A maze of quiet creeks off Falmouth’s broad harbour
The ancient port of Falmouth is the gateway to a fascinating maze of creeks and tidal rivers, sheltered by rolling farmland. The tranquil waterways are deep enough for big ships to moor as far inland as King Harry Ferry, and for small coasters to venture up to the old quays at Truro. Motorists who pick their way through the tangled web of narrow lanes discover such delights as the medieval churches at St Clement and St Just.
Blessed with one of the world’s finest natural harbours, Falmouth flourished for more than 200 years as a port for Atlantic shipping – the first port of call, from the 17th to the 19th century, for many ships homeward bound and the last stopping place for those sailing west.
The deep, sheltered waters of Carrick Roads were a safe refuge from storms and a convenient anchorage for vessels awaiting orders or replenishing their stores. The town’s importance as a link with the outside world is emphasised by the fact that it was the first place in Britain to learn of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805.
Falmouth’s Maritime Museum has a wealth of exhibits dealing with the sailing packets that brought prosperity to the town between 1688 and 1852. The ‘Falmouth packets’ were fast, lightly armed ships built to carry mail overseas, to ports in Europe and as far away as the West Indies. As the model of the Crane in the museum shows, the packets were usually two-masted sloops, square-rigged and with long bowsprits, up to 200 tons in weight. Most were built locally and privately owned, under charter to the Post Office. Their mission involved them in numerous gun battles during the Napoleonic Wars, the mail being jettisoned overboard if capture was inevitable. By the early 19th century as many as 40 packets were operating out of Falmouth; but in 1852 the Post Office switched to a steamboat service from Southampton. A monument in the centre of The Moor in Falmouth commemorates the 150 years of the Packet Service.
Custom House Quay was built more than 300 years ago, but the present Custom House dates from 1815 and is in the Regency Classical style. Also of the Regency period is the ‘Queen’s Pipe’, originally called the ‘King’s Pipe’, an incinerator in which seized contraband tobacco was burned.
The road to Pendennis Point provides fine views of the town, with its docks and shipyards in the foreground and Carrick Roads – a forest of slender masts in summer -stretchingaway to the north. The headland itself is dominated by Pendennis Castle, one of a chain of coastal fortresses built when Henry VIII feared an invasion from Europe.
Castle Beach and Gyllyngvase Beach, overlooked by steep slopes clad with hotels, form Falmouth’s southern boundary. They offer long stretches of sand punctuated by rocks where the ebbing tide leaves many pools to be explored.
As well as seaside amusements, Falmouth has an art gallery and, south of the town on the road to Maenporth, a model village. A regatta is held in August, and boat trips, river cruises and fishing trips are available. Motor boats may be hired, and there is a sailing club.
Four hundred years older than Falmouth, 5_ til / 7MFM
Penryn was granted its first charter in 1256.
Grass-topped quays and an old warehouse recall its days as a port exporting tin and granite from local mines and quarries. The creek is now used by private craft and a few small fishing boats, which anchor within a stone’s throw of fields where hay is harvested in the summer.
This colourful little village was named by Dutch engineers who were employed to build its quays and sea-walls in the 17th century. It developed into a thriving port whose ships traded with the West Indies and North America, and has elegant Queen Anne houses built by naval officers and captains of Falmouth packet ships. Many of the buildings which flank the narrow main street have flights of stone steps leading down to the water, where private craft mingle with fishing boats and the ferry to Falmouth.
A short walk leads to Trefusis Point, where the transport ship Queen was wrecked in 1814 after a voyage from Spain. The 200 victims of the disaster are commemorated in the churchyard of the nearby church of St Mylor. A regatta is held in August, and river trips are available.
St Mylor’s Church, set in grounds where hydrangeas bloom, overlooks a sheltered creek that has become one of Cornwall’s most popular bases for yachtsmen. Their craft use quays and jetties where warships were built when the village had a small naval dockyard. The medieval church stands on the site where St Mylor is said to have been martyred in AD 411, and is notable for a fine Celtic cross near the south porch. Inside are many memorials to ill-fated seafarers, such as the commander of a Falmouth packet who died ‘bravely defending his ship against the enemy’ in 1803, during the Napoleonic Wars.
