The Fal River Festival Part 1
Inspired Travel headed to Cornwall’s most popular visitor destination, the Fal River in the West Country of the UK for its annual celebration of life on the river. Editor, Simon Skinner spent a week touring the river and sampling some of the delights that the area has to offer
The South Coast of England is blessed with more than its fair share of stunning locations. The rolling South Downs and the South Downs Way, The Jurassic Coast through Dorset and the rolling hills of Somerset are all incredibly beautiful and draw crowds, year in and year out, who travel to marvel at the spectacle of the Great British coastline.
It is my personal opinion, though, that the real Jewel in the crown can’t be witnessed until you travel further West and into the depths of Cornwall and in particular, one of my favourite places on earth; Falmouth.
Everyone has their own favourite part of Cornwall, usually dictated by family summer holidays and nostalgic memories of tatty camping sites and long salty days on the vast sandy beaches. The location itself is reminiscent of much farther flung destinations; squint your eyes on a good day and you could be sitting on a beach in the Costa Blanca. Open them and there’s just enough British essence; fish & chips, lilos, sandcastles and deckchairs to remind you of where you are.
There’s a palpable shift of pace that becomes apparent as you head into Cornwall; the A30, (pretty well the only ‘real’ road into the county) seems to invite you into the county via the rolling countryside and dramatic landscape and on a good day, when the traffic allows, the highway offers you the sensation of gliding through the terrain with the promise of a slower pace waiting to greet you once you arrive.
That’s the romantic description of the journal into the Cornish countryside although some might argue that the stretch from Exeter to Falmouth is a real slog, and all too often (roughly) 100 miles of hell. This all depends, of course, upon what time of day or night, or indeed the time of year you choose to travel.
I have been the victim of coastal journeys as an unwilling customer of National Express coaches during the summer holiday traffic, where the journey from Brighton to Falmouth could take anywhere upwards of 12 hours.
Regardless of this, it’s a place that I’ve been fascinated by since I was a relatively small boy, and it’s a fascination that stays with me to this day.
Falmouth’s official website states that it has ‘been shaped and influenced by its strong connection to the sea. Combining a fascinating maritime heritage and modern creativity, Falmouth is building a name for itself as one of the South West’s leading cultural and festival destinations’. A concise and accurate description, and it was precisely one such annual festival event that took my wife, two small children and I, along the coast to Falmouth once more, for a welcome visit.
The River Fal Festival has been a regular feature for the town, with 2016 offering up a 7-day long, packed schedule of activities for the 11th year running.
The festival, brilliantly organised by Fal River Cornwall and supported by a whole host of local companies, such as principle sponsor, Falmouth University, Skinners Brewery, (sadly no relation), Enterprise Leisure boats and the King Harry ferry, the event is a true celebration of life around the river.
The programme for 2016 included a staggering 150 events ranging from cinema on the water with the King Harry Ferry, lots of open studios, a circus camp and a whole host of engaging events at the National Maritime Museum.
Within the programme, you’ll also find an array of river cruises, all at varying times of day and taking in different routes and stops around the river. My favourite, and the cruise that I booked onto, was the ‘Celebration of the Truro River Cruise, which meanders down the river and takes in the beautiful creeks of Cowlands and Coombe and includes, not only an incredible pasty, but enough Skinners ale to sink the proverbial ship!
This cruise took the jolly party the full length and breadth of the river in two of Falmouth’s finest Enterprise Leisure boats, heading firstly to the harbour, where we managed to witness some of the incredible super-yachts that were docked for maintenance. Surely a sign that the services and facilities I Falmouth rate amongst the best in the world. Then across in the general direction of St Mawes, where those of a certain age can enjoy a prime view of the beautiful cove and also, the lighthouse that featured in the opening credits of (the original) Fraggle Rock. A highlight for me, at least.
After a fresh stint on the water and plenty of Skinners ale being enjoyed, we pulled up against the jetty that leads directly into Trelissick Gardens, where the party continued with hot pastys, live music and a spot of archery within the Victorian brick-walled garden in the grounds.
Trelissick Gardens are, in themselves, reason enough to venture to this part of the UK. A hidden woodland garden, Trelissick enjoys far – reaching views across the water and offers canopies of Beech, sweet chestnut, and specimen conifers, which date roughly from 1870. The main plant collections found in this stunning location range from Magnolias, Camellias, Rhododendrons to Hydrangeas with formal lawns sweeping to the unique estuary views.
The bulk of the plant collection dates from the 1930’s to the present day so it maintains a relatively modern atmosphere with references to the past reflected in the fabric of the garden. Current landowners, the National Trust have added to the impressive collection, making the gardens a rich, fascinating and essential place to explore.
Other Festival activities that we enjoyed during our week-long stay, largely centered around the children. Aged 8 months and 7 years, we took full advantage of the programme, which was packed with activities for little ones.
The National Maritime museum certainly featured heavily in the listings, offering a wealth of fun and interactive events through the week including ‘Thorsday’, which extended beyond the River Fal Festival programme, taking place on each and every Thursday of the school holidays and offering a chance for little (and big) people to explore the Norse men and women from the Viking Voyagers exhibition and to experience living history with Morvleydh, the Sea Wolves.
There’s so much to see with a standard ticket for the Museum, the additional activities laid on for the Festival and holidays are a real bonus; especially since they come at no extra cost. In fact, for a small premium you can purchase an annual ticket, which offers free entry for a full 12 months, along with discounts in the shop and café.
Even with our visit taking place through a week of early summertime, there’s just so much to do in and around Falmouth. Even outside from the busy timetable of events laid on by the Festival organisers, there are the incredible beaches, Pendennis Castle, which has a heritage of some 450 years, stretching from its origins as one of Henry VIII’s coastal strongholds to its last military role as a secret Second World War base.
You have the Cornish Diving School, golf clubs, art galleries, the Ships & Castles swimming pool (adjacent to Pendennis), bowling, watersports, cinema, sailing, and live music to name a few… There’s simply too much to enjoy in a single week. So many reasons to visit Falmouth at any time of year, although the real added bonus of this event is that you are able to witness the rare spectacle of a community coming together to celebrate their heritage and their very existence in their glorious part of the world.
We will be back! Click the link below to see Simon’s review of the Greenback Hotel, Falmouth, where he stayed from day 1-3 of his trip to Cornwall:
River Fal Festival