RICHARD ABRAHAMS AT LIFESTYLE WEBSITE PROPER CORNWALL REVIEWS AN ACTION-PACKED PIRATE EVENT FOR KIDS AT THE DUCHY’S MOST FUN CASTLE
It’s the start of August 2022 and roars of ‘oooh arrrrr’ and ‘pretty polly’ have been resounding around our house in Penryn, Cornwall, for the past three or four months. Our pirate-obsessed three-year-old son has been joyfully taking his teddies captive, burying, ahem, ‘treasure’ under sofa cushions and even (unsuccessfully) trying to make our dog, Merlin, walk the, ahem, ‘plank’. So it’s great news when we spot that English Heritage is kicking off its summer holiday calendar with a swashbucklin’ three-day pirate event at Pendennis Castle in Falmouth.
Okay, before we begin, it’s worth knowing a little bit about this historical castle that’s open to the public for much of the year. Read about it: here. And it’s also worth knowing a few things about Falmouth too. Read about the pretty South Cornwall town: here. I work at Cornwall lifestyle website Proper Cornwall and I’m an expert on this corner of the world but there’s always something new to discover at Pendennis Castle, making every visit a unique experience. And the same is certainly true during its summer events calendar, of which the pirate days in August are a silvery highlight for us lowly landlubbers…
We arrive just after the gates (or, should I say, the portcullis) opens in the morning and we are immediately greeted by a couple of musicians who are playing period tunes on a fiddle and a mandolin. The experience instantly transports us back hundreds of years and sets the tone for the entire day. The smile on my son’s face grows as we make our way over the grass inside the castle to an area where a dozen or so kids, foam weapons in hand, are being drilled in the ways of sword-fighting.
“Swing… lunge… chop…” come the commands before the stern-faced wannabe pirates show off their newly learned moves in front of (sort of…) proud parents. Our son is a little too shy to enter the melee of kids anywhere from three years old to teenagers but he nevertheless enjoys standing on the sidelines and mimicking the prizefighter stances.
Next comes the story of the fearsome Mary Read. Actor Freyja Eagling stands on the castle’s ‘Pirate Ship Stage’ which is backdropped by both Falmouth town and its beaches that stare out across the bay. The 18-year-old is dressed as the famous 18th century English-born female pirate, also known as Mark Read, who was one of the few women to be convicted for her buccaneering crimes during the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’. It makes for a fascinating, moving show for nearly all the youngsters present but the monologues are perhaps a little too much concentration for an excitable three-year-old.
It’s worth noting here that the views from Pendennis really are spectacular, especially across to the castle’s sister fortress over the water at St Mawes. The vistas over the Carrick Roads, the name given to a famous section of the River Fal at its estuary, are equally breathtaking. During Tudor times, Pendennis was built to stop the French and Spanish from using Falmouth‘s deep waters so the high vantage point up here was essential. It means that today’s visitors get to enjoy unrivalled views from the castle walls as they inspect the barrel-loads of guns and weapons that pepper the fortress, dating back between Tudor times and the Second World War.
We love coming to the castle because English Heritage allows us to bring our dog Merlin on to the site (as they do at most of their properties across the country). Pendennis Castle is a dog-friendly attraction and our lad also loves it here as there’s so much space to run around, plus he adores inspecting those big guns. After the Mary Read show, he leads us off to learn all about how to make rope using old techniques. This makes for another fascinating experience for the parents and great fun for the kids too. There are a few show-and-tell exhibits like this around the castle during the day, including a historical cooking display that gets us salivating.
At lunch, we sit down for a spot of tuck at the castle’s tearoom, which is on the ground floor of the Royal Garrison Artillery Barracks. Being such a lovely day, we decide to sit outside so we can enjoy the sunshine. This allows us to keep an eye on all the pirate-themed events and activities happening all around. The three of us eat for £18 (with no drinks), which is reasonable enough. The kid’s pizza is particularly recommended as it is freshly made and tasty.
Throughout the day, there are plenty more entertaining events, all of which keep the primary school aged children particularly happy. There are interactive plays and pirate singsongs featuring those musicians from the morning. And then comes the highlight: the firing of the old muskets and guns from the fort. It’s as if, by the end of the day, the little pirates have taken over the castle and the gunfire signals the final victory for the mini buccaneers.
We’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more events at Pendennis. Between every Tuesday and Thursday in August, for instance, it hosts knight-themed days for kids that include jousts and tournaments. There’s also Halloween Half Term experience for the rugrats in October that we are for sure hitting up.
One of the best things about Pendennis? Leaving the castle! We don’t mean this in the way you may have read that, though. Once you’ve attended a fab event like the pirate days, you can leave the building and get to the centre of town within literally 10 minutes. From here, you’re surrounded by some of the Duchy’s best shops, pubs and eating spots. And then there are the superb attractions like the harbour and the National Maritime Museum just a few minutes away on foot.
You can read Mini Travellers’ 10 reasons to visit the National Maritime Museum here.
There’s also a stunning walk around the headland and across the top of Castle Beach towards Gylly Beach from the fortress which only takes about 20 minutes… manageable even for a three-year-old who thinks he’s Short John Silver. With the promise of ice cream at the end of it all, of course!
Read all about what to do, see and experience in Cornwall at propercornwall.com.