River Fal 11: All Things Wise and Wonderful

– Turnaware Point to St Just-in-Roseland (where?)

The sea suddenly looks very close at hand as the river rounds its bend below Trelissick’s South Wood, with the channel nearing a mile in width for most of the way now from here to the official river mouth. Green buoys shaped like bells mark the deepwater channel, and now the tide’s going out you can see why Turnaware Point is given so much leeway: an underwater rock bar stretches out from the edge of the headland that in a few hours time will be completely dry. Some people are already wading out on it, probably trying to reach a boat that’s run aground there. Providing it hasn’t damaged its hull on the rocks it will probably be fine until next high tide in about eight and a half hours when there will be enough water to set it to rights.

A great black backed gull floats past, so I must be right about it being sea now as unlike their townie cousins the herring gulls these hefty beasts rarely come far inland. The afternoon light brings out the summer colours of the Roseland: jewel bright greens set against the holiday blue of the water. Wrapped bales in a mown field on the side of the valley look like black cows grazing. Everything seems sharper, like the focus has been pulled on the world.

St Just in Roseland opposes Mylor on the estuary’s eastern shore, though with fewer yachts clustering round its waterside. In the sheltered harbour where St Just Creek flows down to meet the Carrick Roads boat owners are cleaning and repairing craft beached by the lowering tide. Four children in rash vests are having a bit of a post-modern Swallows and Amazons moment with a smaller sailing dinghy, and I recall that Arthur Ransome’s fictional Walker children supposedly learnt to sail in Falmouth harbour in their pre-lakeland days.

Behind the harbour a bar separates St Just Pool from the main creek, beyond which stands the local church. The graveyard is crammed with headstones in every available space, under the pines trees, up the slopes and beside the water’s edge. It seems like a very beautiful place to be buried, so near river, coast, woods and fields, and clearly a lot of other people think so too given the number of memorials they’ve managed to find room for. No sooner have I had the thought than it strikes me how absurd a notion being laid to rest in such lovely surroundings is: you won’t possibly be able to appreciate them. But then it’s much more about the people who will be left behind to remember you, and isn’t so different to asking for a commemorative bench to be installed in memory of So-and-So Who Loved This View. St Just seems much better suited to something more life-affirming, like a christening, or a wedding. As if on cue organ music sounds from within the church, and I think I’m imagining things when I hear voices singing

all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small…

Then I notice the floral garland above the closed church doors and remember it is a Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer.

So different from Mylor Church Haven across the river, St Just’s churchyard is an organised garden, filled with sub-tropical species that were first introduced by a nineteenth century vicar.

 … Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, He made their glowing colours, He made their tiny wings…

Bears’ breeches, banana palms, dracaena palms, monkey puzzles, tree ferns, gunnera leaves the size of golf umbrellas, it’s like a tiny jungle, but the wildlife doesn’t seen too bothered by the lack of native flora. Butterflies adorn buddleia and hydrangea, and blackbirds scurry about like big brown mice through the exotic undergrowth. A stream feeds down from St Just Well over in one corner. Although it is unclear who St Just actually was the current thirteenth century church is built on the site of a fifth century chapel founded when Celtic Christianity took off in Cornwall whilst much of the rest of Britain was still Pagan. Legend tells that Joseph of Arimathaea brought Jesus to Cornwall, landing here at this church. Whether this tale is true or not what is clear is how important early Christianity was for the area by the prevalence of Celtic saints’ who are remembered through local place names.

The church clock strikes four just as the ceremony is finishing, and I hide out of sight of the church entrance and hope that no one notices I’m wearing walking boots and writing a notebook at a wedding. The organist’s recessional continues the appropriate musical theme with the Mendelssohn march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Surely here, if anywhere, would be the perfect haunt for fairies with its atmospheric mix of sub-tropical and local, Celtic myth and spirituality, nature and culture. Then the three-bell mechanical carillon begins from the church tower, bringing me back to reality with its ear-jarring regularity. I decide it’s my cue to go, and leave by one of the upper paths, while the photographer in the lower churchyard tries to get all the tall people to stop standing at the front.

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?

For more Fal related reading material I would definitely recommend:

The Levelling Sea: The Story of a Cornish Haven in the Age of Sail by Philip Marsden, Harper Press (2011) ISBN: 978-0007174546 is a thorough, informative and creative account of the maritime history of Falmouth harbour and the lower reaches of the tidal Fal, seen from the decks of Marsden’s yacht and through his own excursions in and around the area. 


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