Monday, May 24, 2010

Halwyn and Old Kea Church


On a springlike afternoon, the first after what has seemed an endless winter, Mollie Dog and I took the A39 Truro to Falmouth road and turned off at Playing Place for the King Harry Ferry. Just past the Punchbowl and Ladle pub at Penelewey is a turning left to Coombe. We continued along this road, past the head of Cowlands Creek, up the hill and past a farm where we turned right and after about a mile took a sharp turning right down to Coombe where we crossed over two cattle grids and parked on the side of the road.

Here we were given a joyous welcome by Viv and Titch. Mollie surpassed herself by singing a soprano solo which was answered by Titch's reedy tenor, and to this tuneful accompaniment, we headed down onto the foreshore and turned right by the public footpath sign to Lower Lanner Farm.

Heading up a steep path in between houses, we passed clumps of snowdrops on mossy banks, the first primroses, and sleepy orchards on our right. At the top of the lane we ignored the signpost to Cowlands and carried on up and over a stile and into a steep field. At the top of this was another gate and we hauled ourselves into another steep field with a bunch of crows, a few stray daffodils and an old wooden seat next to a few fir trees.

From here we drank in the wonderful view looking down on ships moored in the river Fal which wound its way round to Cowlands Creek nestling through the trees to our right. After a brief rest we continued on, through another muddy field where the dogs frenetically chased rabbits, and at the bottom was a gate where we turned left into a lane. Opposite Lower Lanner Farm was a public footpath sign on our right – and another sign saying Bull in Field. Viv and I wavered, neither being that fond of bovines, let alone the testosterone-fuelled, untethered variety. But this was work, so I clambered over the gate to do a recce while Viv held onto the dogs on the other side of the gate.

Wading through thick mud, I saw no bulls but what looked like woolly mammoths. They were probably a fold of Highland Cattle, for they were shaggy and would have been rather cute if they hadn't been quite so large, nor had such fierce Viking horns. We eyed each other up, and I looked back at Viv. “They're behind an electric fence,” I said hopefully. “They can't hurt us.” Viv shuffled through the gate, whereupon all the cows got to their feet and trotted towards us to say hello.

Viv turned very pale. “Hello,” she squeaked to the cows. “We're just doing a walk for Cornwall Today...”

Perhaps the cattle are keen readers, for they jostled nearer but I grabbed Viv and we hurried along, escorted by our hairy friends. At the far end of the field, pink faced and laughing, we tumbled over a stone stile and landed in a small lane. Here we turned right and continued for about a quarter of a mile, arriving at Old Kea Church which was dedicated to the lesser known Cornish Saint of Kea, also known as Che, Lan-te-Ke, and Landegea. His help is sometimes invoked to cure toothache.

It is said that St Kea landed here on his first visit to Cornwall, making it one of the ancient sites of Celtic Christianity. The crumbling 15th century ivy clad tower is all that's left of the old church and is fenced off, but the chapel next door is well worth a visit. This tiny place worships using the 1662 prayer book, and services are held twice a month and at Christmas and Easter. The churchyard has only a few ancient headstones, but is a wonderfully peaceful place, with clumps of snowdrops nestling in the grass, a dessiccated rhododendron, and birds tweeting in the still of a spring afternoon.

Leaving the church behind, we continued down the lane following the smell of woodsmoke to several cottages by a fast running stream. To the right of this was a public footpath sign and we headed across an open field and through an iron gate that led to an orchard with a small granite cross on our left, and an upturned boat and a small wooden bench on our right. We continued through another gate, past a large thatched house on our right where the lane twisted round past last year's rosehips, through a huge puddle and past two cottages on our left which led to a small road.

Turning left here, we walked along a lane full of catkins, heard the squawk of a pheasant and the distant drone of an aeroplane flying over Coombe Creek on our right. “Look – that must be a sign for the tea shop,” said Viv hopefully, but as we neared, it said Temporary Road Surface. The lane must have been hewn out of a hill, reminding me of Elizabeth Goudge's Little White Horse - the banks were about six foot high, with green roots and gnarled branches twisting eerily out of the gloom. In some parts, the walls were composed of moss and slate covered in dusty pale green, like tarnished copper, and topped with all kinds of patterned ferns.

At the top of this hill we reached Higher Trelease Farm and further on, a sign saying Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles, and we headed down that hill. (If you're going to Halwyn for tea, park here and walk down the hill.)

The scenery here was like a Rowland Hilder painting – bleak fields with leafless trees stark against a grey sky and a buzzard soaring high above the woods. Further over were the densely wooded banks of the Fal river and the huge ships moored up there.

At the bottom of this hill, the lane petered out and we saw a sign to Coombe. Next to this was an old wooden gate with Halwyn painted in faint letters. “Oh good – tea,” said Viv. A beautifully restored farmhouse lay ahead, so we walked into the yard, past bright tubs of crocuses and polyanthus, and two inquisitive cats peering at us. Unfortunately the tea shop doesn't open till Easter - “What, no food?” cried a horrified Viv, so we skirted the house and climbed over a stile on our right into a field with a horse in. The path led through the bottom of several fields and over more stiles until we reached a path on our left into some woods.

Walking on a carpet of oak leaves, we noted glossy young holly trees, but everything else was smothered by ivy, glistening darkly in the feeble sun. There was thick mud in places so we stopped and looked down on Roundwood Quay opposite, which looked like a setting from Swallows and Amazons, with adventure in the air. Further on was an orchard which in spring looks wonderful with a carpet of daffodils and snowdrops, and we followed the path downhill and turned right towards Coombe Creek.

As we came out of the trees and walked along the footpath we could see that the tide was very high, covering the entire foreshore, and not a ruffle of wind disturbed the water. Whitewashed cottages with plumes of woodsmoke were studded into the hills amongst Kea plum orchards, and a few mallards swam quietly down river. We stood in silence, for this really is a little piece of paradise.
It even made up for missing tea.

Map: OS Explorer 105, Falmouth & Mevagissey
Length: 4 miles
Time: Approximately 1 ¾ hours
Grade: A few steep hills, can be very muddy in parts
Refreshments: Halwyn tea shop open from 3rd April 2010
Directions to Halwyn by car: Follow directions above but ignore the last sharp right turning to Coombe and continue up the hill past Higher Trelease Farm. Park by the sign saying Unsuitable for Vehicles and walk down the hill to Halwyn, though there is parking for disabled at Halwyn itself.

Cornwall Today June 2010

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