A gentle walk round Coombe and Cowlands Creeks,
home of the famous Kea Plums
A friend of mine had breast cancer several years ago, and used to have radiotherapy at Treliske. On the way home, she would walk her dogs at Coombe, “because it was such a contrast to the hospital”. She took me with her one day, after she'd received her all clear for cancer, so this walk is a celebration of life.
On this grey and wintry afternoon, I arranged to meet my friend Viv and her dog in defiance of the weather forecast which threatened gale force winds and lashing rain. However, my dog Mollie was longing to meet her toyboy, Titch, and nothing would stop that.
Taking the A39 Truro to Falmouth road, we turned off at Playing Place for the King Harry Ferry turning. This passes through Penelewey and just past the Punchbowl and Ladle pub is a turning on signposted to Coombe. We continued along this road, through Porthkea and turned sharp right down to Coombe.
After the second cattle grid, we parked in a layby on the left, then walked down to the creek. In the past the main industries of this area were plum growing, oyster dredging, resin for the leather industry (obtained from 'barking' oak trees), and the production of mineral ore. Today it is quiet; even the cottage selling cream teas has shut, and the creek retains its air of magical secrecy.
It was approaching low tide on the day of our walk, and thick mud banks lay like sleeping elephants. A few gulls shrieked at us before flying off, while a group of mallards bathed and quacked at Mollie and Titch, who tore past in mindless glee. We walked past several old boat hulls and noticed two wooden benches, positioned to give a perfect view up the creek.
The path grew narrower here and led us past a settlement on the opposite bank with a run down quay, several moored vessels like ghost ships, and a home made red flag. The inhabitant is a recluse who does not welcome visitors, so we've always respected his privacy.
Overhanging oak trees with roots rubbed bare by years of erosion accompanied us along the rest of the path until we reached the foreshore where we turned right by a yellow arrow marking the footpath called a way mark, up to a cottage that is currently being refurbished. I remember the stall of nick nacks that used to be outside, constructed on railway sleepers, perched over a running stream. I often stopped there, and it never failed to delight.
Following the way marks through a steep field on our left, we reached a wooden stile that led us into woods where catkins peeped out shyly as we squelched our way down the muddy path, and the dogs careered in and out of the trees, yelping with joy.
Further on we came to a whitewashed cob cottage and a Public Footpath sign pointing to the right towards Cowlands. A brisk wind hit us here as we followed yet another muddy track through woods with holly trees on either side until we reached the road where we turned left down to Cowlands, home to the potter, Mary Rich.
Standing at the head of the creek, on our left was an orchard of Kea plums, some of which grow on the foreshore where they are sheltered from the south-westerly winds. Kea plums are exclusive to this area and used to provide an important income to the villagers, though the season is only two weeks between late August and early September. Kea plums are the size of damsons and too sharp to eat fresh, but make the most fabulous jam. More recently, Cornish producers have diversified into making ice cream, cider, wine and even chocolates from these little fruits. The name is taken from the Irish Saint Kea who, after floating from Ireland on a granite boulder, is supposed to have landed where old Kea church stood.
On the other side of Cowlands Creek was a huge fake thatched Georgian house that has been the cause of endless controversy in the area. A Public Footpath sign led us round the back of the house, into woods with a fast flowing stream. Some of the trees were covered in a brilliant emerald green lichen, and further on we found an old quarry where the stone was covered in dense ferns and ivy that tumbled to the ground like dreadlocks.
This path led into a steep field with a live fence on our left. At the end of this field was a wooden stile with steep steps the other side that landed us in a pool of mud. We took the right hand turning, where a red arrow led us down a steep tarmac path like a drover's lane, with steep walls covered in ferns. This path dipped down and we began to climb up again when I heard, “Oh, NO!,” to my left. I hurried back, to find Viv pointing at Titch. “Look!” she cried.
Titch was bounding towards us, a huge rabbit in his mouth.
“Drop it!” cried Viv, ever the optimist.
At this point Mollie appeared and Titch looked up, evidently decided that a mud spattered girlfriend was much more interesting and dropped the rabbit. The bunny seemed none the worse for wear, and loped off in one direction while we loped off in another, weak kneed with relief. Trying to wrench a rabbit from a terrier's jaws was not to be relished.
The wind intensified as we continued along the lane, and overhead a kestrel hovered, searching for prey. As we looked back down the lush valley, there was a break in the clouds and we saw a field spattered with wild daffodils that lifted our spirits and banished the winter greyness.
Walking past a farm we turned right at the top of a muddy lane and looked through a gate towards several huge ships laid up the Truro river – an uncomfortable reminder of the recession. Swiftly dismissing reality, we continued down the lane until we came to a Public Footpath sign on our left, leading into woods. At this point my memory of the route became a little hazy. Would she trust me?
“No!” came the resounding reply. “But let's go anyway.”
Reassured by a comforting way mark, we crashed through woods reminiscent of a children's story: an air of magic and mystery with dense trees and rustling leaves underfoot. Sliding down a steep gully, we arrived back at the foreshore, by the whitewashed cottage in the woods, and continued back the way we had come.
Our return trip revealed a cluster of snowdrops perched above a slate wall; a single primrose, and a few violet periwinkles, while further down the creek a single egret stood, silhouetted against the mudbanks and incoming tide. Rooks cried and circled ahead, and as we reached the car, we felt the first heavy drops of rain. I looked back, down the creek, with the fervent hope that nothing would spoil this gentle, precious part of Cornwall.
Map: Explorer 105 Falmouth and Mevagissey, Truro and St Mawes
Length: 3 miles
A few steep hills but otherwise easy going though can be muddy in parts
Approximately 1 ½ hours
Nearest refreshments Punchbowl and Ladle Inn at Penelewey, near Feock
Mary Rich, Potter www.maryrich.co.uk
May 2009 Cornwall Today