The two faces of Cornwall: while Riviera towns flourish, inland villages are dying

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Fowey booms as celebrities flock to culinary paradise

The narrow winding streets are lined with bijou shops, delicatessens and boutiques, while the smart yachts bob up and down in the harbour as their owners peruse the menus in one of several fish restaurants in the town. Welcome to Fowey, on the Cornish Riviera.

Fowey is one of a growing number of towns and coastal villages in Cornwall that are booming through the rediscovery of the county as a destination for holidays and second, as well as first, homes.

The boom is being fuelled by the benevolent climate, better road links, good local produce, a culinary renaissance - Rick Stein's eateries in Padstow have led to the pretty coastal town being nicknamed Padstein - and popular tourist ventures such as the Eden Project.

The result has been an influx of celebrities and the well-heeled, pushing up house prices well beyond the means of locals. This week the comedians Dawn French and Lenny Henry were reported to be the latest recruits to Fowey when their names were linked with the purchase of a £2.3m house on the edge of the town. Point Neptune, a Grade II-listed Victorian house overlooking Readymoney Cove, is considered one of the most desirable properties in the Fowey area.

Built by prisoners during the Napoleonic wars and positioned on the waterfront, it has spectacular views of the harbour and beach.

The couple, who currently live in Berkshire, have some links with the area - French was born in Plymouth and her mother lives in Looe, a short distance along the coast. If the reports are correct, they will be joining a number of other celebrities, which include the broadcaster Gloria Hunniford, the television presenters Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, who have a second home there, and the former Blue Peter host Janet Ellis. Sir Cliff Richard is also thought to be a regular visitor.

Lynn Gold, who has worked in Fowey's tourist office for the past 20 years, said the town had a long tradition of incomers and second-homers. "When I was 11 probably about a third of the class was people who had moved out of cities after the war. The vast majority of people with second homes contribute to the community. People tend to buy local, and there is a butcher's, fish shop, delicatessens and a flower shop on the main road."

While media stars have descended upon Fowey in recent years, in the past, the town enjoyed a strong association with literary figures. The writer Arthur Quiller-Couch, who was born in Cornwall, lived in the town and was commodore of the local yacht club, while Kenneth Grahame based The Wind in the Willows in and around the Lerryn river, a tributary of the Fowey.

But the author most associated with Fowey is Daphne du Maurier, who lived at Menabilly, a large secluded house just outside the town, which was the setting for Rebecca, one of her most famous novels. Up until her death in 1989, she lived in a house called Ferryside, on the opposite side of the river and still owned by her family. A literary festival is held every spring in her honour.

Candice Jury, the front-of-house manager at the Fowey Hotel, said that during the summer the hotel is usually fully booked, often with actors and writers, who have included Prunella Scales, Alan Titchmarsh, Charles Dance and Edwina Currie.

Mike Sutherland, the town's harbour master, said house prices were "extortionately high" adding: "A lot of people I employ don't live in Fowey because it is too expensive."

Mr Sutherland said he hoped that if Lenny Henry did move to the area, he would be persuaded to join the town band: "They dress in costumes during the Royal Fowey regatta and transport an 8ft giant pasty across the river from Polruan."

The good

* The population has grown by 7.9 per cent over the past 10 years, more than twice the increase for England as a whole.

* The economy is growing at a rate of 6.8 per cent a year, ahead of the UK average of 5.4 per cent, the biggest rise in the EU.

* Average house pricein 2004 was £188,275, compared with £175,401 in the rest of the country.

* Cornwall has 21 per cent more businesses per head than the UK average.

* £700mhas been invested in regeneration.

Lanreath's way of life threatened by closure of popular school

By Genevieve Roberts

The last bus went through Lanreath last week. The post office and local shop have already closed. By next summer the primary school may also close its doors.

Almost half of the village of 400 people, near Looe in Cornwall, are fighting the planned closure that they believe will destroy the community.

Marion Facey, 58, has lived in the village for 30 years. "We have suffered so much loss here, and there is not much left to keep people living here," she said. "If the school closes, then the families may move out and the community is not sustainable with just the older generation. But this village is worth fighting for."

The school has just 19 pupils, but it binds the community together.

Siobhan Rawlings, who is a mealtime assistant at Lanreath primary school, and whose youngest son, Benjamin, is a pupil at the school, said: "It is not just the school, but the whole idea of village life. For our village, this is the one place where every age group comes together. Every child in the school takes part in the nativity play, and everyone from the community and the surroundings congregates in the church. The community will never be the same if the school closes. Lanreath epitomises the problems all rural communities are facing at the moment, as we get overlooked."

Last Sunday, 100 people from Lanreath - along with a few cows and sheep - travelled to London. They set up an annexe of the village on Islington Green in north London: children played hopscotch, there was maypole dancing and morris dancing, and the Women's Institute held a tea party. The people of Islington gathered a tug-of-war team together for a city versus country contest.

They gave Jim Knight, the Schools minister, more than 160 letters of protest at the closure planned for August 2007, which was announced by the county council in June. In December, the school organisation committee will meet to discuss the fate of the school.

Janice Williams, 37, moved to Lanreath because she wanted her children to go to a village school. "It is a fantastic school, almost like a private school," she said. "The teachers know all the pupils individually, so they can almost give them a tailor-made education. If they close us, it opens the floodgates for other small schools to be closed." If the primary school - rated "good" in its latest Ofsted report - closes, she believes her children, Scott, nine, Jack, six and Ellie, one, are not guaranteed as good an education.

AnneMarie and Joust Spearings moved from the Netherlands to Lanreath eight years ago, where they are farmers. Their three children went to the local school, and AnneMarie believes it has given them a confidence they would not have gained in a primary school with hundreds of pupils. "Closing small primary schools is very short-sighted," she said. "People may say that they have problems adjusting to larger secondary schools but that is just not true. In Britain, there is a need to build more prisons, but if the money was spent ensuring all children got a good education then they wouldn't end up in prison."

The villagers of Lanreath will continue fighting the intended closure, just as they have fought against the closure of other amenities on which they rely. Thirty villagers have volunteered to man the village shop and post office, under a paid manager. By Christmas, they are hoping it will reopen. At present the nearest shop is two miles away, which, for some of the elderly people in the village, is difficult to get to without a bus running through the village.

Mrs Facey said: "We are not the type of people to sit back and let the heart be ripped out of our community. People don't realise that these tiny places are struggling to continue. When we travelled up to Islington, which is crowded with buses and shops, we had to tell people, 'We would be lucky to see just one shop or bus'."

The bad

* The GDP in Cornwall is 65 per cent of the UK average.

* In 2005, the average salary was £19,000, against the UK's £23,300.

* In 2001, the proportion of the working-age population in Cornwall that attained National Vocational Qualification level 3 or above was 39.1 per cent compared with 41.1 per cent across the UK.

* A 1997 survey said 61 per cent of small Cornish communities had no access to a local GP surgery.