopes of going to a few more places on the south coast before crossing the English Channel back to France. We also had heard from friends of ours that we had met a couple of years ago in the Baltic, Gary and Leslie from Spellbound. They were traveling west on the coast and we hoped it would work out to meet up with them again.
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