Ferrying Through Cornwall
Exactly a year ago I was in the far north west of Scotland, trudging up and round the lengthy, beautiful and remote Loch Erribol - not a ferry in sight. Fast forward to Cornwall and you’ll discover a different story, as ferries, headlands, harbours and ports have all featured.
Turning my back on Lizard Point I set off for the tiny fishing village of Cadgwith with its jumble of thatched cottages. On my way I passed Bass Point which, in 1994, saw the opening of the first National Coastwatch Institution lookout station. Spawned from the closure of many small coastguard stations around our coastline, NCI is manned by trained volunteers keen to maintain a visual watch along our shores. There are now 54 stations around the UK’s coastline and this year marks the NCI’s 25th anniversary.
Further on at Porthallow I came across the half-way marker for the South West Coast Path which I’ve been following since Minehead. On occasions I’ve been forced off the route and that day was one of those exceptions. Noting the tides would not be in my favour at Gillan Creek, I took to the roads and woods for a while, picking the path up again closer to Helford River. Later in the week, I found myself off the coastal path again as I struggled to make up time to meet a longstanding commitment with a veteran - more of this later! Not an ideal situation, but our route planning and meetings are becoming an increasingly complicated jigsaw puzzle. It has also become apparent that my routine of 6 days walking, 1 day of admin was not sustainable: we’ve recently adopted a 6-2 routine.
Arriving at picturesque Helford, I signalled the water taxi to take me across the river by opening a circular yellow request board. Shortly after I was enjoying my first river crossing of the week to Helford Passage village. Meanwhile, the Victory Van and its driver were enjoying a separate river crossing over the river Fal, on the King Harry chain ferry. Much later that day we met up in Falmouth Marina where we were hosted by ‘Turn to Starboard’, a military sailing charity that has received financial support from one of my chosen charities, the RNRMC.
Along my afternoon’s ten-miler into Falmouth I came across a memorial and bench erected in honour of Falmouth’s Home Guard who patrolled the nearby cliff paths during WWII. It’s the first such memorial I’ve come across and Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson would have been delighted to be remembered! The walk continued round Pendennis Point with its castle proudly standing aloft, before my route overlooked Falmouth Docks and Pendennis shipyard noted for building luxury superyachts. Being a university town, Falmouth was buzzing with life and nobody could ever go hungry – there were eating houses galore!
Next morning, I was back on a ferry, this time heading to St Mawes, which was my staging post before I took a much smaller ferry to Place on the Roseland Peninsula. Bouncing along towards St Mawes harbour I admired its castle in prime position overlooking Carrick Roads: it was built as a coastal artillery fortress in Henry VIII’s time to counter attacks from various European countries. Very soon I stepped ashore from my second ferry, headed for St Anthony’s Head and pushed on to Portscatho where I visited the NCI lookout next morning. From there, I could see Nare Head in the foreground and Dodman Point with its vast granite cross in the distance behind. In between, there was the wide sweep of Veryan Bay to be circled by a pair of hot and weary feet. Much later that day after covering 16 extremely hot and dusty miles I finally entered Gorran Haven - I was sapped of energy.
En route I’d paused at Nare Head to look at the bunker which had once been a control centre for a decoy site during WWII, thus luring enemy bombers away from Falmouth docks. A variety of special effects, designed by a film studio, were spread across an area of this headland and controlled from that bunker. The effects simulated lights from docks, railway tracks and stations, and fires caused by exploded bombs. When enemy bombers approached the bunker crew switched on the lights and the aircrew mistook this site for Falmouth Docks. As bombs were dropped the bunker crew then set off fires and explosions. There were many such decoys around the country and there’s no doubt numerous lives and valuable industries were saved.
Moving into the next bay of St Austell I visited Charlestown that began life as a tiny pilchard fishing village. Later, it became a busy Georgian port used for exporting copper and subsequently china clay. Today, this perfectly formed port, with museum and surrounding restored buildings, is an ideal maritime filming location. The Square Sail company operates from here, providing a range of services from set design and staging to large temporary structures for the film and corporate markets; the most recent Poldark series used Charlestown as its backdrop.
Charlestown china clay shipments gradually got larger so were moved along the coast to the ports of Par and later Fowey; both ports were on my route, sited either side of Gribbin Head. This headland, with its distinctive 84ft red and white striped daymark tower helps sailors find the entrance to Fowey harbour. When built, the landowner, Willliam Rashleigh, who lived nearby at Menabilly, thought the Gothic square tower would enhance his landscape. In later years Menabilly gained notoriety when author Daphne du Maurier lived there as a tenant. Gribbin Head and neighbouring Polridmouth Bay were the settings for ‘Rebecca’ and some of her other famous novels. Today, the du Maurier flame is kept alive by Fowey’s annual festival of arts and literature.
And what about my veteran meeting, I hear you ask? Gordon, aged 94, and known as ‘Tanky’ is a D-Day veteran who arrived at the pub dressed in blazer with medals shining. Amongst his collection he proudly wears the Legion d’Honneur. He served as a butcher on board HMS Aristocrat, a paddle steamer converted for anti-aircraft duties and was in the thick of it. Fascinated by his nickname, I learned it was because he’d been given an additional daily duty of ‘sounding’ the fresh-water tanks!
‘Tanky’ remains a staunch Royal Navy supporter, arriving at the Polgooth Inn on his mobility scooter with a white ensign fluttering from the rear! Accompanied by his daughter (on foot) our happy evening reminded me of why I’m doing this walk – for veterans just like him and serving personnel alike. I’m pleased to report this has been a good week for donations although I am still well below my target. However, I continue to hope that as the miles between the Victory Walker and Portsmouth decrease, the donations will significantly increase. My fingers remain crossed!
See Photo Album No 81 – Ferrying Through Cornwall