Some of the ancient castles that line Cornwall’s coastline cost a few quid to explore. And a handful are free, like St Catherine’s Castle in Cornwall. History enthusiasts who visit Fowey really do need to take the time to climb the steep hill that leads up to one of the most impressive small forts in the South West that boasts equally impressive views of the surrounding area.
One of a pair of small artillery forts built by King Henry VIII in the 1530s to defend Fowey Harbour should there be an attack, St Catherine’s Castle demonstrates how English defensive tactics, technology and military architecture advanced over more than 400 years. The castle was modified both in the 19th century during the Crimean War – when a two-gun battery was added below it – and in the 20th century during the Second World War, housing an anti-aircraft gun and ammunition store during that conflict. It was also manned during the English Civil War. The castle takes its name from the rocky headland on which it surveys the Fowey estuary, making for stunning views over the town and harbour.
St Catherine’s is a simple enough design to understand. It’s a single two-storey D-shaped tower with two sections of curtain wall that are pierced with holes for muskets descending downwards. There’s also a bastion, a fireplace and a gateway, with gunports galore across the site alongside granite plaques commemorating the refurbishments that were made in the 19th century. Plus, the cliffs surrounding most of the attraction are sheer and help add to the drama of this historical headland fortification.
Visitors to the castle can park up next to the site for a charge. Walking from nearby Ready Money Beach is almost a mile up a steep hill through woodland but it’s a lovely hike if you’ve got the legs. And the castle makes for a marvellous reward as there’s plenty to see and learn about, despite its relatively small size. Finish up taking in those vistas over Fowey, imagining if you could reach the town with a cannonball. If your mind works like that.