Tales from the riverbank
Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes and doesn’t always have to be extreme, as our explorer learned when he went up a creek with a paddle.
I’d been stuck indoors for weeks when the email popped into my inbox. How would I like to join an evening canoe trip on the River Fowey? Spring in Cornwall had failed to deliver any epic surf and my activity quota had only been filled with the occasional hike and cake eating marathon. An invitation to get out and experience something new was not one that I had to consider for too long.
A few days later I found myself in the sleepy, south coast village of Lerryn. As I stepped out of the car I took a deep breath of fresh air. It was my first visit to this particular corner of Cornwall and I couldn’t help wondering why it had taken me so long.
Lerryn sits on one of many hidden creeks and inlets that fill and empty with the tide from the Fowey estuary. This tranquil spot is a protected area of outstanding natural beauty, teeming with wildlife along its wooded banks, marshes, mudflats and meadows. It begs to be explored and there is no better way to do this than paddling a kayak along the picturesque riverbank.
“We’ll take a gentle paddle down the creek and introduce you to a side of Cornwall that few people get to see,” said my guide Damon who runs adventure company Encounter Cornwall. We slipped into the small one-man kayaks and set off along the creek past bobbing sail boats and cute cottages. Soon we were out of the village and into a watery wilderness of a meandering creek lined with oaks, ash and weeping willows.
Damon was keen to point out that his canoe trips “can be as soft or hard as you want them to be”. While his main trade consists of short evening paddles, Damon also leads day-long expeditions to explore the entire Fowey estuary from its head at Lostwithiel to its mouth at Fowey or Polruan.
“With a canoe you can get into smaller creeks and visit parts of the river that you would not be able to see otherwise. It gets you closer to nature in a quiet and non-invasive way,” said Damon as a heron skimmed the water in front of us. As well as herons, Lerryn creek is home to egrets, kingfishers and buzzards. Sometimes shoals of mullet fish jump out of the water beside the canoe and deer have been seen drinking at the shore.
Close Encounters of the natural kind
It was this natural beauty that inspired Damon to set up Encounter Cornwall three years ago. “Some people don’t really realise what we have here,” said Damon. “Cornwall still has these pristine areas that remain largely untouched by humans.” It’s Damon’s aim to introduce more people to these “hidden” areas in a sustainable way, which means low impact exploration by foot, bike or by canoe.
Lerryn wasn’t always so hidden or quiet. It was once a port that served the silver trade. But when the port silted up, the creek returned to nature. Anyone who has read Wind in the Willows or remembers the TV series will already be familiar with the scenery. The author Kenneth Graeme wrote much of his best-loved book when he was on holiday here; and nearby Ethy Manor was the inspiration for Toad Hall.
The book’s characters Ratty and Mole had some great adventures on the riverbank here. But how does it rate on the human scale of adventure? I’d canoed several times before so it was by no means a challenging activity. There was enough paddling to consider it exercise, yet it wasn’t too demanding. But I enjoyed the relaxed pace of the trip. It allowed me to look around and admire the steep wooded hillsides, and listen to the calming sounds of trickling water and birds tweeting. It was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, and an idyllic escape from the desk.
Elliot Walker was a guest of Encounter Cornwall, which organises guided or assisted hiking, biking and canoe excursions in Cornwall. Its evening canoe trips cost £12 per adult and £6 per child for two hours of paddling. Tel: 01208 871066. Web: www.encountercornwall.com
Words & Photos Elliot Walker