Frenchman’s Creek

We crossed the river by ferry from Helford Passage to Helford Village. The Shipwrights Arms was tempting but we passed by determined to return there at the end of our circular walk. The pub had recently fallen on hard times and been threatened with closure until a consortium of anonymous locals from around the Lizard Peninsula bought it from the liquidators. It is presently being run by volunteers. We wish them every success.

Through the village, cross over the footbridge and follow the signs for Kestle Barton, KB with an arrow.

The path leads into the woods, down between ancient banks following the stream to this green frame. It reminded me of the passage in Wildwood when Roger Deakin recalled his schoolboy expedition to the New Forest:

We soon picked up the standard techniques of ecological surveying, casting foot-square frames about on the heath or woodland floor at random and noting the variety and numbers of species within them. During the mapping of First Bog in September 1960, we waded or squelched about for days on end counting plants, flinging round our transect frames like abstract land artists.

Cross the stream at the stone bridge and then uphill to this stile and out of the woods into the sunlight.

Another KB post shows the way ahead to the Rural Centre for Contemporary Arts at Kestle Barton.

Inside we found this life size figure cast in ribbons of glass. Other similar exercises shared the space.

I was sorry to have missed the previous exhibition which was the result of “18 months of working, writing and walking in a 3 mile radius around Frenchman’s Creek” by Louise McClary and called Your Green Voice. Her paintings seem to be lyrical abstract souvenirs. She distills an essence of the place by looking at the near and at the far, and she can see the wood for the trees. Her paintings seem related to those of Jenny Franklin whose work evolves in a similar way.

Outside in the garden amidst some beautiful planting we found the answer to our unasked question:

Solvitur Ambulando

It is solved by walking

– St Augustine

As we left the garden another green frame seemed to confirm we were on the right track. Across the lane and down the hill and into the woods around Frenchman’s Creek, quiet and still but for the echoing call of a curlew, and maybe Maura making like a monkey or perhaps inventing tree capoeira.

Access to the river is limited to a few scrambles down to the muddy shore where there are many waterlogged fallen trees. Perhaps this place is best experienced from a boat, but here on the path with occasional glimpses of rippling water and the light filtered through the leaves is a Marvellous place to catch a green thought in a green shade.

This is a place to be immersed in greenness, to soak up the dappled, liquid light. There is holly here, with some beech and sycamore, but mostly these are oak trees, covered in lichen and moss and sprouting ferns from their branches. I was reminded of Wistman’s Wood.

There are also echoes of Daphne du Maurier. Her historical romance Frenchman’s Creek was inspired by her languid and magical vision of this place as seen from the water:

The solitary yachtsman who leaves the yacht in the open roadstead of Helford, and goes exploring up river in his dinghy on a night in midsummer, when the night-jars call, hesitates when he comes to the mouth of the creek, for there is something of a mystery about it even now, something of enchantment. Being a stranger, the yachtsman looks back over his shoulder to the safe yacht in the roadstead, and to the broad waters of the river, and he pauses, resting on his paddles, aware suddenly of the deep silence of the creek, of its narrow twisting channel, and he feels – for no reason known to him – that he is an interloper, a trespasser in time.

He ventures a little way along the left bank of the creek, the sound of the blades upon the water seeming over-loud and echoing oddly amongst the trees on the farther bank, and as he creeps forward the creek narrows, the trees crowd yet more thickly to the water’s edge, and he feels a spell upon him, fascinating, strange, a thing of queer excitement not fully understood.

The path beside the creek emerges back into daylight with views down across the Helford River then down to Penarvon Cove and back to Helford Village where the Shipwrights Arms proved so distracting that I forgot to take a photograph. This postcard from 1907 shows it from the river where it has its own jetty, and the view today is really not much changed.

PS: I only discovered afterwards that Frenchman’s Creek was a favourite location for Tom Cross. I first met Tom at Reading University and then later at Falmouth School of Art when he invited me to visit over 30 years ago. Now I find that he lived in Port Navas which is coincidentally where we stayed on this visit, just behind the oyster farm.

PPS: This cage on the quay at Port Navas is used for growing oysters, but it also reminds me of the first post on this blog and a piece called Intemperie, and I remember that everything is connected.

Frames of reference

5 thoughts on “Frenchman’s Creek”

  1. What a delightful piece of writing and beautiful photos of the place that is very close to my heart .you have invited the reader on a journey and you feel as you read every delight of things seen , discovered and enjoyed …lovely , thank you !

    1. Thank you Louise. I’m glad you liked it and pleased you found it, but sorry I missed your exhibition. Now I’ve just noticed I also missed your more recent exhibition at Adam Gallery in Bath! One of these days I’ll catch up with you!

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