Falmouth, Cornwall: Why the Art Crowd are Flocking There this Summer

Falmouth, Cornwall: Why the Art Crowd are Flocking There this Summer

On the south coast of Cornwall, Falmouth is known for its maritime history and thriving university population, but it’s the eclectic arts scene that reveals the town at its most colourful. We’ve picked out Falmouth’s best galleries and artisan shops – and found some great restaurants to fuel your explorations too.

a concealed slipway off Falmouth’s meandering high street
sits the formidable figure of Ami, a ship’s figurehead standing
some six feet tall, poised to meet anyone ambling down the alley
towards the sea. Ami is somehow representative of this Cornish town: unexpected, quirky, challenging
and steeped in tradition, yet continually reinventing herself with
colourful makeovers.

Falmouth is synonymous with maritime history. For more than 150
years, Falmouth’s Packet ships filled the harbour, making the town
the information hub of the British Empire. It was the point of departure
and return for both Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who in 1969 became the
first man to sail solo and non-stop around the world, and Dame
Ellen MacArthur, who completed the fastest solo circumnavigation of
the globe in 2007. Today, Falmouth’s status as the world’s
third-largest natural harbour means it attracts nearly 40 cruise
ships a year.

Yet, the town also has a rich artistic heritage which continues
to flourish. It is home to the burgeoning Falmouth University
(which began life as the Falmouth School of Art in 1902) and
specialises in the creative industries. Its students now number
over 6,000, lending an energetic year-round vibe to the town, and a
fresh injection of imagination boot.

In the past, Falmouth has attracted luminaries including J. M.
W. Turner in 1811, John Singer Sargent in 1905 and, in the summer
of 1937, a posse of surrealists, among them Roland Penrose – widely
credited with bringing surrealism to Britain – Man Ray, Max Ernst
and Henry Moore. The debaucherous group holed up in a manor house
on the banks of the River Fal, a sojourn which spawned a burst of

Falmouth’s briny sea air is thick with possibility. Wander down
its sloping Old High Street, past windows piled high with
second-hand books and an array of antique oddities, and you will
pass the distinctive arched windows of the early-18th-century Old
Town Hall, now selling an array of contemporary art, while further
down the hill is Inspire Makers, from where more than 30 local
artists and makers sell their handcrafted products and run
workshops showcasing their skills. In July, one of the makers on show was ceramicist, Amy
Cooper, who crafts porcelain lighting inspired by the underwater
world, drawing inspiration from her riverside home.

The town is a happy fusion of past, present and emerging talent.
Arguably Falmouth’s most well-known artist is impressionist Henry
Scott Tuke, who lived in a cottage and studio overlooking Swanpool
Beach, one of Falmouth’s four main beaches, in
the late 1800s and early 1900s, as well as working from an old
French brigantine, which served as a floating
studio. His work is celebrated at Falmouth Art Gallery, just off
The Moor.

Fittingly, Tuke grew up in a house just off leafy Woodlane, near
the town’s centre, which now houses Falmouth University. The
establishment has bagged numerous accolades in the past year alone,
including a BAFTA for the debut film, Bait, written and directed by
one of its lecturers, Mark Jenkin, and shot on a vintage wind-up
camera. Falmouth University’s Games Academy has also been named one
of the top 50 games schools in the world.

Staying off the radar of most visitors, the Old High Street’s
Old Brewery Yard is a charming cobbled courtyard lined by boutique
shops peddling clothes, blankets and cushions as well as a studio
space frequented by designers, illustrators and makers. Better yet,
this is the spot to tuck into local produce such as crab fritters
or glazed ox tongue at new-kid-on-the-block MINE, which sustains an ever-changing menu of three
starters, three mains and three desserts. Just remember to leave
room for takeaway pastries from Stones Bakery
on your way down the hill, and perhaps a coffee from the
Scandi-cool Beacon Coffee.

Should you succumb to the smell of hot pasties drifting through
the streets, call on Proper
in Upton Slip – think of it as a pasty speakeasy.
Customers call ahead and place their orders before knocking on the
unremarkable wooden door to collect their booty, no questions

One of the town’s key point of interest is The Poly, a live-arts
venue, cinema, gallery and community pottery that resides proudly
in a listed building in Church Street, wearing its nigh-on 190-year
history well. These are precarious times, not least for a charity
organisation in the arts industry, meaning the theatre won’t reopen
until early 2021, but its Spring Gallery and shop hopes to throw
open its doors with gusto in August 2020.

While the main street has a wealth of contemporary art galleries
(don’t miss Beside the Wave), there is plenty for those interested
in more offbeat creations. Arwenack Street’s Botanical
is one such purveyor. Brainchild of Sarah Jane
Humphrey, who specialises in illustrating plants, this waterside
boutique sells botanical prints, books and even pyjamas, while
visitors can also hone their fine-drawing skills in botanical
illustration workshops.

Sustenance can be found at the excellent Harbour View
, but we recommend taking the small turning off Market
Street towards Fish Strand Quay to sample the delights of IndiDog for breakfast (Drambuie porridge, anyone?),
brunch or cocktails by the water.

A few doors down is Real Speed, where artist, Fiona Speed, beavers
away in her studio-cum-shop (a former much-loved nightclub),
painting and creating everything from cushions and cards to
t-shirts and bags. This place is also called home by the alarmingly
large Dubby the tortoise, complete with a Kernow-flag shell and
crown, naturally…

Falmouth’s artistic delights have spilled over into the
neighbouring town of Penryn, where you can visit community art
space Fish Factory, founded by local artist Rose in 2011.
This former sail loft has been reborn as a project space used by 15
eclectic artists (there’s a lengthy waiting list) including
printers, potters, writers and musicians, as well as a vegan café. Pop in to see exhibitions, events
and workshops or just drop by for coffee, cake and a large dose of

Falmouth has many faces, with its maritime history, working
docks, tourism industry and growing university, but its eclectic
arts scene reflects its complex and intensely hued character, and
promises to continue to be a hugely important part of its

Polperro from the sea

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