Pendennis Castle perches on a thrusting headland overlooking the Fal Estuary and the Carrick Roads; a wildlife filled section of the River Fal. The Elizabethan-added ramparts provide fine views – just remember to bring binoculars to scan for dolphins.
Lured by the castle’s history of military action, I explored the stone keep’s Tudor gun room and Half Moon Battery, in defensive use from 1795 to the Second World War. Most atmospheric was a descent into the underground magazine, built to store ammunition for the battery’s retractable guns. Resurfacing into daylight, I wandered Pendennis’s grassy enclosure before leaving the stronghold to walk from the castle through bustling Falmouth to Prince of Wales pier. My ferry awaited.
Across the waves
As we pitched towards the open sea, I inwardly thanked Henry VIII for his paranoia. Fearing Catholic invasion, the Tudor monarch went on a fort-building frenzy in the mid-16th century, leaving a chain of castles guarding Britain’s south coast. I was gliding between two – Pendennis and St Mawes – that, 450 years on, still stand firm.
It felt fitting to see both from water level – to negotiate the estuary they were designed to defend. The two forts, facing each other across the Fal’s mouth, were once equipped with guns capable of firing over a mile, between them covering the three-mile wide straits.
In Tudor times, Pendennis and St Mawes were a similar size. Now the latter’s well preserved four-level fortress seems far smaller without the additions tacked on to its brother opposite. I hopped off the ferry at St Mawes to explore further. Small but perfectly formed, the castle is one of Henry’s most decorated defences, with king-praising Latin inscriptions carved on the walls.
Unlike Pendennis – under siege for five months in 1646 – St Mawes fell fast to Parliamentarian forces; thus it lay neglected and unchanged. It was rearmed in the 19th century: in 1828 the flagstoned gun emplacement room could sleep 70 soldiers. Now it holds 70 wedding guests, a dramatic spot for matrimony.
Martial signs do remain – including the Alberghetti Gun, dredged from the wreck of a 16th-century warship – but the castle today is a peaceful place. The cannons’ booms are replaced by the wind whipping around the stone bastions, and the caw of swooping seagulls. I boarded the ferry again, bound for the galleries and flip-flop shops of Falmouth once more.
How to get there
By car, take the A39 into Falmouth. It is a 20-minute walk from Pendennis to the Prince of Wales Pier. From the pier the ferry to St Mawes takes 20 minutes.
Find Out More
St Mawes Castle
Castle Drive, St Mawes TR2 5DE
Castle Close, Falmouth TR11 4LP
St Mawes: Adults £4.30, children £2.60. Pendennis: Adults £6.30, children £3.80. Both castles open 10am-5pm, daily (St Mawes closed Sat); open weekends only Nov-Mar. Disabled access: The grounds and main level are accessible at St Mawes; the grounds are accessible at Pendennis – other access at the castle is limited.
16 Western Terrace, Falmouth TR11 4QW