There are sailing clubs, and sailing boats, rowing boats and motor boats are available for hire.
This village at the head of Mylor Creek, a haven for small boats, is at its most attractive when high tide laps the small quays. A lane runs northwards to Restronguet Creek and The Pandora, an inn which dates from the 13th century and is said to be the oldest in Cornwall. It was given its present name by the commander of HMS Pandora, the ship which went to the Pacific to capture the Bounty mutineers after they set their commander, Lt William Bligh, adrift in an open boat in 1789.
Reached by a steep, narrow lane from the village of Feock, the beach of sand and shingle is a launching site for small boats and commands good views down Carrick Roads towards Falmouth. Another lane goes southwards to Restronguet Point and a creek which runs inland to Point and Devoran. Both villages were outlets for Cornish tin in the 19th century.
This beautifully wooded estate, almost islanded by the River Fal and two of its many creeks, was given to the National Trust in 1955 and has a large garden which is open to visitors. Much of the landscaping was done early in the 19th century by a man whose wealth – derived from tin and copper mines – earned him the nickname of ‘Guinea-a-Minute’ Gilbert.
The garden is notable for more than 130 species and varieties of hydrangea.
Cornwall’s administrative centre and unofficial capital is dominated by the lofty spires of a cathedral built between 1880 and 1910. In the Middle Ages Truro became one of the ‘stannary’ towns which controlled the county’s thriving tin industry, and it developed as a port despite being more than 10 miles from the open sea.
Coasters still visit the wharves opposite Boscawen Park, but Truro’s role as a major outlet for tin dwindled rapidly in the 17th century as Falmouth was developed. The area controlled by its port authority was greatly reduced during the same period, possibly because Charles II felt that Truro had given his ill-fated father insufficient support during the Civil War.
There is an indoor swimming pool, and river cruises are available. Two indoor markets are held every weekday, and a cattle market every Wednesday.
Spread out along a headland where the Tresillian River mingles with the Truro, Malpas is a haven for small boats. A ferry helps walkers on their way to the isolated hamlet of Old Kea or the little village of St Michael Penkevil.
This sleepy little hamlet lies on a wooded stretch of the Tresillian River, about 2 miles east of Truro. Its quaint church dates from the 13th century and has an unusual lych-gate whose upper storey is said to have once served as the local school. In the church porch are preserved stocks with spaces for three victims. A cross in the churchyard dates from Saxon times.
Among those commemorated inside the church is Rear Admiral Robert Carthew Reynolds who was lost, together with all his officers and men, when the 98-gun warship St George went down off Jutland in 1811.
KING HARRY FERRY
The ferry across the River Fal departs from a slipway a few hundred yards south of a thatched cottage which marks the crossing favoured by the old road between London and Penzance. The cottage, which now serves teas, was visited by General Eisenhower during the build-up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. The concrete road to the river was built during the same period for the embarkation of American troops. Big ships are often seen riding at anchor in the deep channel, awaiting anything from sailing orders to a final cruise to the breakers’ yard.
This peaceful headland has fine views of the River Fal and Carrick Roads, and is an ideal area for strolls and picnics. Owned by the National Trust, it is also a vantage point from which oyster boats may be seen at work during the winter months. Parking is very limited at the end of the concrete-slab road beyond Commerrans Farm.
ST JUST IN ROSELAND
At high tide the creek below St Just mirrors a 13th-century church whose setting ranks among the most memorable anywhere in Britain. It nestles beneath slopes where bamboo, camellias, Chilean fire bushes, rhododendrons and many subtropical plants flourish in colourful profusion. The path down to the church is flanked by granite tablets carved with verses. The enchanting setting makes it easy to believe the legend that Christ visited St Just as a boy when travelling with Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant.
The narrow road from St Just Lane ends on a shingle shore with a small boatyard.
PLACE TO SEE INLAND
Truro County Museum and Art Gallery. Weekdays except Bank Hols.