The Source of the River Fowey

I recently discovered a pamphlet in a charity shop, it is an early publication by E. C. Axford, called The Cornish Moor. There are very few books about Bodmin Moor so I was excited to find it. I soon realised that the same author had also written the 1975 topographical guide to the moors that I often refer to.

Fowey Moor

On the first page of the pamphlet Axford proposes something interesting. Dartmoor is so named as rising up out of the earth of that vast landscape is the source of the River Dart. By that logic Bodmin Moor should actually be called Fowey-moor and indeed it was for a while during the 13th century, but the name fell out of usage. Bodmin Moor, Fowey-moor or the Cornish Moor or whatever you choose to call it remains amazingly untouched. This is wild Cornwall and in one of its wildest parts the Fowey River rises.

source of the river fowey

The Source

There’s no great fanfare. No flag or monument marks the spot. Just a marshy piece of ground and the slow tickle of a tint stream of clear water. Leland writes that the river rises ‘in a wagmore in the side of a hil’.

The source lies in a small valley between Brown Willy and Buttern Hill. Although there is little to see now it is said that the place was once marked by a small chapel. The Chapel of St Peter of Fawe but no trace of the building remains.


To the Sea

From here the Fowey river runs through the heart of the moor. For nine miles it is a moorland river. It dashes through some of Cornwall’s most picturesque scenery before bursting out miles later, in to the estuary and then the salty waters of the channel.

The estuary is known as the Usell (Uzell) which means the howling place in Cornish.

As the river heads down from the moor it passes through the picturesque town of Lostwithiel. Slowly it grows wider and more powerful with every mile, the Fowey has 7 tributaries the largest of which being the River Lerryn.

They say that from small acorns great oaks grow and it could equally be said that tiny springs will eventually form great oceans!

Further Reading:

The Buttern Hill Bronze Age Cemetery and Cist

King Arthur’s Bed, Trewortha Tor

Walking Opportunities:

Bowithick to Buttern Hill


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