Cornwall is renowned for its miles of craggy cliffs and golden beaches. But it’s also home to a vast network of ancient river valleys – one of which is the sublimely beautiful Carrick Roads, slap bang in the middle of the county.
A few years ago the man – who grew up in Portsmouth, but had never stepped foot on a sailing boat – decided the Cornish river ways needed to be explored. After a taster session on the water, thanks to a hired double kayak, the bug had bit, so to speak, and he set about building his own boat. Fashioned from plywood, stitched together with cable ties and epoxy, and painted a rather traditional racing green, this boat isn’t big, it doesn’t have sails or a galley - it’s more of a canoe, a motor-canoe. It has a flat back which we can fit an outboard on, which might sound a little lazy, but is an absolute bonus for getting out into the wilderness quickly.
The beauty of being on the river is the different perspective it gives you, often of places you know very well. You can tuck away, bobbing in the shelter of ancient woodland as it tumbles down into the water, and cast an eye out over a familiar landscape and pick out all sorts of different details that you’d never notice if standing surrounded by the scene. It’s also quiet, very quiet and calm, away from the holiday hoards that swarm to the beaches in good weather. And if you’re lucky, you can just about always find a little spot somewhere on a river where you’re sheltered from the wind, regardless of which way it’s blowing.
We’ve been out on a few of the Cornish rivers – the Gannel, the Fowey and the Camel, but the Carrick Roads must be our favourite. Just a twenty minute drive from home, and with miles of creeks and estuaries to explore, it’s vast. And as a lot of the surrounding land, especially up river, is private property, canoe is the only way to see it.
Our favourite launch spot is at Sunny Corner, a quiet little spot in Truro, where the sun does always seem to shine. Head down river and around the corner from here and there’s all sorts of delights to discover – the hamlet of St Clements, the Fal-Ruan estuary nature reserve, the Iron Age Fort and Quay of Roundwood at Cowlands Creek, keep going and you’ll pass the chain-link King Harry Ferry, the grandeur of Trelissick House (which has a great beach to stop up for a picnic lunch), the famous Pandora Pub at Restronguet, St Just in the Roseland, St Mawes, Falmouth, and finally the open sea.
The river itself is an ancient flooded valley – a ria, with native woodland running right the way down to the water. It’s teaming with wildlife, the birdlife is abundant and you’ll be guaranteed to see herons, cormorants and sand pipers roosted in the trees and swooping overhead, and the fishing is good, although generally only recommended once you’re downstream of Turnaware Point.
And the best bit? You don’t even need to own your own canoe to explore the Carrick Roads, there’s all sorts of ways to get out and about on the water. Canoes can be rented at Loe Beach – where the water is reachable regardless of the tide, little motorboat hire is available in both Mylor and Falmouth and even the passenger foot ferries buzz backwards and forwards between Truro, Trelissick, Falmouth, Flushing and St Mawes. So all you need to do is pack a picnic, a book and perhaps some binoculars and get out for a bit of messing about on the river.
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Sian Pickles spends her time out and about in Cornwall with her black dog – walking, eating, drinking and swimming. You can catch up with her on Twitter @blackdogadventu and follow their adventures on her blog www.adventureswiththeblackdog.co.uk