We’ve now crossed to Fowey and back twice. What a contrast between the two visits.
When we set out for our first festival event – a talk of B’s choosing – the sky was dark and a few spots of rain fell as we climbed into the car. “It’ll stop,” we said, “It’s nothing.” It did not stop. We did not take coats.
The drive to Polruan is straightforward and pretty; narrow but not too precarious, winding but not too tortuous. Polruan peppers the cliff at the mouth of the estuary looking across to Fowey. Like so many local towns and villages built clinging to the coast, motorists are discouraged from driving into the town. The car park lies at the very top, overlooking the estuary – a wonderful view.
I lost my heart to what is now our house by seeing this very view from this very car park as the light was fading on a still January afternoon just a few months ago. We had been here to the house for a second viewing. We’d heard a few things we weren’t expecting and as a result I was far from convinced we would go ahead and try for it. After the viewing we’d driven to Polruan and parked facing the estuary. And while B crunched numbers on his calculator, I sat and stared. The view was stupendous. The quality of light on that January afternoon was pure magic: soft and shrouded, yet clear and calm. The gulls were quiet; boats sat motionless at anchor. Nothing moved – apart from the tiny passenger ferry ploughing a gentle furrow from the quay below to the opposite shore. It was timeless; it was beautiful. I felt I was being given access to something very private; I felt I was gazing into a living painting. This, I knew, was a scene oft-repeated; an everyday occurrence that was bathed in tranquil beauty and set entirely apart from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. It was a domestic scene: a watery passage from A to B with folks going about their business untouched at this time of year by tourists or traffic. And my heart sailed with that ferry. I wish I had thought to take a photo but in truth, a photo could not have done justice to the ineffable peace. The light on that afternoon was infused with peace.
Now, here we were again, 5 months later, looking out once more at the view from the car park. In the rain. And the wind. It was cold; it was damp and we had no coats. One day I shall take a photo from this point. But not today. It was hard to bring to mind the bliss of the last time I’d seen this view. Heads down, we huddled against the weather and set off downward: festival places awaited. We found our way to the quayside – indirectly it’s true, but it’s hard not to end up at the quayside eventually if you simply keep walking downhill. Polruan, please note, is particularly steep. At least we were heading down, though of course, this meant we would have eventually have to come back up. And although I’m sure my expression was grim and forbidding, everyone we met – young and old – acknowledged us with a friendly ‘hello’. I’m not sure I would have smiled in greeting at my cold, grumpy self, had I met me on that descent.
Of course we missed the ferry; we saw it sail through a gap in the houses just before we reached the quay. It wasn’t a huge deal: it shuttles back and forth constantly. A mere fifteen-minute wait in which to take stock of our surroundings. In the rain. With no coats. Or umbrellas.
Polruan has a working ship-building company: the very same company that was here in Daphne’s day, although now run by a different family. There is a pub and a local store on the quay. Streets rise sharply beyond; houses sprout from the cliff side. A pontoon stretched into the sea with boats moored against it. I swallowed hard at the prospect of walking out onto it: I prepared B for the fact that I was going to seriously struggle to make that walk. And here fortune smiled on me. The ferry when it came – a softly-chugging motor launch – moored not against the pontoon but against some stone steps. Much more solid; surely very much safer. Sadly, our particular ferry did not have a roof like this one. Thus, the journey was damp and bracing. Grey and mercifully short.
We were too cold once in Fowey to do much exploring. We focused on choosing a tea shop. I prayed for a large pot of earl grey and received a single small cup and saucer instead. I resisted cake and made the most of the hot tea. A foreign couple had also been enjoying tea – they had the full works I noticed, not without a touch of envy. A few minutes after they’d left, the lady returned. She had forgotten to pick up her glasses. The proprietor couldn’t find them. Perhaps she had left them in the toilets, the lady suggested, and disappeared to check. She did not return. I was aware of this because I also wanted to use the Ladies and was waiting for her to have finished her search. Finally, I convinced myself that I must have missed her departing but no – she was still in there. Was she locked in the cubicle, I wondered? She assured me she was fine and a moment later she emerged and left. It was the smallest lavatory I have ever been in. With the door closed it was practically impossible to move: I wasn’t at all convinced I’d be able to sit down and having done so I was even less convinced I’d be able to get back up again. It was smaller than a cupboard. Perhaps the lady had had similar problems.
Emerging from the fug of the tea rooms, the Fowey air seemed even less hospitable. But it was a short distance to the town hall, where there were comfortable seats – and heat. Marvellous. The talk was interesting and entertaining, much more so than I’d expected. And warm. I hoped it would never end. Of course, end it did. Any thoughts we’d had of an evening in Fowey had long ago been washed away.
We just needed to get home – back across the water, which was colourless and forbidding. The fishing boat seemed the only splash of vibrancy to be seen. Even the solitary seagull seemed subdued.
But we arrived back on Polruan’s quay. A stiff climb to the car left us puffing. And finally, we were indoors: home to thick jumpers and copious hot drinks.