Proper Cornwall Review: Summer events at Pendennis Castle


Picture the scene. It’s the start of August 2022 and excited roars of ‘oooh arrrrr’ and ‘pretty polly’ have been resounding around our house in Penryn, Cornwall, for at least three or four months now. Our pirate-obsessed three-year-old son has been joyfully taking his teddies captive, burying, ahem, what he calls ‘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 place, one of the best castles in Cornwall. This historical place is 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. But in short, 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 friendly musicians who play period tunes on a fiddle and a mandolin. The experience instantly transports us back hundreds of years and sets the tone for the 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 at the ready in their hands, are being drilled in the ancient 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 us (sort of…) proud parents. Our son is a little too shy to enter the busy melee of kids who are anywhere from three years old up to teenagers but he nevertheless enjoys standing on the sidelines and mimicking those prizefighter stances.

Next comes the fascinating tale 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 pretty beaches that stare out across the bay. The 18-year-old actor 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 what we now call the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’. It all makes for a moving and enthralling show for nearly all the youngsters present but the monologues are hard work for some of the smaller tots. A little too much concentration for our excitable three-year-old.

It’s definitely worth noting here that the views from Pendennis 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 crucial. It means that today’s visitors get to enjoy some 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 making the short trip from our home in Penryn 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 son also absolutely loves it here as there’s so much space to run around in, plus he adores inspecting those big, imposing guns. After the Mary Read show, he leads us off to learn all about how to make rope using some old techniques. This makes for another fascinating experience for the parents and great fun for the kids as well. There are a good handful of show-and-tell exhibits like this around the castle during the day, including a historical cooking display that gets us totally and utterly salivating.

At lunch, we sit down for a spot of grub at the castle’s tearoom, which is on the ground floor of the Royal Garrison Artillery Barracks. Being such a beautiful day, we opt to sit outside so we can enjoy the glorious sunshine. This allows us to keep an eye on all the pirate-themed events and activities that are happening all around. The three of us chow down for £18 (with no drinks), which is reasonable enough. We recommend the kid’s pizza as it is freshly made and boasts lots of tasty ingredients.

Throughout the day, there are plenty more entertaining events, all of which keep the kids happy, particularly those of primary school age. There are lots of interactive plays and pirate singsongs featuring those friendly musicians from the morning. And then comes the highlight of the whole feast of fun: 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 spread out and taken over the castle and the gunfire signals the final victory for our mini buccaneers.

We’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more events at Pendennis whenever the school holidays roll in. The castle is definitely one of the best castles for kids in Cornwall. It’s worth heading straight for English Heritage’s website to find out what events and activities are coming up, like the pirate days or the knight-themed days for kids that included jousts and tournaments between every Tuesday and Thursday in August 2022. Also keep a grisly eye out for the Halloween Half Term events for the rugrats that take place every October.

What’s one of the best things about Pendennis? Well, leaving the castle, actually! We don’t mean this in the way you may have read that, though. Once you’ve attended a fascinating and fun 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 pubs, shops and eateries, not to mention Falmouth‘s fine harbour and the National Maritime Museum just a few minutes away on foot.

There’s also a cracking walk that starts at the fortress and then winds around the headland and across the top of Castle Beach towards Gylly Beach which only takes about 20 minutes… this is manageable even for a three-year-old who thinks he’s Short John Silver. And there’s the promise of ice cream at the end of it all, of course! Review by Richard Abrahams

This article was created in conjunction with our friends at Mini Travellers. For kids activity reviews from across the UK, head: here.