HELFORD RIVER: HAVE CREEK, WILL PADDLEBy: Mat Arney • matarney.com
The old canoe had almost as many cracks and patches on it’s inside as it had on it’s outside. Luckily none of them matched up so we took a punt on it, packed our bags into the space between the seats, and pushed off. No water came in. Phew.
We set off from Durgan, a tiny hamlet with a pebble beach just inside the mouth of the Helford River on the south coast of Cornwall. An hour’s paddle up the river sits Tremayne Quay and that was where we were aiming for. Tremayne Quay was built in 1847 by local landowner Sir Richard Vyvyan in anticipation of a visit from Queen Victoria however in the end she never came and the quay has remained a quiet, hidden away, little secret. The quay and the woodlands surrounding it were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1978 and these days it is one of the few public moorings on the upper reaches of the Helford River.
We paddled the open Canadian canoe in between the yachts moored on the river at Helford Passage and were soon on an open stretch of the river. The unspoilt woodlands on either side overhang the water making the riverbanks look like giant clumps of moss. Away in the distance up stream the quay is just about visible but we’re paddling with the pushing tide so it doesn’t take us long to get there. As we near the old grass topped stone structure a small flash of iridescent blue streaks away into the creek to our left…a kingfisher?
Once the canoe has been beached on the gravel at the far end of the quay, Kate and I climb out and unpack our camping duffel bag. We pitch my tiny two-man a-frame tent (which alongside the 1970’s style canoe makes our set-up look like a step back in time) and sit down to absorb the calm surroundings. It is so quiet. As the evening draws in I wave my fly fishing rod around a bit and remember why this whole business is called fishing and not catching before going to look for the bag of groceries that we brought with us. Dinner was cooked in the glow of a paraffin lantern and eaten with our Wellingtoned feet hanging over the edge of the stone dock, before Kate beat me at backgammon and we turned in for the night.
In the morning we woke up with mist pushing up the river from the sea, making it seem like we were sitting inside what felt like a giant Tupperware box. Every so often the long, low, blast of a fog-horn from one of the big ships floating out in the bay was audible from way off in the distance. After breakfast and a walk along the riverbank to the old boathouse Kate and I pushed off and floated back down river with the dropping tide. We heard the Helford gig before we saw it, emerging out of the mist in front of the shadow of a ship like some sort of pirate movie. It just added to the feeling of having gone back in time, if only for one night.