Cornwall is a beautiful county in the far south-westerly tip of England, UK, and among Cornwall's largest towns, Falmouth is a haven of all things nautical. It's the world's third deepest natural harbour. Seeded on the slopes of three buxom hillocks, Falmouth grew from inconsequential hamlets into a bustling town at the centre of the Old World's postal system... and then shrank again.
But there's still a salty air about the place, which is split geographically between the twin faces of the old waterfront with its quirky selection of shops, cafés and galleries and the turn-of-the-last-century bolted-on seafront.
The two-faced peninsular nature of Falmouth makes it hard to navigate at times, but most of the things you need and want are in the older part of town centred around the scrappy and neglected Moor area - itself due for a much needed facelift in 2000. Buses and taxis stop here, and it also boasts the Post Office, a nightclub and a spiffy, recently remodelled, municipal art gallery.
A short walk down from The Moor leads you onto the Prince of Wales Pier where you can hop aboard regular ferries to St Mawes or Flushing. Falmouth's High Street is often missed by casual visitors, but has recently been styled as the 'Specialist Quarter'. There are three excellent restaurants: the Amalfi, for 'Italianissimos'; the Thai Orchid for Siamese palates; and last but not least, Maverick's in Old Brewery Yard, where the owner happens to be an excellent chef who will make any meal go off with a bang. You'll also find a great record shop on the High Street.
Most of the banks and cash machines are either on The Moor or along Market Street, which hosts the major chain stores and runs into Church Street and then Arwenack Street, with occasional glimpses of the harbour and dock along their length. These streets - the main streets of the town - are cobbled in an unconvincing 1980s manner and are difficult for wheelchair users and cyclists. They aren't pedestrianised because of the car park hidden behind the shops on the water's edge - arguably the most scenic setting for a car park in the UK.
For less mainstream shopping, St George's Arcade is one of those nook-and-cranny covered malls where interesting shops are housed within what was once the town's cinema.
These days there is no multiplex, or even monoplex cinema, and Cornwall's largest town would be film-free were it not for Falmouth Film, which runs Monday nights for much of the year at the Arts Centre. One screening a week isn't really enough for even a casual film fan, but the programme, mostly drawn from the more cinematic offerings of Hollywood and Europe, is a big success. Film buffs have good reason to be thankful for a small blessing.
The Arts Centre also hosts exhibitions which change through the year and a fair amount of theatre productions by local and touring companies. The theatre is well equipped and comfortable. There are a number of cafés and coffee shops along this street, but the best café is the Harbour Lights restaurant, where the food and snacks are good value and the views from the terrace are spectacular. Meanwhile, the yuppie coffee shops offer the usual bewildering array of caffeine and cake, but they tend to fill up quickly. For 'intimate', read, 'rucksacks not always welcome'.
If you're parked in the main car park, you can easily dive into The Grapes Inn, where Market and Church Street meet at the exit of the car park. This is a good, mainstream lager den with plenty of room, karaoke, disco and other feel-good entertainment. Opposite you'll find The Cork and Bottle which is much the same kind of pub, offering even less local flavour but more for the homogenised Brit-tourist, including some good food.
At the end of Arwenack Street is Custom House Quay, a picture-postcard quay if ever there was one, with two pubs lucky enough to have their beer gardens on the water's edge. The Old Ale House is the basement to The Quayside Inn on Arwenack Street - a regular pub with comfy chairs and a townie feel. Head back downstairs and off the quay for real ales and the occasional rocky duo for live music. Overall, the two floors amount to a good town centre pub with friendly staff.
Chain Locker and Custom House Quay are smaller, offering a more nautical ambience with their own tables on the quay that's favoured by locals of all ages.
At the end of the centre of town you will find one of Falmouth's busiest pubs, The Pirate on Grove Place. It has live entertainment every night and is a good place to catch touring bands the week before they make it big and sell out. Licensed till 1am, you may have to pay to get in, but only if you turn up late or there is something big going on. The clientele is made up chiefly of late drinkers, merchant sailors of all nations from the nearby docks, students and people genuinely drawn by the live entertainment.
Sharing the quay with the pubs, car park and over-keen wheel clampers is the Falmouth branch of Trago Mills. Trago's is a West Country institution, Cornwall's only department store and haven of Euro-skeptical Victorian capitalism. The owner, the self-styled Tripehound, cuts quite the local figure with the distinctive views he pays to advertise in the local rags. If you can bear the mild air of xenophobia that permeates this four-floor castle of commerce, the bargains can be as outrageous as his views.
There's not much to take the traveller any further than the centre of town on foot. However, beyond the docks lies Pendennis Point; Pendennis Castle, which is run by English Heritage; and the Ships and Castles leisure pool which looks like a very large greenhouse... only larger.
The castle is well preserved and is one of a pair of mirror image forts (the other is at St Mawes across the Carrick Roads) built by Henry VIII for the usual reasons. Pendennis Point is nearby and there are excellent views from all around the headland.
Back in the town, but away from the waterfront, the town rises in steep terraces with yet more breathtaking views over the docks and harbour. The Seaview Inn on Clare Terrace has the best view of the harbour from the patio in front of the pub - a great place to re-adjust your horizons at the end of the day. Pop around the corner to The Jacob's Ladder, Vernon Place - a student's favourite at the top of 111 steps that lead back down to The Moor. It has a pleasant atmosphere, good cheap food, two pool tables, darts and other pub games. Frequently there is live jazz and 'folksy' things.
Falmouth is the only place in the UK where residents have to pay extra local taxes specifically for gardens and open spaces. Most of these are small corners of spare land, but the Fox Rosehill Gardens is worth a visit for its selection of plants brought back by colonial types.
There are three reasonably clean beaches in Falmouth - Gyllyngvase, Swanpool and Maenporth. Gyllyngvase is the main beach with all the big hotels nearby and its own summer café by the shore. It is mostly sand with some rock pools.
Swanpool is more of a single beach and, nestling in a cove, is much smaller than Gyllyngvase. There is a restaurant nearby and a huge car park behind the beach as well as the Swanpool itself, which is a small lake you can stroll around if you really want to.
Maenporth is the remotest of Falmouth's main beaches and although the area behind the beach is dedicated to posh flats and hyper-incomes, the beach itself is nice enough with plenty of sand. It's also the location of the award-winning restaurant, Pennypots.
Reproduced by kind permission of Buzz Magazine, an online guide to Cornwall.