To be asked to create a travel piece on the place you have grown up in arouses a strangely peculiar feeling, especially when the enquiring magazine is based a considerable distance away. Two emotions surface; the first is a imperceptibly smug pride - the home you have been fortunate enough to reside in for the majority of your life is immediately deemed worthy. The second is trepidation. Instantly you can picture a number of nooks, crannies, crevices and stories – all of which will delight a visitor.
As with a number of quirky Cornish towns, the first places to address are the pubs. Here, you will meet many a colourful character. Whilst working on the North Sea, a friend of mine once cornered an American in a pub in Lerwick. For the best part of an hour, both individuals proceeded to ‘discuss’ the new regulations of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. Considering neither of them fish, this is something of a testament to the town’s unrivalled friendliness.
The harbour has been the town’s lifeblood. The locals will be pleased to confirm that, after Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, Falmouth takes the title of the third deepest harbour in the world. Due to this impressive status alone, a large number of vessels have been able to dock and shelter here from the storms of the North Atlantic. In 1688, Falmouth was listed as the Royal Mail packet station, thus making way for a rapid expansion – with all mail leaving Falmouth in order to reach the Empire. In 1805, the news of Britain’s victory and Admiral Nelson’s death at Trafalgar was released to Falmouth by the schooner HMS Pickle. This announcement was made prior to the news arriving in London by coach. The town’s docks began to spring up in 1858, with the railway following close behind. This brought both a great deal of prosperity, and also the first tourists to the town. Today, the docks are still very much in business and the high tide showcases a large number of commanding tugs and massive tankers, many of which dwarf the landscape surrounding them. Sharing the docks with the tankers is Pendennis Shipyard, a world-leader in super yacht design and construction. Throughout the year, the harbour plays continuous host to a number of crews, showcasing a dominant presence in the town as they work to replenish supplies and attend to refurbishments – setting sail around the world at the whim of their multi-millionaire owners.
Falmouth’s nautical history is visible everywhere. The National Maritime Museum Cornwall, opened by the Duke of York in 2003, sits at the far end of Falmouth’s main street and claims to be one of the South West’s most prestigious visitor attractions. Throughout the 20th century, Falmouth’s income reliance from the sea has decreased dramatically, with tourism taking a predominant seat as the population’s primary source of business. The town has additionally seen millions invested into its University, the benefits of which haven’t gone unnoticed. Tremough Campus, on the outskirts of Falmouth is the home of three universities: Exeter University, Camborne School of Mines and Falmouth Arts School.
Falmouth truly awakens in the summer months and as soon as the longer evenings allow it, the sailing season begins. From modern yachts to old gaff-rig working boats, the Carrick Roads become a mishmash of vibrant and colourful sails. In the middle of August Regatta Week, crews from all walks of life arrive to sail by day and party by night. Even if you are not in town to race, there is still a good chance you could end up on a boat. Evening rendezvous’ with locals in many of the pubs will often conclude with a request for you to help out the following day. Minimal experience is required, simply a good attitude and a cast iron stomach.
Pleasure cruises from either Custom’s House Quay or Prince of Wales Pier offer visitors the chance to hit the water in a more leisurely fashion. Family days out include trips across the Carrick Roads to visit the village of St Mawes, whilst cruises up the River Fal to Truro, or across the bay to the Helford River both prove to be extremely popular excursions, providing visitors and locals with an easy route out of town for the afternoon. Lucky tourists will be able to experience a variety of marine life, from gannets and shags to dolphins, seals and in early summer, the second largest fish in the sea, the basking shark. Seafood is found in abundance in Falmouth. There are many places to enjoy a number of taste tantalising dishes, the most renowned being a small shellfish restaurant, the Wheel House. Another must-try eatery goes by the name of Upton Slip, situated at the bottom of a quaint yet very steep cobble lane. As well as the tourists, the locals in Falmouth are big fans of dining out. ln order to avoid disappointment, booking a table up to a month in advance is advised.
Last but not least are the impressive beaches. Falmouth boasts four in total, varying from picturesque sandy coves to a number of thin tidal coastlines in the shape of rock pooling paradises. The most popular seaboard is Gyllyngvase beach, just a short ten minute walk from the town centre. Gyllyngvase claims the title of the largest shore, boasting both a Blue Flag status and lifeguard cover during the summer months. Popular activities include snorkelling and setting sail on any one of the readily available watercrafts. Three miles south of Falmouth is Maenporth Cove, a very safe and friendly beach that is certainly worth the short drive, especially if tranquility is more to your taste. At the lowest tides, ship enthusiasts are able to gain access to the shipwreck of the Ben Asdale, wrecked off the beach in the winter of 1978 in force eight gales accompanied by ferocious blizzard conditions.
So there we are, an insider’s description of Falmouth. I feel like I have only scratched the surface of what there is to see and do, but hopefully you have read this article and it has made you want to visit – just don’t feed the seagulls!