Walk - St Catherine's Castle
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Walking back to the entrance of the car park, take the footpath along the lane to the right and follow it through Allday's Fields, carrying on along the edge of Readymoney Wood.
- At the T-junction at the bottom, turn right on the track, descending to turn right again a little further on, onto the South West Coast Path towards St Catherine's Point.
Readymoney was known as 'Mundy' at the beginning of the nineteenth century, meaning 'mineral house', and it is thought to have been a trading place in early medieval times. In 1792, massive pilchard cellars were built in Readymoney Cove to process the fish caught in St Austell Bay. In one year alone 60,000 hogsheads of pilchards were shipped from Fowey. (A hogshead was a cask holding a little over 238 litres or 52 gallons, so the year's catch was more than 14 million litres!). There was also a limekiln on the beach (now a public shelter), where coal and limestone were burned to make fertiliser.
An elegant Italianate mansion to the left of the cove was built in the mid ninteenth century and extended in 1864 for local landowner William Rashleigh of Menabilly. Known as Point Neptune, the 40-room villa was on the market for £2.8 million in 2006, when it was bought by actress Dawn French and her husband. During the Second World War, novelist Daphne du Maurier lived in its coach house, built along with the stables at the head of the cove. Her 1942 novel 'Frenchman's Creek' is said to have been inspired by the views from the coach house (see the Lankelly & Menabilly Walk).
- From St Catherine's Point carry on along the Coast Path, descending to Coombe Haven and then climbing steeply on the far side of the cove, rounding the small headland to drop into the next valley. Once again you climb away from the shoreline, to carry on around Southground Cliffs before gently losing height on Lankelly Cliff, dropping to Southground Point with the daymark tower on Gribbin Head in front of you. From here the Coast path turns inland and heads downhill, to the cove at Polridmouth.
Penventinue Cove, just below St Catherine's Point, is named from the Cornish 'penventynnyow', meaning 'spring heads'.
Perched above St Catherine's Point, St Catherine's Castle was ideally placed to guard the harbour, with its fine views over the mouth of the river and out to sea. The castle visible today, a D-shaped two storey blockhouse, was commissioned by Henry VIII between 1538 and 1540. Henry had alienated both France and Spain through his split with Rome during the Reformation, and the events leading up to it. This castle was built to supplement the two blockhouses already in place on opposite sides of the estuary at Fowey and Polruan (see the Wind in the Wyllows Walk). There were gun ports on the ground and first floors, for observation and small arms fire, with a parapet walk flanked by high battlements containing further gun embrasures.
Sometime before 1734, a curtain wall and rectangular bastion were added above the sheer cliffs, and this was further modified to give additional protection during the Crimean War in 1855. A battery for two guns was also added, with a magazine for storing ammunition built into the rock. It was armed by two 64-pounder rifled muzzle-loading guns, manned by Artillery Volunteers. During the Second World War it became a gun battery and observation post, and the south-westerly of the two Crimean gun emplacements was modified to take a 4.7 inch naval gun. A large protective concrete shelter and neighbouring pill box were also constructed, and a further gun mounted on the higher ground to the west of the site. The blockhouse became the firing point for a controlled minefield laid across the mouth of the Fowey estuary. After the war the site was dismantled.
Archaeologists believe that there was a cliff castle here even in prehistoric times: the Ordnance Survey map of 1888 shows extensive earthworks typical of an Iron Age premontory fort, dating from some 2000 years ago (see the Black Head & Castle Gotha Walk).
The castle, managed by English Heritage, is open all year round. Admission is free.
To the north of the castle, a granite arched mausoleum commemorating the Rashleigh family was built in ornamental gardens on the slopes above the cove, replacing a medieval chapel which previously stood on the site. Like its counterpart across the water at Polruan, the chapel would have kept a light burning overnight to warn sailors of the rocks below.
- At Polridmouth, turn right onto the footpath at the edge of the woods before the lake and follow it back up to the car park, about a mile beyond.
The lakes behind the beach at Polridmouth (pronounced 'Pridmouth') were created in the late 1920s, when a dam was built across the beach. A couple of decades later they formed one of the many imaginative decoy sites installed around the country to fool German pilots into dropping their bombs some distance away from their real target. Further dams were built around the lakes and lighting set up to replicate Fowey harbour. In 1944 2000 US Navy personnel were based in Fowey as part of the D-Day preparations, and at least one bomb was lured away to Polridmouth while they were there.
The beach also featured in Daphne du Maurier's bestselling novel 'Rebecca', which was set at Menabilly (see the Lankelly & Menabilly Walk).