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From shipwrecks to Cornwall’s maritime legacy

Cornwall is home to a wealth of activities, particularly those involving water. From surfing and swimming to sailing and kayaking, there are plenty of water sports to enjoy on the Cornish coast. For those who want to enjoy a spot of sailing or learn more about the maritime history of the region, we’ve chatted with local Malcolm Bell, Chairman of Visit Cornwall to discover his recommendations for the best sailing spots in Cornwall.

Cornwall’s sailing history

Cornwall’s maritime history dates back to ancient times when the Celtic tribes used boats for fishing, trade and transportation across the Celtic sea. Malcolm tells us about piracy and smuggling in the 17th century, “I think we have a rich culture to do with the sea. There were the wreckers, who used to put false lights up to lure the ships, and a considerable amount of smuggling. Going back you know 600 years, it was quite a lawless place, there's a lot of history in terms of smuggling on the coast.”

Hidden coves along the Cornish coast made for the ideal spot to hide smuggled goods. Shortly after, towns such as Falmouth and Charleston became hubs for shipbuilding as the close relationship between Cornwall and the sea continued.

Today, Cornwall continues to be a hotspot for all things sea-related. People travel from across the country to surf, sail and swim on the Cornish coastlines.

The best places to sail in Cornwall

Cornwall is full of places for sailing, a popular go-to spot being Falmouth. Falmouth boasts one of the world’s biggest natural harbours, as well as ideal sailing conditions, with strong winds and calm seas.

A view over Falmouth and its harbour

Falmouth also hosts an annual sailing event known as Falmouth Week, with seven days of racing competitions for yachts and dayboats.

Malcolm tells us, “I still have two boats, I love sailing in what is known as Carrick Roads and going up the creeks.”

Carrick Roads is the estuary on the River Fal, leading to Falmouth. This scenic estuary is a large natural harbour with sheltered waters offering protection from strong winds - perfect for beginners! Going several miles inland, sailors who opt to take this route will be graced with stunning views of picturesque villages and the rolling countryside.

Falmouth is approximately a 30-minute drive from Lizard Point Holiday Park.

Malcolm adds, “I'm a sort of keen sailor, so there’s not just Falmouth - if you go up [to the north coast] there’s the estuary, it's about 12 miles long.”

The 12-mile estuary aka The River Hayle is located in West Cornwall and leads into St. Ives Bay. As a tidal river, the water levels fluctuate so you should always check tidal activity before planning to sail. The River Hayle is ideal for small sailing vessels and offers ample opportunities to spot wildlife whilst you leisurely sail through the countryside and marshlands.

Maritime museums & attractions in Cornwall

Aside from engaging in the act of sailing itself, you can immerse yourself in the rich history of sea adventures in Cornwall. Malcolm says, “There's a great museum in Charlestown, the Shipwreck Museum, it's got lots of stuff from the shipwrecks all around, there were probably around 4,000 shipwrecks around Cornwall.”

A shipwreck in a cove in Cornwall

The Shipwreck Museum is an 18th-century historic building home to artefacts and exhibits displaying shipwrecks and past maritime disasters. Visitors can also see salvaged items from famous shipwrecks and learn about how the safety of sailing has significantly improved due to technological advancements.

The museum also offers interactive exhibits including activities and virtual reality simulations - perfect for children of all ages!

Malcolm also suggests another attraction to visit for those wanting to learn more about Cornwall’s nautical past, “We've got the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, right on the waterfront in Falmouth, which is another great town to visit.”

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall celebrates Cornwall’s nautical heritage, with artwork, interactive exhibits, maritime equipment and a collection of boats and ships - a great day out for all the family.

Whilst on holiday in Cornwall, if you fancy taking the time to learn about the deep connection between Cornwall and the sea, or even engage in some sailing yourself there are plenty of options at your fingertips.

Sailing spots and attractions near our Cornwall holiday parks

Staying with Parkdean Resorts? You're never too far some some of Cornwall's best sailing spots and maritime museums. Whether you fancy a sailing lesson, want to learn a bit more about the local history or just want to spend an afternoon watching the boats go by - here are Cornwall's top picks easily accessible by car.

Malcom Bell MBE, chair of Visit Cornwall

Local insider

Malcolm Bell MBE

Malcolm has lived in Cornwall his entire life, growing up in Truro. He has worked on the Cornish Tourist Boards for the last 25 years (14 years on VisitCornwall).

Malcolm’s main objective and role is to inspire people to come to Cornwall for the first time or keep returning. He wants to work with the industry to future-proof Cornwall for tourism and be an advocate for Cornish tourism.