Discover a Cornish adventure to be had in a slice of real treasure in Falmouth

ANDY KEEBLE discovers plenty of out-of-season adventure to be had in a slice of real Cornish treasure

As we head out across the mouth of the River Fal towards St Mawes, the boys keep a cautious eye on Pendennis Castle. The day before, we’d been having a great time at the castle aiming cannons at passing pirate’ ships in the river.

But the imaginations of three and four-year-olds are marvellous things. And today it’s clear from their worried expressions that we’re the pirates in danger of being blown out of the water.

We’re in Falmouth – ships and castles country – and by land and sea, we’ve come to explore what this thriving Cornish port town has to offer a family of four from Devon.

A weekend getaway can often be a real gamble with young children. So during the two-and-a-half hour Friday evening drive from Barnstaple in a fierce squall, we feared the worst. But things looked up on our arrival at Pendra Loweth, a valley village of self-catering holiday cottages on the outskirts of Falmouth, and close to the sandy beaches of Swanpool and Maenporth.

Our three bedroom bolthole was surprisingly spacious and well-equipped with all the essentials. Bed sheets were soft, pillows plump and bath towels extra large. And there were acres of storage space too – which made for a great game of hide and seek before we headed out to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall on Saturday morning.

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The National Maritime Museum Cornwall strikes a perfect balance between entertainment and education – even for my attention-challenged whippersnappers. An assortment of ocean-going craft dangles from the ceiling in the main hall and there are plenty of interactive surprises around every corner.

What was even more surprising was that many come with an open invite to clamber; even parents will find it hard to resist jumping on a jet ski or behind the controls of a Sea King search and rescue helicopter.

There is plenty to keep the kids amused while the adults learn about weather systems and awe-inspiring tales of sea survival and rescue. My young Ben Ainslies loved sailing the remote controlled yachts, while I earned my own water wings using a tiller to skipper a boat safely to shore.

Two hours here whizzed by – and with lunchtime beckoning, we navigated our way across the square at Discovery Quay for posh fish and chips at Rick Stein’s.

We were informed by staff that the boss was away filming his next television series in the Mediterranean – but the quality of the food here would surely have been given the Stein seal of approval. The appetite we’d worked up at the maritime museum more than justified a sharing board of Thai fishcakes; salt and pepper king prawns; Amritsari fish; salt cod fritters; goujons of lemon sole; and seared yellowfin tuna – and that was just to start.

The children’s menu offered plenty of choice – and also colouring options to keep hungry little people entertained. For our main courses we tucked into classic fish and chips and crab linguine. Generous portions of cod bites and scampi armed the boys with more than enough energy to take on Pendennis Castle and the neighbouring Ships and Castles Leisure Centre.

Built to defend against attack by the French and Spanish, Pendennis Castle is a fascinating 500-year throwback to the time of Henry VIII. The castle offers great views over Falmouth – but more importantly, the chance to climb turrets, roam ramparts and of course fire cannons at passing pirate ships.

Next door, our little knights loved the swimming pool at Ships and Castles. The gently sloping pool is perfect for very young children, while the slide, wave pool and rapid river ride were a big hit with my own inner big kid.

We decided to round off a busy day at The Stable, a real lesson in simplicity done extremely well. The Falmouth branch only opened in August and joins a growing staple of beautifully delicious South West pizza, pie and cider restaurants.

It’s set in the nautical heart of Falmouth in the Old Custom House overlooking the harbour. Think cosy booths, long wooden benches, low lighting and a laid back vibe – comfort food in a comfortable setting.

The West County-inspired menu throws up original pie options, as well as pizza toppings you’ll be hard-pressed to find in Italy. And while there’s a cider list as long as your arm, I opted for the Stable Drop pale ale, brewed especially for the restaurant.

The next morning, we headed to the harbour – the world’s third deepest after Sydney and Rio de Janeiro – and caught the 10.15am ferry to St Mawes with Fal River Cornwall. Under bright blue skies we chugged out across glassy waters and almost had to squint as we approached the whitewashed buildings of St Mawes.

And after some more rampart roaming at Pendennis’ slightly smaller sister castle, we headed back down the hill to the harbour for the 20 minute return trip to Falmouth.

We’d not nearly enough time to explore the town’s jolly bunting-adorned High Street or the Falmouth Art Gallery, itself a previous winner of The Guardian’s Kids in Museums awards. The sea air had made for hungry tums, so we headed over to the Gylly Beach Café, a busy beachside gem just a short drive from the town centre.

After a walk on the beach, we set sail for home but agreed we’d struck gold in Falmouth. It’s clear this town marks a very big X on a treasure map for families.