Rick Steins Falmouth England
The Duchess of Cornwall passenger ferry in St Mawes (picture: Hilary Stock)
We began with a trip from St Mawes to Falmouth on the Duchess of Cornwall, a stylish wooden 60ft ferryboat that was launch by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in 2008. Our card was already feeling like a bargain. A normal family return ferry ticket from St Mawes to Falmouth costs £23.75.
As we passed the small but perfectly formed St Mawes Castle, we kept our eyes peeled in vain for seals on Black Rock, and for schools of dolphins. But we did see the Frederyck Chopin, a magnificent Polish tall ship that has a special relationship with Falmouth. In October 2010, it was dismasted in a storm off the Scilly Isles and towed into the harbour, where it remained for many months while it was repaired.
The Frederyck Chopin tall ship moored off Falmouth (picture: Hilary Stock)
After lunch at Rick Stein’s Fish (smaller queues than in Padstow, better fish and chips – £12.75 for two courses), we took in the National Maritime Museum, using a Mussel Visitor Plus card. We had bought this at the same time as our ordinary Visitor card. For £38, it gave us free access (but no free transport) for three days to the museum, Pendennis and St Mawes Castles, Glendurgan, Trelissick, Lamorran and Carwinion Gardens.
Having clambered over the museum’s Sea King search and rescue helicopter, we took the ferry up to Truro, heading across Carrick Roads, the name of the estuary’s outer tidal basin, and up the River Fal.
Our boat was a 1961 ferry called Enterprise I, part of a fleet owned by two local families – the Johns and Berrymans – who have been operating on the Fal since the 1950s. The on-board commentary was friendly and informed without being intrusive. We learnt about the working sailing boats that harvest Cornish native oysters in the Carrick Roads reach, by hand-hauling traditional small dredges. The distinctive vessels race competitively in the summer and work in the winter in what’s the last oyster fishery in Europe harvested under sail.
We also passed mussel beds floating in the middle of the estuary, the shells clustered on ropes dangling in the water. Next to them was a great hulk of a car ferry, the blue and white Norman Bridge, laid up in the recession because of rising fuel costs. This deep stretch of river has a number of “lay up berths” and acts as a local barometer of the global economy. In 2010, during a worldwide downturn in shipping, the river was chock-a-block with car transporters and tankers – an arresting site, huge ships seemingly stranded in the countryside.
The Norman Bridge car ferry in a 'lay-up berth' in Carrick Roads (picture: Hilary Stock)
Further up river, past Mylor and Restronguet’s enticing creeks, we came across Trelissick gardens, which slope down to the river’s edge. A number of passengers disembarked here to explore for free the deep-wooded valleys and elevated gardens, using their Mussel Visitor Plus cards. You can also pick up a regular ferry to Smugglers Cottage at Tolverne. This 500-year-old establishment served as an embarkation point during the D-Day landings and was once visited by General Eisenhower. A terraced, riverside restaurant, currently closed, will reopen here in 2014.
We decided to head on up towards Truro. On our right we passed the Tregothnan estate, home to Britain’s first tea plantation. Through the trees, we caught glimpses of the 9th Viscount Falmouth’s magnificent stately home, the family seat of the Boscawen family.
And then we came to the magical King Harry Floating Bridge. Tucked away on a quiet, fertile stretch of the river where the banks are cloaked with sessile oak trees, this famous chain ferry was established in 1888 and links the parishes of Feock and Philleigh on the Roseland, saving a 27 mile detour via Truro. It’s free with the Visitor card, otherwise the cost is £5 one way, £8 return.
We decided to turn around at Malpas, a hamlet one mile short of Truro, and head back down the river again, as we were running out of time. The journey from Falmouth to Truro takes between 75 and 90 mins, bringing you into the harbour, next to the bus station. (The train station is a 15 minute walk.)