River Fal 4: Mylor Church Haven

Trefusis to Mylor (where?)

Rounding the bend past Trefusis Point the water is momentarily hidden behind a thick border of trees and I’m startled by a sharp snap followed by voices seemingly close by. A handful of yachts are passing, the wind catching the slack in the sails and rolling through them like stage thunder with the crew hurrying to pull them taught again as they go about. One boat seems blown so far over in the water it looks like it might be about to capsize, but its handlers clearly know what they’re doing and are just making the most of a choppy wind to make a sharp turn. It’s Falmouth Week, and the daily regattas mean there are more sailing craft on the water than usual: over 450 yachts, dinghies, keelboats and traditional vessels racing over eight days in the Carrick Roads and Falmouth harbour. It’s the biggest regatta in the south west and lands over 80,000 extra visitors on Falmouth and the surrounding area during this week compared to the rest of August.

The Restronguet Sailing Club at Mylor is predictably packed with well-funded holiday makers looking like walking-talking adverts for Musto and Joules in their co-coordinated his-and-hers clothing ranges. The marina circling around in this sheltered bay off the Carrick Roads has over 400 moorings, and it will be used as the practice site for the Olympic sailing later this year. Known as Mylor Yacht Haven, but labelled Mylor Churchtown on the map, the two are fairly accurate pointers to the main attractions of this village. I find the dense concentration here of all things yachting a little daunting, so I head for sanctuary in the churchyard.

Separated from the road and harbour only by a Cornish hedge it feels like a different world. Whereas the marina is all clean lines, organised moorings and white modernity the churchyard is overgrown with weeds under the tree canopy. However weeds are only weeds when they’re growing somewhere they’re not wanted. A man is deliberately mowing a path that leaves them thick and ankle deep between the graves: a plush meadow of plantains, strawberries, ranunculus, and foxgloves all-leaf after an earlier flowering. Although the church, which celebrated its 1,600th anniversary this year, is dedicated to St Mylor – or Melorus, who arrived here in the fifth century from Brittany – the churchyard is dedicated to wildlife. It is one of thirty churchyards within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that have been improved by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers charity. There’s a bench and table made from a cross-section slab of tree that looks like it’s been put there on purpose for me, so I take up residence with my notebook like I’m on a school trip, with the evocative scent and sound of lawn-mowing surrounding me.

The green is broken by spikes of red beads poking up round the bases of the trees – lords and ladies in fruit – and splashes of orange from montbretia now naturalised in Cornwall having taken a liking to the local climate once it had escaped from people’s gardens. Over by the wall is a woodpile left for the animals – invertebrates, small rodents, fungi, microbes: more creatures live on a dead tree than a live one, and a woodpile provides a good variety of surfaces and niches for them in a small area. Conventionally, short mown lawns of uniform grass species are meant to be more attractive, but allowing nature to grow whatever variety of species want to plant themselves is much more ecologically viable. To the eye used to flat grass expanses the verdant disarray of plants underfoot here might initially seem unkempt and unsightly, but once you look a little closer it’s really quite beautiful. There are so many different shapes of leaves and the absence of herbicides allows many so-called weeds to showcase their often delicate and colourful flowers or seedheads. I want to rebrand the place Mylor Church Haven.

Overhead the sky is thickening for a Cornish downpour. A headstone just off the path spells out Time how short; Eternity how long. It’s true, time is short and tide is rising: how long the journey still to the furthest of its reach upriver.

Articles in this series form part of a longer piece on the tidal section of the River Fal in Cornwall. In it I imagine what it would be like to start at low tide at the river mouth, travelling upriver to the highest tidal point at high tide, and returning back to the sea, by exploring the locations on and around the river and making my own ‘tidal journey’ inland and back out to sea. There are thirteen parts to the series. They can of course be read in order, but you don’t necessarily have to start with part 1, it being a cyclical journey there is no definitive start and end point. Each section can also be read as a stand-alone piece.

More on this?

Read about Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Living Churchyards Project which is part of The Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscapes initiative which aims to help restore Britain’s ‘battered ecosystems for wildflife, for people’ by involving local people in creating a series of linked wildlife corridors all over the UK, in keeping with local support and aspirations but connecting on a wider scale to help provide the larger scale improvements to biodiversity that pocket management would be less likely to achieve.

See the Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscapes report here.

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