Cornwall Life visits Falmouth and finds plenty of galleries, cafes and Tudor architecture
PUBLISHED: 15:10 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:53 20 February 2013
In this April issue Cornwall Life visits Falmouth and finds plenty of galleries, cafes, Tudor architecture and one of the world's deepest natural harbours
Lesley Double finds galleries, cafs, Tudor architecture and one of the world's deepest natural harbours in Falmouth. Photographs by Neville Stanikk
According to Betty Hosking, Falmouth is "one of the loveliest places to live in the whole of Cornwall". When the sun is shining on the water and the rigging on the boats in the harbour is 'clink-clinking' in the breeze, it would be hard to disagree with her. "My husband, Jack, likes to get out on the river," she says, "and I could spend all my time in the galleries and shops. We meet up afterwards for a bite to eat in one of the cafs or restaurants and talk about our day."
Being blessed with having one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, it is no surprise that Falmouth has been an important shipping town for several hundred years. When Henry VIII feared invasion from the French and Spanish, he built Pendennis and St Mawes Castles on opposite sides of the river to protect the harbour. Today, these two excellent examples of Tudor architecture are looked after by English Heritage and are well worth a visit, if only to understand their vital roles in the history of the town. From the late 17th to the mid-19th centuries, the Falmouth Packet Service carried mail to and from Britain's ever-growing Empire, and it has been the first or last port of call for many a famous name. Charles Darwin first stepped ashore here after his round-the-world trip aboard the Beagle, and Sir Francis Chichester and
Dame Ellen MacArthur have both used Falmouth's harbour as the beginning and end for their solo journeys.
With the rise of technology, the need for Falmouth to be a staging post for ships to all corners of the world became less important. The docks may still be a major contributor to the town's economy, but so are the many people who come to sail from the harbour or to fish from the pier. Falmouth is also a major stopping-off point for cruise ships because of the depth of water in the harbour.
Thanks to its situation and history, Falmouth has the best of all worlds - beautiful beaches, lush gardens, shops and attractions for all ages and old and modern buildings. It is difficult to believe that you are so close to the sea when mature trees and plants are everywhere. A few miles away are Trelissick, Trebah and Glendurgan Gardens, but there are several great gardens to see in town: Fox Rosehill Gardens has been awarded a Green Flag for sustainable practices; the seven-acre Kimberley Park is home to many ornamental trees; Gyllyngdune Gardens is adjacent to Princess Pavilions and is often used for outdoor events; and Swanpool Nature Reserve offers a haven of tranquillity for both humans and wildlife.
A walk along the town's cobbled, narrow and winding shopping streets and alleys is quite an adventure. There are plenty of unusual shops and galleries, many of which are dedicated to the sea: sailors, fishermen, smugglers, adventurers. Shop windows often overlook the water and, if they are able, cafs, pubs and restaurants have a balcony or garden at the rear, all the better to enjoy the Fal.
The two roads that run one into the other, The Moor and Killigrew Street, hold several important buildings, including the Passmore Edwards Free Library, which contains an impressive art gallery and the Falmouth Methodist Church, which was partially destroyed by enemy action in 1941 and not fully restored until 1956. Killigrew Street is named after the family who created the town in the early 17th century. After the Civil War, Sir Peter Killigrew gave the land for the building of the Falmouth Parish Church of King Charles the Martyr, and the Killigrews are further remembered with a monument in Arwenack Street.
Falmouth's exciting past is remembered, for example, in the beautiful, wooden 'Amy of the Amazon' figurehead that is believed to come from a man-o'-war and now lives on Upton slip; the 111-step Jacob's Ladder, which was built in the 1830s so Jacob Hamblyn could easily commute from his home on the hillside to his business on The Moor; the King's Pipe, which sits at the entrance to Custom House Quay and was used in the 18th century for the destruction of contraband tobacco; and de Wynns, a tea and coffee house named after one of Falmouth's earliest entrepreneurs and a haunt of packet ship captains.
The foundation stone for the Prince of Wales Pier was laid in 1903 by the future king George V. This is where you can catch the ferry to St Mawes, take a fishing trip, or cruise up the river to Trelissick, Helford or even to Truro. There are sea safaris and private boats for hire, in fact everything you could possibly need if you want to get out on the water. While you are debating what to do, pop into the Tourist Information Centre, conveniently situated at the entrance to the Pier or enjoy a picnic at one of the many seats. From here you can see Pendennis Castle, the Ships and Castles Leisure Centre and, just below, the Maritime Museum at Discovery Quay. From the end of May to the beginning of October, a Park and Float scheme operates, whereby visitors to the museum can leave their car on the outskirts of the town and catch a ferry to Discovery Quay.
Falmouth's shopping arcade is probably one of the most unusual in Cornwall. Built in 1912, St Georges Arcade was once home to the second largest cinema in the country. The brightly painted ornate faade still resembles the entrance to a cinema but today the building holds a diverse collection of shops selling leather goods, sheet music, glass, Far Eastern furniture and many other unusual items besides. It is well worth a visit, even if you are only window shopping. The shop names are an entertainment in themselves: Browsers, Second Time, Sloppy Jo and the wonderful Sheikyerbooty!
There is so much to see and do in Falmouth. History, art, excellent places to eat, parks and beaches, entertainment for all ages and all pockets and, of course, the many and varied activities on the water: it really is a delightful place to spend a few hours, or days, of your time.
Forget your car, the trains and buses, and get out on the river! The St Mawes Ferry runs for seven days a week, 364 days a year and for just a few pounds you can enjoy the lovely village of St Mawes on the other side of the estuary and see Falmouth from a different perspective.
There are also cruises up the Fal to the National Trust gardens of Trelissick. When the tide is right, boats can travel all the way upriver to Truro.
The Tourist Information Centre ((01326 312300) can give you information on the many different festivals held in the area, two of which this year are the Fal River Festival from 23-31 May, and the Falmouth Oyster Festival from 15-18 October.