St Catherine’s Castle is a 16th-century device fort built on the behest of King Henry VIII. Although not a true castle, this heritage site played a pivotal role across centuries. The defence offered protection for the busy waterways below from the Reformation and English Civil War up to WWII.
Visiting St Catherine's Castle
Can You visit St Catherine's Castle?
Visitors may access Catherine’s Castle via a coastal path, signposted from the car park at Tower Park in Fowey. From the park, visitors may follow the path to Readymoney Cove and onto the coastal trail. This site is free to visit in any reasonable daylight hour, and visitors may find refreshment and bathroom facilities at Readymoney Cove.
Access to the castle is open to the public, and admission is free.
Open year-round; visit at any reasonable time during daylight hours.
Location & Access
The site may be an invigorating climb but affords the most spectacular views of the Fowey, Polruan, and the Great Atlantic. Visitors are free to enter the interior of the ruins and are not prevented access from the site.
There are two paths near the castle, which leads to the lower gateway and the one that circles above the castle, so you can enjoy the castle ruins from the point of elevation. The upper path does not access the castle itself, and one has to return to the lower level for castle access. If one enters the pathway onto the firing platform, a steep set of stairs leads to the Tudor Fort.
An out and back trail takes visitors from Fowey to the castle with an optional extension to take in the coastal path’s views. There are quite a bit of gradient changes, and the walk may be slippery in wet weather.
You may find out more about this trail here.
S W Coast Path
Fowey PL23 1JH
Access: 1 mile (1.61 km) southwest of Fowey along a footpath off the A3082
Phone: +44 370 333 1181
Owner: English Heritage
Website: St Catherines Castle
Know Before You Go
- Although easily accessible, the castle lacks signposts or written guides on the structure of the castle. One should bring a guide along to help you identify the different areas of interest.
- The walk up to the ruins is somewhat steep, so it is advisable to proper footwear when navigating the paths.
- Less able-bodied visitors should bear in mind that the trail is of moderate difficulty.
History of St Catherine's Castle
St Catherine’s Castle still proudly stands on a promontory looking out across the English Channel since the 1500s. A small device fort rather than an authentic castle, St Catherine's played an essential role over hundreds of years, albeit in a more protective capacity than in a scene of bloody wars.
St Catherine’s Castle stands on top of the rocky headland called St Catherine’s Point above the River Fowey Estuary. This site bears remnants of settlement since prehistory, and extensive earthworks suggest a prehistoric cliff castle.
Henry VIII commissioned Thomas Treffry to build the D-shaped two-story blockhouse to replace two prior blockhouses at the entrance to the river estuary, the remains of which exist today.
-1538 - 1540
Thomas Treffry began building the Henrician St Catherine’s castle to respond to the threat of France and the Holy Roman Empire. In 1538, the Holy Roman Empire and France allied against Henry VIII, which made invasion a likely possibility.
Henry began to improve his coastal defences. Fowey Harbour was an important centre of trade, and up until that time, St Catherine’s Castle replaced the two blockhouses that sat on the edge of the river
The King issued a decree to commence vast fort building along the South Coast. The King was in a tenuous position, having sealed the act of Supremacy in 1534, making himself instead of the Pope the Supreme Head of the church. Wary of the potential attack from France and Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, Henry VIII sought to ensure that the new fort protected the busy port.
-1644 (English Civil War)
The Royalists used St Catherine to deter an attempted naval evacuation of parliamentary forces from Fowley after their defeat at the Battle of Lostwithiel (1644).
-1667 (Repels Dutch Attack)
St Catherine, along with the 14th-century blockhouses, successfully repelled a Dutch attack.
Historic record reported St Catherine’s castle as “ruinous.’’
-The Mid-1800s (Modified Fortifications)
The mid-1800s saw a renewed interest in the site when concern regarding Napoleon III’s rearmament prompted a new battery building. Workers carved out a flat platform out of the cliff itself to man two guns. A low parapet protected this new vantage with a magazine embedded in the rock.
Due to Napoleon III’s Threat, a new battery and a platform were built to house two gun positions during the Crimean War.
1940 (WW2 Modifications)
World War II prompted the British Southern Command to commandeer the castle as an observation site and install naval guns and build a new position 50 meters (160 ft) to the west of the castle for a French 75 mm (3.0 in) gun. The blockhouse functioned to control the minefield in the estuary below.
St Catherines fell into disrepair once again until the 1940’s Dunkirk evacuation brought renewed military interest to the site. The castle took on the role of an observation point overseeing a submarine minefield placed across the Fowley Harbour. The 1855 battery then held two anti-aircraft guns and a machine gun pillbox.
A new battery joined the old structure and housed an anti-ship gun above the castle. The British military added another 4.7-inch anti-ship gun to the 1855 battery. The army also erected further defences on the headland surrounding the castle.
The military decommissioned the entire fort and ordered the new defences removed.
-11 March 1974
The castle was designated as a world heritage site.
Images of St Catherine's Castle
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St Catherine's Castle Q&A
How Much of St Catherine's Remain?
The D-shaped tower faces southeast from the tip of St Catherine’s Point, and two sections of curtain wall extend downwards, complete with musketry slits. The imposing bastion stretches from the northwest wall and frames a semi-circle above the dangerous cliff heights.
Two rows of gun ports cover the harbour and estuary approach, and these ports have undergone modification over the years. Initially, these gun ports housed cannons mounted on flat boards rather than wheels.
The ground level houses three gun ports and a narrow fireplace, while the first floor has five narrow windows that provide a dual lookout and small arms position function. Years of alterations have blocked out some of the windows and one gun port.
St Catherine's also holds the remnants of a spiral staircase that once led to the roof and upper floor and has no living quarters as it did not serve as a permanent garrison. One may view a well punctuated with small arm slots and a gateway at the fort’s rear.
What Kind of Castle Is St Catherine’s?
St Catherine's is not a castle in the true sense of the word but rather a small Device Fort commissioned by Henry VIII. The device fort was a series of artillery fortifications built to defend the coast of England and Ales from attack. These fortifications, such as st Catherine's, were enormously expensive and equivalent to £82 billion in today’s currency.
Was St Catherine's the Site of Any Battle?
Although St Catherine played an essential role during several battles and WWII, the castle played a defensive position rather than forming a battle engagement site.
How Big Is St Catherine's Castle?
St Catherine's boasts a rectangular-shaped bastion of 5.7 by 3.2 metres (19 by 10 feet) and 0.75 metres (2.46 feet) thick walls, surrounded by cliffs and a curtain wall. It also encloses a semi-circular area of around 500 sqm or 5,400 sqft.
Location of St Catherine's Castle