Falmouth has a bustling vibe and with quieter spots along the river it's a great place to visit in Cornwall whatever your interests
With a rich maritime history, Falmouth has a bustling vibe and with quieter spots along the river for a tranquil retreat, it is a great place to visit whatever your interest, writes LESLEY DOUBLE
Falmouth, or Falemuth as it was called in the 13th century, grew over the centuries thanks to the deep, natural harbour that has proved a boon to all kinds of shipping. It was of great benefit to British sailors, adventurers and entrepreneurs, although it also helped our enemies, who found they could raid Falmouth with little to hinder them. To counteract this problem, and fearing invasion from the French and Spanish, Henry VIII built Pendennis and St Mawes Castles on either side of the entrance to the river to protect the harbour and the town.
For 150 years, from the late-17th century to the mid-19th century, the Falmouth Packet carried mail all over the world, to Britains rapidly growing empire. Today, the town still plays host to all manner of craft, from cruise ships to small yachts and dinghies, and it has become famous as a starting or finishing point for many races and adventures. Situated on the south coast of Cornwall, and with numerous rivers and creeks fanning out inland from the sea, Falmouth can be whatever you want busy and bustling, or quiet and tranquil. This is a town that will suit everyone.
Why visit now?
With the arrival of spring and Easter, Falmouth comes to life. Green leaves appear on the trees along the valleys and early visitors stroll in the sunshine. Cafés, restaurants and shops have been redecorated and are gleaming with new paint, encouraging folk to stop and rest awhile. Cornwall is well known for its early blooming flowers, and the parks and gardens are alive with colour. Now might be the best time to take a boat ride not all ferries and short cruises are available this early in the year, but those that are will be less crowded.
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Falmouth has somehow managed to combine its many historical artefacts and buildings with brand new architecture. If you are interested in the past, then you can find something to fascinate you wherever you look. Take the parish church, for example, which was dedicated by King Charles II to his father, King Charles the Martyr, as thanks to Falmouth for the towns support during the Civil War. Narrow and winding Arwenack Street and Church Street run parallel to the river, and if you peep through shop windows and up or down little alleys, you are sure to see something out of the ordinary.
There are old bells and signs and ships mastheads, and a brick chimney called the Kings or Queens Pipe, depending who was currently on the throne, which was once used to burn contraband tobacco confiscated by customs officials.
The National Maritime Museum building is at the opposite end of the spectrum: a brand new, wooden-clad building, in a square of brand new shops and restaurants. Events Square is a wonderful place to stop and spend an hour or two, sipping coffee at an outside table and watching the world go by. These modern buildings really dont look odd in such a history-laden town, in fact they enhance the older architecture perfectly. Events Square is perfectly named, as it is a base for frequent art exhibitions, food and drink markets and musical entertainment.
Last year, St Michaels Hotel and Spa won three gold awards at the Cornwall Tourism Awards ceremony. It's not hard to see why, and it would be hard to find a better place in which to treat and pamper yourself than here. With spectacular views across Falmouth Bay, why not try out the Flying Fish restaurant, or treat yourself to a stay for a day or two? Perhaps the most special part of this hotel is St Michaels Spa. Here you can while away the hours in the beautiful indoor pool or fitness suite, but for a real pampering, why not luxuriate with one of the spa treatments. After a massage, facial, sauna and lunch, you may not want to go home!
Thanks to its situation on the River Fal, and the many sheltered inlets and valleys, Falmouth is the perfect place to stay if you want to explore some of the best Cornish gardens. Falmouth is a base for many holiday companies, who bring their clients to see the many magnificent gardens. Try Trelissick, Glendurgan or Trebah, or the fascinating Lost Gardens of Heligan, all of which have been built in the shelter of the river valleys and contain plants that may not be seen elsewhere in Britain. In town, there are also plenty of gardens: Gyllyndune Gardens is home to many outdoor events, Swanpool Nature Reserve is a haven for wildlife, Kimberley Park holds a vast array of ornamental trees and Fox Rosehill Gardens has been awarded a Green Flag for sustainable practices.
Enjoy the view
There are plenty of delightful places in Falmouth where you can spend an hour or two, but if you want views over and up the river, you should go up to Pendennis Castle. This Tudor castle has such a glorious outlook that it is no wonder Henry VIII chose it as a point to protect the town. Today Pendennis is cared for by English Heritage and you can look around the castle at certain times of the day. Take a picnic, and you can sit at one of the tables placed there for this purpose or stay in your car and watch the ships and boats come and go, as have thousands of people before you.
For your diary
Every Tuesday: Falmouth Farmers Market takes place at the Prince of Wales Pier from 9am-2pm.
June: The annual Sea Shanty Festival is a collaboration of singing groups from all over Europe. The Festival raises money for the RNLI, as well as preserving and promoting the maritime heritage of Falmouth and Cornwall.
October: The Falmouth Oyster Festival is based around Events Square, where there are cookery demonstrations and oyster tasting, a celebrity chef and live music.