A Sun-Drenched Romp, Water Taxis, and a Crash Course in Cockling
The sun, a rare British commodity, decided to grace us with its radiant presence on Good Friday. The forecast had us springing into action, gathering our gear, and tossing it into the van faster than a rabbit late for a tea party.
The Helford was our destination, specifically , Helford Passage nestled on our side of the river. Why this side or the river? Practical reasons aside – namely, dodging an extra twenty-minute drive around to the other side and the potential for appalling road conditions – we had a secret, more joyous motivation. A boat ride! A nautical detour is always an irresistible seasoning to any decent walk.
With the sun in full splendour and the carpark steadily filling up, we were thankful our early bird tendencies had beaten the worm. Or the traffic snarl in this case. Good Friday in Cornwall coupled with balmy weather often equals a severe case of gridlock.
Agatha, who had been practically dislocating her tail with joy, was somewhat sceptical about boarding the river taxi. A little cajoling and a dash of canine lifting later, she was onboard. The skipper, warned us about an impending low tide that would disrupt return trips between 11:30 and 2:00. This is life in Cornwall, we are regularly ruled by the tides.
Our initial plan to dine at the Ferry Boat Inn was hampered by this tidal timetable. We could have made it back for 11.30, but it would have turned our leisurely stroll into a route march. A quick phone all to the Shipwrights Arms ensured we had a table waiting for us at lunch. Two brilliant pubs on opposite sides of a river – talk about an embarrassment of riches!
Disembarking from our watery commute, we embarked inland towards Manaccan, navigating quaint lanes and footpaths through fields radiant with a final crop of daffodils. As we sauntered by a building, an irresistible aroma wafted out of an open door, revealing a bustling kitchen churning out local pasties. While I was wrestling Agatha away from this tantalising source of temptation, Steve charmed the ladies into selling us a quiche and a pasty. With these goodies safely stowed in our backpack, we meandered along unmade roads and a footpath that traced a bubbling stream downhill. Given the drier season, the cool shade and babbling brook were more of a refreshing haven than a muddy morass.
Our trail led us to Gillian Creek and a seemingly deserted road that, for reasons unknown, was bustling with activity. As we reached the village of St Anthony, we were greeted by a beach scene straight out of a surreal painting – hordes of people scraping through mud and rocks in the shallow water, children and dogs frolicking, and impromptu picnics dotting the shoreline.
Here we were, standing before a stretch of water more appropriate for a duck paddle than any decent swim. What on earth was everyone up to? One beachside interrogation with a teenager told us that today was a free-for-all cockle bonanza, apparently.
Slightly enlightened but still far from an expert, I decided there was no better teacher than experience. Ditching my boots and acquiring a borrowed rake, I stepped into the shoes of a Good Friday cockler. Steve and Agatha, meanwhile, were enjoying an impromptu picnic.
Cockling, it seems, is a Good Friday tradition that’s been around since forever. Some versions claim, it was down to a tight-fisted landowner who grudgingly allowed foraging only once a year. Another tale ties it to the Catholic practice of fish-only Fridays. Either way, Good Friday cockling is now as much a tradition as overcooking the turkey at Christmas. The action of rake-wielding foragers, by the way, is known as ‘trigging’.
As thrilled as a kid on a rollercoaster, I found four cockles and proudly deposited them into my new friends’ bucket. As much as I love cockles, toting around a sack of damp shellfish for the rest of the day was a step too far.
Having ticked ‘cockling’ off my list of things I never knew I wanted to do, Steve, Agatha, and I hit the coastal path again. Just as a large family was huffing and puffing up the hill behind us, we bumped into Liz Fenwick – a lovely lady and celebrated author of Cornwall-centric women’s fiction. Recognising each other, we burst into laughter and enjoyed a brief chat. Turns out, Liz was out to celebrate a big birthday and planned to add some trigging to her festivities.
After wishing Liz a happy birthday, we continued our journey. The views over the Helford were an Instagrammer’s dream, and we stopped at one of the path’s fabulous beaches. Steve fancied a dip and, despite his assurances that the water was ‘lovely,’ his high-pitched yelp upon entry suggested otherwise. I stuck to my quiche, thank you very much.
The end of our adventure led us to the Shipwright Arms, where we enjoyed a top-notch lunch with a view to match. The place was buzzing – a testament to our foresight in booking a table. Agatha wasn’t left out either; she got her own treats and a bowl of water.
With the walk behind us and one boat ride to go, we bid farewell to the scene and headed back to the carpark. As we drove away, every narrow lane was lined with cars parked with all the consideration of a seagull at a fish market. I felt an enormous pang of sympathy for the locals. If you come here, arrive early and use the car park.
Will this walk make it into the book? A resounding yes!
Five miles. Only two hills worth their salt. Not suitable for wheels.
Places to eat:
Before you set out check the timetable and see if the tides will cause any issues.