HAIL THE FERRYMEN OF FOWEY
Britain is well known as an island nation and nowhere in the UK is the sea more prominent than Cornwall, writes TV chef James Strawbridge
Welcome to my town! Fowey is a beautiful haven on the Cornish Riviera, home to both the wealthy gentry and proper Cornish locals alike. It’s a boaty, foodie, and literary hidden gem.This is where I live, this is where I work, and these are the people who make it special. Over the course of this series I’m going to show you some of the amazing characters who make this such a fantastic place to live, a real insight into the lives of people who are living the Cornish seaside dream
Britain is well known as an island nation and nowhere in the UK is the sea more prominent than Cornwall. We are surrounded by water - other than that little stretch of land between the River Tamar and Devon. The tides and ever-changing weather govern the pace of life and affect people’s holidays and commute to work on a daily basis. I think that, along with the fishermen of the county, ferrymen are probably the Cornishmen who spend the most time on the water. So it was great pleasure that this month I walked down the hill from where I live and chatted with my neighbours.
The River Fowey is a deep channel that cuts inland from the sea. The depth and size of the river has meant that it is suitable for larger cargo ships tp operate out of the harbour shipping China clay around the world and cruise liners full of tourists can moor up in the river - so the port is never quiet. Not only is it a bustling stretch of water but it also offers spectacular views and thriving wildlife along the riverbank. As if this wasn’t busy enough there are leisure boats, sailing clubs, gig rowing and kayak clubs who all play and train on the river. As far as being a ferrymen goes we are talking a pretty significant amount of traffic on the waterways. So it is with no surprise that trying to conduct an interview with the guys wasn’t as simple as just recording a conversation - they constantly have to take tickets, record passenger numbers in case of incidence and dodge inexperienced yachts.
The Bodinnick Ferry in Fowey takes, cars, bikes, passengers and horses (more about that later) across the narrow passage that splits the area. I live on the quieter side of the river overlooking Fowey but I cross the river on a daily basis to go to work, buy groceries and see my friends. Learning more about the ferrymen who work here offers a real taste of cornwall life and it’s with great thanks that I’m lucky enough to have a ferry rather than a 30-40 minute drive around the river!
Whenever I cross the Bodinnick Ferry I am likely to spot someone on the other side who is waiting near their car with a camera or their mobile phone - waiting to take a photo of the huge metal platform being driven across the rushing tide. They are often excited and sometimes drive onboard obviously nervous about the whole thing and even though I’ve been across now hundreds of times I can understand that it is still a special way to travel. The Ferrymen don’t disappoint - they are all professional, patient, smile most of the time and get you across safely. My advice would be to potential passengers: have the right money’ available so bring a 50p, park your car closely to the one in front, don’t attempt to leave your lane on the ferry unless you are signaled to. I think that these guidelines apply to all ferries around Cornwall - but who knows?! Try out the King Harry Ferry on the River Fal and let me know if the same rules apply...
I understand a bit of what life can be like on the water from my days filming a couple of the Hungry Sailors series for ITV and having now lived near Fowey long enough to take the ferry lots. Often you will be greeted with scenes that make you feel like you’re on holiday and at other times all you want is to be inside by a warm fire. The ferrymen often work 6 days a week, all year round with only a couple of days-off for example Christmas... Listening back to my interview is almost impossible because of the constant hum from the engine. Unlike some other chain ferries in Cornwall the guys here steer from side to side and in strong winds it can be more challenging. The ferry only stops if they believe that the conditions are too dangerous tocross.
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When I asked WilliamTaylor what the worst time to be at work was Willy said definitively that the worst time is winter when it’s blowing a gale, cold and wet.’ When I asked how they stay warm he said we put extra clothes on’ - laughing at my question it’s fair to say that he calls a spade a spade. Whilst talking I understand that the romantic idea of working on the river is actually replaced with a practical approach and solid reality. Yet the team still like to take time to admire all of the wildlife along the riverbank and along with the dolphin who has become a regular commuter one of the brothers Brian has even photographed an otter.
Apparently the numbers using the ferry have been quieter in the last few years and there’s also been less shipping but they are starting to pick up. Walkers come across for the route along Hall Walk to Polruan and to explore Du Maurier country. When I enquired who or what the most unusual traveller has been over the years, i’m informed that it was a horse and rider. They charged them for a car’!
Most of the Bodinnick ferrymen are brothers; Robert, Willy, Paul, Phillip and Brian, and they have fun winding each other up’. The youngest nephew Mark Crapp joined the team when he left school and gets a lot of abuse from his uncles, all good-natured of course. In fact when I asked who’s in charge I was reliable informed that it was Mark. They’re all a close-knit team who believe in family and the community. I never feel happier than when I get free passage across the river as gig-rowers go free to training - just as well because after a rowing session I’m normally so tired I would probably struggle to give them the right change for my ticket....