Much Ado About Cornwall


A print version of this blog appeared in the August/September 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler. Falmouth sits in the center of the “Cornish Riviera,” England’s charming southwestern coastline, and the port is its lifeblood. For centuries, the world’s third deepest natural harbor ushered in commercial and military vessels, and in the past 70 years it witnessed epic send-offs, including D-Day troops bound for Normandy.

Recently celebrating its 350th anniversary, Falmouth offers unique insights into England’s maritime history, along with pastoral excursions.

(Photo by Pietro Canali)


Explore the South West Coast Path—England’s longest public footpath at 630 miles—as you walk to sandy Swanpool Beach and on to Pendennis Castle, built by Henry VIII in the early 16th century to protect England from French and Spanish invasion.

The fortress, Cornwall’s largest, withstood a five-month siege during the English Civil War, which you’ll witness through re-creations inside the Tudor gun deck. Afterward, enjoy Cornish pasties (meat pies) in the castle’s tearoom.


Sitting in a Falmouth hotel room, Kenneth Grahame penned letters to his son, whom he affectionately called “Mouse.” His epistles inspired The Wind in the Willows, in which he wrote, “There’s nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”

Stop by the Greenbank Hotel to see Grahame’s notes before hopping aboard a ferry bound for St. Mawes. Once there, tour cloverleaf St. Mawes Castle, or continue your nautical adventure along the Percuil River. Look out for herons and egrets while paddling upstream (St. Mawes Kayaks offers rentals).


Seafood restaurateur Rick Stein runs a culinary empire in Padstow, a historic fishing village on Cornwall’s quiet northern coast, and recently opened an eponymous restaurant in Falmouth. Stein admired the “romantic port” before setting up shop beside the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

Dig into fish-and-chips before playing coast guard at the Maritime Museum’s interactive search-and-rescue exhibit. Check out Rita—the vessel that brought Ben Ainslie his three gold medals for sailing at the 2012 Olympics.


Tourists flock like seabirds to Land’s End—the most westerly point on England’s mainland—but you can skip the crowds in favor of a relaxed outing to the Lizard Peninsula.

Soak up rays at Kynance Cove before treating yourself to ice cream topped with clotted cream at the Kynance Cove Café. Or visit wooded Trelowarren Estate, a thousand-year-old property owned by the same family for 600 years.