Monday, February 21, 2011


A creekside walk not far from Truro

My darling husband, Pip, died suddenly on Boxing Day 2010, and as the Heron was one of the first pubs he took me to, Malpas always reminds me of him. One day he met me from the train and, instead of returning to the boat he lived on, we headed in a different direction. Where? He grinned, and shrugged, said, “Oh look – here's a pub. Might as well have a drink.”

The pub was the Heron; a quiet hostelry with a few outside tables overlooking the river opposite. On one of these was a pint of beer and a glass of wine – waiting for us. In addition I noticed an oyster shell which I recognised as being from his oyster fishing days. Inside the shell was a small green baize bag containing a pair of Cornish tin earrings – at the time Pip designed and made jewellery.

I still have those earrings and wore them for this walk, as another of my many thanks to a talented, brave man. Mind you, he wasn't a walker, so if he'd been with us, he would have spent the whole time in the pub.

A week after Pip died, Richard, Viv and I arrived at the Trafalgar roundabout in Truro and turned left signposted Malpas, continuing until we came to the tiny village of Malpas, where we parked in the road. This village is built at the conjunction of three rivers - the Tresillian River, the arm of Truro River leading to the city and the Truro River as it flows towards the Fal and Carrick Roads.

The love story of Tristan and Iseult tells how Iseult crossed the Truro River at La Mal Pas (pronounced Mopus) to meet her lover as she travelled from Moresk to Kea. Malpas derives from the French 'mal pas' meaning 'bad passage', because of the dangerous waterways here, where whirlpools and tidal waves have been reported.

Titch and Mollie (the canine version of Tristan and Iseult) charged ahead as we walked past the Heron, looking over the river to where Jenny Davies, also known as Jenny Mopus, ran the ferry until she died aged 82, in 1832. Jenny stated that her worst passengers were “wemmin and pigs”, and her portrait hangs at Tregothnan house, although the house and estate are private and not open to the public.

There was once an important oyster bed here at Malpas, and many ships carried coal and other commodities along this stretch of the river during the industrial heyday of the 19th century. The huge ships carrying timber from Norway anchored here for their cargo to be unloaded onto rafts to be taken up the shallower stretch of the river to Truro and the mines beyond.

As we walked, eight swans glided gently down the river while Richard and Viv discovered a joint passion for real ale and compared notes on recent CAMRA festivals. We followed a yellow waymark sign on the right saying St Clement which led us along a private road, round the back of some houses and into a very muddy path (Richard's mud rating of 5/10). We passed through a wooden kissing gate and into dense woods where tendrils of Old Man's Beard tumbled into a fast flowing stream, and emerald green moss grew up the tree trunks.

Over a makeshift bridge, we followed a waymark sign to St Clement - Denas Road to the right is an alternative route by the creek but we came back that way. “We could do with Nordic poles,” puffed Viv as we struggled up a very steep field, “or a ski lift.” At the top of this hill, which managed to even shut Viv up, we passed through a metal kissing gate and the sun came out for the first time in a week. Passing through another field, we looked back down the river where the sun glinted on silver water, and bare winter branches decorated the skyline. The next waymark sign guided us through another kissing gate into mud rating 8, churned up by cattle, and we turned right into another quagmire (mud rating 11) before emerging into another field. “Look at the view,” gasped Viv as Richard squelched his way to safety. Below us the church of St Clement (1326) nestled in a valley and a gentle sunlight kissed the tops of the trees. Even Richard rated it worth the knee high mud.

Another kissing gate brought us into St Clement and we turned right, past Elm Cottage where old teacups hung from hooks around the outside. We continued downhill past beautiful old cottages, down to the river. The woodland on the far bank is part of the Tregothnan Estate, owned by Lord and Lady Falmouth and we passed Tresemple Pond on our left. This is a wonderful place for spotting birds: our joint knowledge was sketchy (I invented a new type of gull called the herring bone gull) but we did see curlews flying overhead. “and that should be a peewit,” said Richard convincingly.

This flat path, which follows the river up to Tresillian, is very popular with walkers - “but don't try it with a wheelchair,” warned Viv. “I brought Mum here and it nearly killed me.” We continued until we came to a footbridge on our right which leads through a marshy area to Tresillian: you can turn left and walk back to Truro via the road, but having the dogs, we retraced our steps. The return journey grew damper by the moment until we arrived back at St Clement, where we turned left along Denas Road, which led us back along the shore line. The rain began to pelt down and on the opposite shore, a lone egret glowed eerily in the gathering dusk.

This path grew increasingly muddy (rating 7), while above us an eyrar of swans flew overhead in a V shape, honking persistently. “It's always mournful here at this time of year,” said Viv, but I found it rather peacefulm and Pip would have approved. The path led us into woods of dense pines that made me think of a Narnia forest, with shy centaurs peeping out from behind dark branches. Keeping the river on our left, the path opened up over various stiles into fields, more woodland, until finally, through the torrential rain, we glimpsed the lights of Malpas ahead.

Eventually we came to the end of Denas Road at the junction of the earlier path, and made it back to Malpas by which time it was dark, the dogs were covered in mud and my duffel coat was steaming gently. We'd hoped to have a drink in the Heron in honour of Pip, but they don't allow dogs inside, so we drove back to Viv's to dry out.

Pip's favourite toast was, “Here's to us what's like us,” so we raised our glasses and drank to another lovely walk, to good friends – and to my very special Pip.

Map: OS Explorer 105
Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes
Length: Approximately 4 miles
Grading: a few steep hills, can be very muddy
Refreshments: The Heron at Malpas 01872 272773;

Cornwall Today March 2011

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