Beat the crowds and leave the car behind on this walk from Penryn to Falmouth, with the added bonus of a ferry and train ride with stunning views

The River Fal rises on Goss Moor and works its way to the coast through Grampound and Tregony, bordering the Roseland Peninsula. This lovely walk follows its banks from one of its oldest towns to one of its most vibrant destinations. Judging from the footprints (and paw prints), it’s popular with locals, but how many visitors know of its existence? It’s so easy to access, and the joy of it is that it makes the most of public transport.

Your starting point, Penryn, is on the branch line between Truro and Falmouth (our directions begin at the station). Follow the river to Flushing, where you can catch the charming foot passenger ferry to Falmouth and pick up the train back to Penryn if you need to. This is especially advisable in peak season, when Falmouth can get extremely busy.

Penryn packs a punch in terms of both historical and present-day importance. It predates Falmouth by several centuries, being mentioned in the Domesday Book, but its true potential came when Bishop Bronescombe founded Glasney College in 1265 as a centre of ecclesiastical power. Cornish-language miracle plays originated here, including the Ordinalia.

But the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII put paid to its power; Glasney was looted and destroyed, its granite taken to build Pendennis Castle. Brick paths have been placed at the site of the original building to its footprint, and a memorial stone to the Prayer Book Rebellion bears witness to how integral the Cornish regarded the college to their cultural and religious identity.

Modern-day Penryn bustles with bohemian energy – there's a lively art community, a collection of independent businesses on the high street and at the carbon-neutral Jubilee Wharf, and a youthful injection from Falmouth University, which has its main campus up at Tremough by the A39.

Downriver, charming Flushing was originally known as Nankersey, but was renamed by the Dutch engineers who built its three main quays. Look out for the grand houses once owned by packet ship captains, and the Dutch-Cape style houses with their fluted gables.

This is a great place to have a drink at the Royal Standard; the Seven Stars has been taken over by the owners of the acclaimed beachhouse and schoolhouse in Devon, and is due to reopen as harbourhouse in early summer with former New Yard chef Geoffrey Robinson at the helm.

If you have the time and energy, it’s worth continuing along the coastal road to Mylor on the Trefusis headland. It’s an extremely popular walk, not too long or challenging and offers stunning views of St Mawes and St Anthony Head across the water.

There has been a Royal Charter since 1672 to carry passengers and livestock to and from Falmouth; the ferry was originally rowed, but now motors humans and dogs (strictly no cattle) over to the Prince of Wales pier in Falmouth. This lively town has grown around one of the world’s deepest natural harbours and is a crucial maritime destination as well as a popular tourist hub.

Falmouth has long been a magnet for seafarers. In 1805, the news of Britain’s victory (and Admiral Nelson’s death) at Trafalgar was landed at the steps of Fishstrand Quay and taken to London by stagecoach. Later, Robin Knox-Johnston became the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world from Falmouth in 1969, while Ellen Macarthur became the fastest person to do so in 2007.

Great British Life: Combine a scenic train journey with a walk between Penryn and Falmouth. (c) Kirstie NewtonCombine a scenic train journey with a walk between Penryn and Falmouth. (c) Kirstie Newton

The walk

1. Exit the train station and cross the road at the traffic island. Look for a flight of steps next to a black litter bin. Descend and turn right at the bottom along the main road into the town centre, passing the Stuart Stephen Memorial Hall for Infant Welfare on your left.

2. Where the road meets the town centre and widens, turn left down Truro Lane. At the bottom, turn right onto Commercial Road. This is a lively retail area with cafes and independent shops, worth exploring if you have time to spare (head down to Jubilee Wharf for a coffee at Muddy Beach, overlooking the river).

3. Cross the road at the pelican crossing, turn right and immediately left up Church Road. Between Islington Wharf and St Gluvias’ church, turn right down a footpath marked with PB bollards. This path follows the river and passes through a pretty wrought-iron gate into the churchyard, full of Victorian gothic gravestones and carpeted with wildflowers.

4. Leaving the churchyard, the path passes by fields and continues to follow the river. It becomes quite muddy and look out for tree roots and the occasional step. At a gate marked private, you can take an optional right turn onto the shoreline, with stepping stones and a boardwalk through marshy ground; alternatively, continue ahead, climbing over a wall and turning right down a tree-lined lane to cross a boardwalk over a stream. There were lots of wild brambles here, which should make for rich pickings in season.

5. Pass by a kissing gate and through a boatyard. The vista over the river opens up and you’re likely to see everything from Cornish gigs and small fishing/pleasure boats to more industrial craft and grey military vessels.

6. Turn right over a set of large flat stepping stones. Pass through Sailors Creek, an estuary inlet used for beaching and berthing boats since at least the 16th century - a CIC is currently looking for volunteers to help clean it up. Then through a pair of kissing gates, and over a metal stile down a few steps to the shoreline. Turn left - and mind the seaweed.

7. In the far corner, a path leads up to the village of Flushing. Turn right at the main road, then right again at the Royal Standard, and left through the village. Head for the harbour and the Flushing Ferry to Falmouth.

8. Once you’ve reached the Prince of Wales Pier in Falmouth, turn left into Market Street and wander through Falmouth’s busy and historic town centre. Just past Discovery Wharf, turn right to reach the town train station to catch the train back to Penryn.

Great British Life: Enjoy a trip on the Flushing Ferry. (c) Flushing FerryEnjoy a trip on the Flushing Ferry. (c) Flushing Ferry

Compass points

Start/finish: Penryn Train Station

Map: OS Explorer 104, Landranger 204

Distance: 3 miles

Time: 2 hours

Terrain: Flat but look out for tree roots. Muddy after wet weather. Some steps.

Refreshments: Choice of cafes/pubs/restaurants in Penryn, Flushing and Falmouth.