Falmouth and the River Fal


One of Cornwall's most beautiful sea and river locations circled by areas of outstanding natural beauty and historic country estates and gardens.

About the River Fal About Drifter Falmouth
RIver Fal Video

The Fal is one of Cornwall's most beautiful estuaries, surrounded by areas of outstanding natural beauty, historic estates and lush gardens. It allows navgation from the sea to the city of Truro 9 miles inland.

The estuary separates two equally beautiful Cornish peninsulas, the Roseland to the east and the Lizard to the west. The former is also known as the 'Cornish Riviera', the latter boasts the most southerly part of mainland UK at Lizard Point. A trip to these parts of Cornwall would be incomplete without getting on the water and discovering this enchanting place.

Although the entire length of the river from the city to the sea is commonly referred to as the Fal, it comprises several rivers coming together along its length. Starting with the Truro river flowing from this bustling city, it is joined further downstream by the Tresillian river at the village of Malpas. Further downstream again the Truro river converges onto the River Fal, which flows out of Ruan creek. These reaches of the river are winding and narrow, with steep and densely wooded banks abundant with wildlife.

Further south the River Fal continues its passage to the sea via the now much wider waters known as the Carrick Roads, ringed by the beautiful villages of St Mawes, St Just, Mylor and Flushing. Where the river meets the sea is the busy maritime port of Falmouth. Falmouth is a relatively young port, originally there were ancient ports at Penryn and Truro these towns being further into the river and more easily protected. Later, Falmouth grew considerably as a port after Henry VIII built castles either side of the entrance to the estuary.

The Trelissick estate (owned by the National Trust) stands out as you travel northwards from the sea to the city. Its large sweeping lawn leads up from the shore to the beautiful historic house and gardens. The walks here are some of the best in the area and a popular place to bring dogs for exercise. There is an anchorage and beach in front of the estate from which the views all around are spectacular.

Close by here is Tolcarne beach, popular with boaters and campers who are often seen having BBQ's during the summer. Towards the end of World War 2, it was used to board US troops and vehicles onto D-Day invasion vessels. This part of the River was also used in the production of Disneys 1950's 'Treasure Island', pretending it to be a tropical paradise. More recently some scenes in the latest Poldark series were filmed here.

Here we also see the first signs of commercial fishing activity in the form of a Mussel farm. There are perfect conditions here for the growing of some of the best mussels and oysters in the South West. The oyster fishery is unique in that they can only be collected using oar and sail and the oyster punts and sailing boats (known as Falmouth working boats) are still seen doing this during each winter.

As we head upriver we find the King Harry chain ferry, a service operating since 1889 and considered to be one of the most beautiful ferry crossings in the world. The ferry crosses the River at the location of an ancient pilgrims way to St Michael’s Mount. The current ferry has a glass side, allowing its passengers glorious views of the River. This is often the first glimpse of the river visitors get, but the advertisements onboard for various river trips will hopefully encourage them to experience the river's full beauty, including perhaps onboard our own traditional sailing barge.

The river becomes much quieter from here and the water is an emerald green. At high tide it trickles against the lowest branches of the trees, and as the tide recedes it exposes rocky edges and beautiful serpent like branches of fallen trees. Further upriver in creeks, mud flats become exposed which feed a rich variety of birds, sometimes with rare visitors. The difference between low and high water in the river can be as much as 5 meters.

It is here that you might come across one or more large ships on commercial moorings, this will typically be in times of recession. It surprises many that the river is actually a commercial port, albeit a very beautiful one.

On the next bend of the river is the idyllic Smugglers cottage at Tolverne. Towards the end of World War 2, General Eisenhower visited and stayed at the cottage just before the D-Day invasion. For many years the house was a popular tea room and housed WW2 memorabilia, but it is now a private residence.

Opposite Tolverne lies the pre-historic settlement of Roundwood, one of the earliest known in all of Europe. The more recent stone quay which can be seen here was once used to load cargos from various industries in the area, these days it is a quiet and popular picnic spot. If the tide is high enough it is possible to navigate to the beautiful hamlet of Coombe lying in its own drying arm of the river.

A little further upriver, the Tregothnan estate now appears on the eastern shore. This private family residence has been occupied by generations of the same family since the 13th century. Tea is grown on the estate, and also honey is harvested from its bees which feed on its diverse flora, including Manuka.

Here the river divides. The River Fal continues east into Ruan creek where it eventually reaches its source many miles inland on Goss Moor. In ancient times sailing ships could navigate the Ruan as far as the village of Tregony, but over the centuries it has become silted and shallow.

