The River Fal
As well as being a huge resource for sailors and fishermen, the river provides an important habitat for birds and wildlife. Along much of its upper course the banks of the river are wooded and home to fallow deer, perergrine and buzzards. Goss Moor is a national nature reserve, its heathland and wetland environment of international importance. Birdwatching facilities are available at Sett Bridge, after which the river sweeps in a great curve to join the Truro River at the Tolverne Passage.
The Truro River is one of six main tributaries that eventually flow with the Fal into the Carrick Roads, along with twenty-eight minor creeks and rivers, many of them, such as the Penryn River and Restronguet Creek, navigable by boat. Along the entire reach of the river there are around four thousand five hundred moorings available for anything from yachts to deep water freighters, which are often 'mothballed' here during times of economic crisis, their incongruous size lending an eerie atmosphere to the picturesque estuary.
King Henry VIII's Castles
The best way to explore the River Fal has to be by boat, and numerous ferry boat and sightseeing companies criss-cross the estuary. During the summer boats leave for Truro every couple of hours from the Prince of Wales pier in Falmouth, a journey that takes around an hour and provides amazing views of the river and it's banks.
Most ferries first call at St Mawes, a picturesque town that lies at the mouth of the Percuil River, a charmingly unspoilt and navigable tributary of the River Fal, with wooded banks managed by the National Trust. Ferries run across the Percuil River during summer, linking St Mawes with Place, on the Roseland Peninsula, and saving walkers on the South West Coast Path an eight mile detour. From Place it is possible to walk out to the wild and windswept St Anthony Head, where a lighthouse warns ships of dangerous rocks known as the Manacles. Most ferries also stop at Tolverne, where you can disembark for an excellent cream tea.
Ferries usually carry on all the way to Malpas and Truro, passing through the very deep King Harry Passage, part of the ancient pilgrim's route to St Michael's Mount, on their way. Here the oldest chain ferry in the country, the King Harry Ferry, shuttles backwards and forwards between Feock and Philleigh, saving cars, and their drivers, a twenty-seven mile detour. One of only five chain ferries in England, the King Harry Ferry departs every twenty minutes, seven days a week, all year round. Named after the Lancastrian King Henry VI, the new ferry has a glass side and chain viewing windows and a touch-screen information display in order to help passengers better understand the River Fal.
For those who wish to explore the river for its own sake, a couple of companies run wildlife watching and coastal boat trips from Falmouth including the Orca Bay Discovery, on their purpose-built twelve-seater RIB, the 'Seaquest of Falmouth'. Expect to see anything from Dolphins, Seals and Basking Sharks to giant Conger Eels and even Orca! For a gentler experience, Newman's Cruises run a couple of classic wooden ferries from Smuggler's Cottage in Tolverne, the classic boats' shallow draft making them ideal for exploring the shallower reaches of the River Fal.
Many of the smaller creeks and inlets that feed the River Fal make excellent territory for exploration by kayak or canoe, while some of the larger ones, such as Restronguet Creek, which is tidal as far as Devoran and Perran Wharf, are navigable by yachts and other leisure crafts. Mylor Creek, which winds its way inland to Mylor Bridge, is also navigable by boat, as is St Just Creek, inland from the Percuil River, on the eastern side of the river.
Oyster Fishing on the Fal
Oysters have been harvested on the River Fal in the same traditional and highly sustainable fashion, without the use of mechanical power, for more than five hundred years. Thought to have been found in Cornwall since the days of the Phoenicians, oysters were being widely grown along the whole Cornish coast when the Romans invaded, and by 1602 they were being caught in much the same way as they are today, using thick, strong nets, called dredges.
Oysters are an unpredictable species that can be difficult to harvest and oyster fishing is a skill that can only be learned through years of experience. Although most oyster fishermen in Falmouth have other seasonal jobs, for the most experienced and committed fishermen oysters provide a decent year-round livelihood.
In 2006 a festival celebrating life on the River Fal was set up. More than one hundred and thirty events take place over ten days, celebrating the music and drama, literature, arts, industrial heritage, walking and watersports that the river inspires. The Falmouth Oyster Festival is held in late May / early June.