No point in Cornwall is more than twenty miles from the coast, which explains the pivotal role the sea has played, and continues to play, in the Cornish people’s way of life. This innovative museum crams four hundred years of Cornish maritime history into a modern and accessible harbourside building. Through dozens of absorbing, hands-on exhibits it tells the story of small boats, from dugout canoes to modern inflatables, and the people who venture out to sea in them.
The main hall showcases a dazzling display of boats, many of them suspended from the ceiling. Highlights include Ben Ainslie’s dinghy, used in the 2012 London (and previously in Athens and Beijing) Olympics, and the Waterlily, a splendid Victorian steam launch you can peer into. The Cornwall Galleries focus on the region’s maritime history with a series of imaginatively laid-out exhibits, including listening posts, photographs, journals and other artefacts. Elsewhere, kids will relish the opportunity to sail radio-controlled boats around a pool and gawp at the shoals of mullet and seabass in the “tidal zone”, whose windows are completely underwater at high tide. Up top, the lookout tower – accessible by lift – is not to be missed, offering sweeping views over Falmouth’s harbour and docks.
The museum’s car park (look out for the signs with museum banners) has twenty pay-and-display Blue Badge spaces about a hundred yards from the main entrance, reached across the level Museum Square. Access is good throughout the museum – there are two lifts (one at the front of the museum and the other to the top of the Tower) but, there’s no wheelchair (or pushchair) access to the floating pontoon. Many of the exhibits are low-level, while others, such as the Waterlily, can be accessed via ramps. There are six wheelchairs available to borrow and you’ll find disabled toilets with grab rails on the first and second floors. The lift has Braille buttons and audible announcements, and a large-print guide is available at the entrance.
Food & drink: The on-site Waterside Café comes with great views and an appetising selection of home-cooked food, including daily vegetarian options.