You can see both of King Henry VIII’s great coastal defences from the Captain’s House:
Pendennis Castle and St Mawes Castle. We’ve been to the latter but today was our first visit
to the former. The steady rain, low overcast, and force eight winds didn’t put us off. In fact, as
the beaches were pretty inhospitable, Pendennis pulled in the Half Term crowds – I have
rarely seen so many people staring into a garderobe wondering what it was.
In 1540, aged 49, Henry decided that Falmouth’s ‘great anchorage’ needed protecting from
the French and Spanish who, as recently as 1537, had fought a great battle all the way up
the Fal as far as Truro. His break with the Church of Rome had not made him and us English
very popular in the Catholic world.
After Henry, Elizabeth did her bit to develop the fortifications on both sides of the water, a
process that continued right up until the middle of the last century. For most of the year you
can visit to glimpse some of the relics that remain.
Pendennis was bigger than I was expecting and inside the tower it smelt like Dartmouth (my
home town) Castle: warm wood. The essence of English Heritage – perhaps they should
bottle it? It is now something of a shrine to The Great War, 1914-18, when Falmouth was
the command centre for coastal defences of West Cornwall. It was very interesting, but I
would have liked a little more about other periods. However, I’m more of a ‘walk the
battlements and imagine the past’ sort of visitor – rather than someone who reads all the
words on cards – to places like this and it had me engaging with my past lives easily enough.
Both castles are well worth a visit and probably justify joining English Heritage as, for us at
least, the cost of visiting both added up to more than half the annual fee. The weather made
our trip into a bit of an adventure but if we enjoyed it in a gale, I’m sure you’d just love it on
a nice summer’s day when, apparently, there’s a great view from the top of the tower.
Sadly, this was not something we could enjoy, as there was little to view today and, fearful
that we would blow away, we were told that it was ‘out of bounds’. But imagine how the
various soldiers through time and wars felt in weather like this as they defended the castle