Helford to Falmouth

Somehow, the last day seemed a little unreal. We had a 10-mile walk from Helford ahead of us and, after two days of having our luggage driven around Cornwall on our behalf, it was time to shoulder the burden again.

The first hour of the day was taken up with an unfortunate performance concerning the Helford River ferry. We had an early breakfast, but still didn’t manage to get ourselves together in time for the 10.10 crossing. We arrived at the ferry at a run, to see (or rather hear, since we didn’t know what it looked like at this point) it chugging off into the distance. Since late September counts as low season, there was now an hour to wait.

Down we sat on the bench. A newspaper, some caramel wafers and the inevitable cans of shandy helped us to pass the time. Several people came along and, because the ferry wasn’t going that very minute, wandered off again. Finally, just as it was about to go, three twittery lady walkers who had first been spotted poking around on the beach at Porthallow came round the corner at speed. “Have we missed it?” We felt the queue waiting for it should have rendered that question unnecessary but forebore from saying so. Since they didn’t seem to know whether they were coming or going, it’s probably reasonable that they shouldn’t have been sure about anyone else either. We shouldered our rucksacks, smiled politely when they asked were we walking the coast path (resisting the temptation to say “no – the Pennine Way”) and left a Bookcrossing book on the bench as we got up to board the ferry. From mid-river we had the satisfaction of watching it being picked up immediately. At a public internet terminal in St Ives we found it was our most successful yet, found by someone intending to read and pass it on (it was last heard of in Covent Garden, having got there via Essex).

The ferryman has an interesting technique to ensure he gets everyone’s fare – rather than taking the money as people climb on he waits until the boat’s out in the middle of the river and turns the engine off. We then drift while he harvests the money from his captive audience. Helford River was once apparently a notorious haunt of pirates and, although you can’t of course resent paying, you are left to ponder on what punishment might await the empty-pocketed. The question never arose on our crossing and a full boatload – undiminished by plank-walking at cutlass-point – buzzed through the yachts and over to Helford Passage, a spectacularly pretty landfall. The twittery lady walkers disappeared into a tea shop at once, dispelling fears that we might have to walk with them.

The path’s pleasant at the beginning – under trees, which is not all that common in the south west, and we enjoyed a second day of bright sunshine. One of the first things we did was to go across the bottom of the great Cornish gardens of Glendurgan and Trebah, although we didn’t realise just how close we were until we came back to visit Trebah the next day. But it was clear we wouldn’t be able to walk back from Falmouth for our day visit, as Lisa had vaguely thought about, because it’s the best part of 10 miles – taxis and buses were needed.

Shortly after Glendurgan we came across a couple, possibly in their late 50s or early 60s, and keen walkers. They were interested to hear that we were walking the path, and turned out to have family in Halvergate, Norfolk. Why were we not surprised by this? And, also unsurprisingly, we recommended boating and the walk out to Berney Arms.

As always on the last day, we made heavier weather of it than we needed to. The path continued to be pleasant, passing through the little bay at Port Saxon and out onto windswept Rosemullion Head. At Maenporth beach we stopped at the beach café for a pizza and a cup of tea. It was almost the first day that dogs were allowed on the beach and they seemed to be everywhere, largely chasing each other round in circles.

But the fact is, on the last day you are constantly anticipating the journey being over and so having to actually do some walking seems like an imposition. Also, we had got the rucksacks back and the weather was getting a bit drizzly-looking. We were certainly finding the ups and downs a bit of an effort, but Falmouth was looming larger and larger in front of us. Unfortunately we were not just going straight into the town but heading out to loop around Pendennis Point.

And, inevitably, the twittery women overtook us while we were having our lunch. We stayed well behind them, keeping them just in sight, and when they paused at a memorial just outside Falmouth we accelerated past and it’s the last we saw of them, even though we were slowed when Andy turned his ankle rather badly just as we are approaching Falmouth’s Gyllyngvase Beach.

Along the seafront, and this is it – we’ve done it, we are in Falmouth. It seemed almost too good to be true. But still a good bit of walking remained to get round Pendennis Point and to find our hotel. It was acceptable – the room could be better, could be worse. The bed was broken but, on the other hand, the establishment was friendly and helpful. We celebrated with a curry. The evening’s entertainment was provided by the people at the next table who were down to sail – and have the most humorously boring conversation imaginable, all about the price of their houses and of their cars. At least the men did, the women sitting silently, or making the occasional manful attempt to contribute. It was like watching a Harry Enfield skit. We would not be at all surprised to find they lived in Putney, or St Margarets, that exclusive little settlement just east of Twickenham. They seemed the type.

And that was that. Back to the hotel, and looking forward to the rest of the holiday. The next day we had a bit of time to ourselves (Trebah called) before bankrupting ourselves with a taxi to Penzance and then the train into St Ives. Then it was a week of lounging, pottering about and trying not to put back on the weight we’d lost too quickly…