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River Fal 13: Fin

– Place to St Anthony Head (where?)

The final – or maybe the first, depending on which way round you look at this – creek to join the Fal estuary is the Percuil River whose own mouth forms St Mawes harbour and whose course separates the St Anthony headland from the rest of the Roseland, creating a peninsula on a peninsula. The almost-isolation of its geographical situation is echoed in the quiet countryside clothing these shores. After Place House, the one-time ancestral home of the influential Spry family, the near-hidden cruciform of the 12th century church behind the mansion is the penultimate footprint of manmade construction before reaching the very tip of the land. Nestled in the midst of a conservation area and flanked by overhanging trees and rampant wildflowers, St Anthony’s church feels somehow more sympathetic to its rural surroundings than the slightly pretentious facade of its neighbouring mansion.

I turn a corner and suddenly I’ve left behind all trace of woodland and meadow that have exemplified the latter stages of this journey downstream. The flora becomes edgy and littoral: thrift instead of cow parsley, sea campion replacing red. A sharp drop to my right reveals a secluded cove at the cliff base. There is no more river now. There is no more estuary, even: I have reached the Cornish coast of the holiday brochures.

St Anthony Head beach picture credit: Trinity House


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River Fal 12: Alternative Perspectives

– The Roseland – St Mawes (where?)

It would be easy to misinterpret the name Roseland but in fact rose stems from ros, the Cornish word for heathland, which would once have been the main habitat of this peninsula. Now it’s mostly farmland but with much of that given over to grazing, the high summer of wildflower meadows, dog roses in the hedgerows, and adjacent private gardens blossoming bright in the late afternoon sunshine, this really does seem to be a land of roses. Gardens fare particularly well in Cornwall because of the climate: for all we might complain about the rainfall it is the combination of this, the milder winters and warm but not too dry summers that make the area such a haven for plants. As with the churchyard garden at St Just some parts are almost sub-tropical, with the coastal river valleys providing the perfect combination of shelter, warmth and moisture for these miniature jungles.

This eastern shoreline of the Fal Estuary is far less populated than the western side, but it might have been different, had the development of Falmouth’s deepwater harbour had an alternative setting. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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River Fal 10: Midstream

King Harry Reach (where?)

A path leads right along the riverbank from Tolverne to King Harry Ferry. I imagine this is what the private path around the edge of Tregothnan’s land must be like: narrow, overgrown in places, winding sympathetically around the twisted oak trees whose roots provide built-in steps on the sloping parts, and trip hazards on the flat. Their branches frame scenes of the opposite bank, sometimes a clear view across water broken by a yacht or a passing river taxi, other times a snapshot of the mothballed shipping looming large in mid channel. Once, a chapel near here was dedicated to King Henry IV and Queen Anne, prompting the river crossing just below to become known as King Harry’s Passage. Though its namesake is long gone these woodlands are still labelled Chapel Wood on the map, and King Harry’s name passed on to the ferry service. Continue reading

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River Fal 9: Reserve and Preserves

FalRuan Estuary to Smuggler’s Cottage (where?)

According to King Harry’s Cornwall Area Map the Fal-Ruan Estuary Nature Reserve is populated by giant ostrich-sized waders that look a little like curlew. That is, of course, if you take their symbolic representation at face value. I can hear the real life curlew calling, but cannot see them. It’s such a recognisable sound, sorrowful and shrill, but for some reason it’s not a sound I can ever recall in my mind when I’m elsewhere. That sound belongs to wide waters and mudflats; which is exactly what this reserve is made up of. It’s difficult to get a good view of the site, partly because it’s a landscape of so little relief that when you’re standing on a level with it you can only really see what’s directly in front of you, and partly because there’s very little direct access to this part of the river as it’s surrounded on all sides by private farmland and unless the tide is right in the channel is un-navigable, reduced to little more than a wiggly blue worm meandering its way through the mudflats on the map. Even on a spring high tide it makes for treacherous sailing, as sandbars that would usually be exposed at high water on an average tide are immersed, though never covered by enough water to eliminate the possibility of running aground. Continue reading

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River Fal 8: Inland Estuary

– Tolverne Reach – Lamorran Woods – Sett Bridge and Ruan Lanihorne (where?)

The further up the Fal Estuary I go the fewer the rivers I find it starts to be comprised of. At Tolverne I could follow the westerly branch up to Malpas, where the Heron Inn overlooks the junction of the Truro and Tresillian Rivers, and the pub’s avian namesakes roost in the trees on the opposite bank or stand still in the shallows waiting to spear their next meal. I could even go by boat, as cruises run all the way up to Truro during high tide. Instead I choose the easterly branch to find the tidal limit of the true Fal. Along this stretch it’s known as the Fal-Ruan, as it combines the two rivers of these names. I plan to walk, sticking as close to the riverside as I can, following a path marked on my map that skirts the woodland edge of the land between the Truro River and the Fal. But people make plans and the Lord laughs, or so the saying goes. Lord Falmouth that must be in this case, owner of the Tregothnan estate that covers much of that area and whose estate managers have foiled my attempts to assert my right to roam with their gates and very inaccessible private land. It’s fitting that the main photograph used on estate propaganda is that of a garden door ajar, a beam of sunlight glancing through the gap from within. I discovered that guided tours of the gardens are available but only to those with a spare fifty quid in their back pocket: clearly this garden door is half closed and not half open.

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River Fal 7: Mothballs

– Lamouth Creek – Roundwood – Cowlands Creek (where?)

From Trelissick garden I meander through the wider estate to Roundwood Quay on the conjunction between Cowlands and Lamouth Creeks and the Fal. The tide waters haven’t made it all the way up here yet, and the creek mud is runnelled with mini-rivulets mapping out fluvial geomorphology speeded up and scaled down. This is where to find all the textbook river features denied the Fal by eustatic sea level rise: look, here’s some channel braiding, leading to a delta before the water drivels into the main body of the creek, and there’s even a tiny ox-bow lake over there. At the end of the creek the remains of an Iron Age fort stand in the woodlands. No one knows why it was built or what it was used for, but even so long ago the Fal must have been a geographical advantage. A troop of green clad National Trusties are wielding saws and shears in the undergrowth – probably removing more of those dreaded rhododendrons. Most environmental management is just gardening on a grander scale after all. It’s the same principle as the weeds in Mylor churchyard, just more plants growing in the wrong place at the wrong time: after all, these guys’ colleagues are weeding round the rhododendrons back at Trelissick.

From Roundwood Quay

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