open the curtains

and take a look out the window if you want to know what the weather's like

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“Phycophily ~ phycophilic, phycophile
:: In biology, thriving in algae-rich habitats or living on algae”

— from Greek (φῦκος) phykos, “seaweed”; and (φιλία) -philia  “love”

— ‘Phycology’ is a branch of life science and often is regarded as a subdiscipline of botany

It is low tide. The upper beach is slimed with green algae, slick to the rocks and slippery, after ten rainy days in a row. Enteromorpha, I note in my book, reassured at the ease with which I can recall names I’d thought I’d forgotten. I’m attempting to map the shoreline by tracing the less definable perimeter where  the sea and land meet ecologically.

Anywhere that two different habitats converge is marked by changes in flora and fauna. Often a transitional area will include elements of both habitats, intermingling in subtly increasing and decreasing abundances. On rocky shorelines like this one, this ecological zonation is clearest in the seaweed populations. Continue reading



The Sea Takes Back Its Own

They say I’m not to be trusted. Maybe that’s because I’m changeable, but only on the surface. I change my dress with the seasons, with the weather, but so do you, so what’s new there? Silk for summer, so light the quietest breeze disturbs it. Shot taffeta for weekdays, crisp and such a colour and texture, much harder to the fingertips than you’d expect by the look of it. But it creases something terrible. Oil cloth for foul weather. Denim jeans are a favourite too, that indigo/white weave, bleaching in the salt and sun and wind and constant wear, the blue dye running in the wash. Always in the wash. Lace on my petticoats and cuffs. I’m a reluctant girly girl on the outside (all that blue) but it brims over sometimes, like my true nature. There is in me an innate tendency to spill out at the edges. Continue reading

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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 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 1: Fal / Mouth

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.

– Pendennis Point, western bank of the Fal Estuary (where?)

Waking to a Falmouth alarm call, the sound of a hundred seagulls breaks into my consciousness from the pre-dawn still. All night the full moon has been troubling my repose, and now it’s nearly day I’m exhausted but wider awake than anyone has the right to be at this dead hour.

Water is said to be the moon’s element, and the tide, ebbing and flowing round the clock, neap-ing and spring-ing to the lunar wax and wane, washes the moon’s watery influence into mankind’s perception visibly and tangibly, and altogether outside of human control.

So I go to look for the tide. Continue reading