Leading Northwards is the deeper Truro river which allows navigation all the way to the city. Here visiting yachts will be seen on pontoons or at anchor. There are over 83 miles of shoreline within the Fal estuary to explore.

The river has abundant wildlife. Depending on the time of year, you will come across a variety of birds and sealife. Herons, Comarants & Shags, Terns, Egrets, Swans, Ducks and Buzzards are typically seen. Seal's also forage in the waters, and sometimes can be seen relaxing on rocks or moorings. In the quieter parts of the river, Deer will be seen along the shores or swimming from one bank to another.

Before reaching Truro the river branches off again at Malpas towards the hamlet of Tresillian. The village of Malpas has some very desirable waterfront properties and the very popular Heron Inn, where diners have a very beautiful post card view of the river from its Terrace. It is also where we usually start and finish our sailing tours of the river.

The river Fal is a ria, which is a drowned valley which filled with water at the end of the ice age. Many of the rivers and estuaries in the south west of England were formed this way. This explains the unusually deep water in the river and harbour. Falmouth is in fact the third deepest natural harbour in the world with depths reaching 34 meters.

Discover the River Fal for yourself onboard one of our sailing barge tours. We hope to see you soon!


Drifter


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Drifter sailing in the River Fal

Drifter is a Dutch built sailing barge known as a Lemsteraak. They are well known for their beautiful design and large and comfortable deck and interior.

They are wider and sail more upright than other types of sailing boat, and use characteristic leeboards attached to the side instead of a keel.

The barge is similar to the working vessels that fished and transported supplies around the waterways of the Netherlands in the 18th/19th century.

Working sailing barges often sailed from the Netherlands to UK ports, and years ago were not an unusual site in our waters, including Falmouth.

Built in 1976, the barge is just over 11 meters long, 4.5m wide and 85cms deep, the barge is flat bottomed allowing us to sail in shallow waters.

Drifter is regularly surveyed by the Maritime and Coastguard agency for safety, and is coded for Category 4 waters.

Drifter's design suits the area very well, allowing us to sail in the shallow waters of Carrick Roads and creeks of the River Fal. The barge is also capable of doing much more adventurous voyages, we sailed the barge back from the Netherlands, via the North Sea and English Channel to Falmouth ourselves in 2017.

The hull is robustly built of steel, and the traditional and highly developed rig and leeboards are constructed from solid wood.

Drifter sailing in the River Fal

There are many different types of Dutch sailing barge, but the Lemsteraak are considered to be most sea kindly and capable.

Each winter we perform maintenance and restoration work on Drifter in order to keep the barge in truly beautiful condition.

The river is abundant with wildlife, therefore Drifter has been certified as a wildlife safe operator by WiSe.

Drifter sailing in the River Fal

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Falmouth


Falmouth and its neighbouring sheltered harbours and creeks are a sailors dream.

The historic town of Falmouth has grown to become Cornwall's largest settlement, and has been home to sailing ships throughout it's entire history. It is an important safe harbour and is the largest port in Cornwall (and the third deepest natural harbour in the world) for ships departing for and arriving from all over the globe.

The town itself is a vibrant place, and everywhere you go you can see that this is very much a maritime town.

The waters immediately adjacent to Falmouth are known as the Carrick Roads (Cornish: Dowr Carrek, meaning "rock anchorage"), and there are few occasions when you will not find boats, ferries and ships making their way across it. The waters are surrounded by beautiful countryside and farmland.

St Anthony lighthouse stands on the eastern side of the harbour entrance, which keeps mariners clear of the infamous Manacles rocks off the coast of the lizard peninsula.

When entering the harbour from the sea, St Mawes castle and Pendennis castle proudly sit on opposite shores, having being built by Henry VIII during less friendly times. The eastern shore is the Roseland Peninsula, designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

The entire area is renowned for lush tropical gargens including Trebah, Glendurgan, Trelissick and Heligan to name just a few!

The most famous boats in the area are the Falmouth working boats, still used to dredge for local wild oysters under sail in winter time, and regularly seen racing in the summer months.

Nearby, St Mawes, St Just, Mylor & Restrounguet are all outstanding places to visit by boat. And of course the jewel in the crown is the River Fal leading northwards towards Truro. A river that has managed to remain unspoilt even after centuries of local industry.

Falmouth's maritime heritage is showcased throughout the year with various events on the water and in the town including food and music festivals including the world famous sea shanty festival.