RBTraditional – A Cornish interlude

Out with Yates for a wander

High above the waterline of the Helford River estuary, nestled deep in the woods surrounding the ancient fishing hamlet of Durgan, sits a little thatched cottage with room for two and a dog at a push!

The cottage has a rich history, being once owned by the Fox Family of the grand Glendurgan estate for over two hundred years. It has served as both apple store and lookout post during WW2 with fine views over the river and now once again as a charming dwelling for visitors to this hallowed county of saints and perhaps some sinners too for good measure!

The cottage

As I sit here writing this, the full moon is reflecting silver shards of light from the water below, all is calm and quiet save from the gently lapping waves against the rocky shoreline and the call of tawny owls which echo through the woods and across the bay. After a long but not unpleasant journey I am savouring a most delightful locally brewed ale, sleep will be easy tonight and I shall no doubt dream of bass amongst the craggy rocks, which will make a change from tench swimming in the placid reed fringed drains nestled between the gentle pastures of my usual haunts upon the Romney Marsh.

Gently lapping waves

As quietly as I can, so as not to wake my girl and dog I rise from my slumber an hour or so before dawn, I prepare my tackle and enjoy coffee whilst I await the first glow of light creeping up behind the easterly headland of Mawnan Sheer. It’s only a short stride to the beach down the cliff path, everything can be taken at a leisurely pace which suits my mood just fine.

I take a step out of the door to check the temperature and although we are in the dying embers of September it is remarkably mild without a breath of wind. Probably not the best conditions for bass but whatever I will enjoy myself, I change my quarry to suit the seasons and this is as much of a change as one can have.

There’s much wildlife in these parts, last year I acquainted myself with my first Cornish chough, this morning I’m met by a rather delightful and friendly hedgehog snuffling around on the dewy lawn looking for slugs, they have sadly become a rarer and rarer sight these days, I do hope that like the chough and indeed the buzzard and red kite which all very nearly became extinct on the mainland during the 1980’s that they can make a similar and befitting revival. The light is breaking….

My old Bruce and Walker spinning rod and Mitchell 810 along with my gye net are leaning against the porch, relics of my salmon fishing exploits over many years past with my father and his friends in Scotland, again resurrected. I swallow the last remnants of tepid coffee, sling my weathered brady bag over my shoulder, give the dog a gentle whistle and off we go wandering the path under the canopy of huge Monterey pines. My spaniel Yates as always takes the lead and is on the beach well before my two legged efforts allow me.

Minimal Tackles

The fresh salty air is all apparent to my senses as I walk up toward the rocks, the water glass like, save from the ripples made by a small fishing boat collecting crab pots a hundred yards out in the half light. Yates is making the most of this adventure, scouring the beach for sticks, surely it won’t be long before he goes for a swim, it is indeed almost impossible, no – I correct myself – absolutely impossible to keep a spaniel and water apart!

Halfway along the beach I notice a swirl, bass? Seconds later a grebe surfaces with a small fish, turns it head wards and with a gulp the fish is devoured, a good sign indeed. I let the grebe continue with its feeding and continue toward my starting point. I climb up onto the rocks and select a floating shallow diving lure from my bag, it’s a boulder strewn area which the bass should like to ambush passing prey and I reason that this is my best choice. Like their freshwater cousins the perch, they prefer cover, the snaggier the better unless of course there is a good wind and swell, when they can be found hunting the more open areas of shoreline. My first cast sails out beautifully, the early rays of light catching the silver and red coloured plug just before splash down…we are open for business.

The early rays of light

After working my lure amongst the rocks for half an hour without an enquiry I decide to change tactics and fish an imitation sand eel along the bottom away from the rocks, casting towards the extensive beds of eel grass. Gradually working my way slowly along the beach I derive much pleasure in each cast and retrieve, asking the question and awaiting an answer. The tide is ebbing and as I approach the far end of the beach I spot a group of five oyster catchers flying low across the water…marvellous! Last cast before returning to the cottage for a hearty full English breakfast with lashings of tea…there will be plenty of time for angling, fishing both the ebb and flood tides.

Mawnan Smith church

Appetite sated and tackle stored away until the evening the three of us venture out along the coastal path toward the old church at Mawnan Smith. A place of legend and mystery, this county has much spiritual heritage. The church is reportedly haunted by the Owlman, half owl half man with searing red eyes. I open the lych gate to the churchyard, lych being the old English term for a corpse and almost immediately my eyes are drawn toward a weathered headstone bearing the inscription RB 1731 complete with skull and crossbones, the resting place of a pirate? Maybe a previous existence of my very own? I feel a little shiver and my own mortality crosses my mind. We wander on through the last resting place of the many departed, it is peaceful and rather beautiful, mostly untouched and left to nature. We sit a while on a lichen covered bench and take in the view, fishing boats are going about their daily work below and a few sailing boats are making their way up the estuary toward the sea.

RB 1731

We return along the winding and rocky path of the headland and I notice some wonderful looking Bass fishing spots but access from the ciffs is treacherous, maybe as a younger man I’d have ventured down, although I’m pretty fit I reason that there are now places where I can no longer go for fear of broken bones, the older the bone the longer to heal. Onward we walk and eventually come to Boathouse beach, it looks very inviting indeed, remote and enclosed on both sides by rocky outcrops, quite possibly a consideration for my evening sortie.

The beach boathouse

The tide has turned by late afternoon, I ready my tackle to fish, under intense scrutiny from my spaniel, the look he is giving me speaks volumes, I’m sure he’s thinking… are you really going to use that lure? You’ll catch nothing with that! We wander down to the beach again, we’ll have an hour or so before the light fades and another day bows out. We are due to meet Calum and his girlfriend Emily in the Red Lion this eve and I quietly pray for a fishy tale to tell over a pint or two. An evening in the pub with good company, good food and fine ale is to be savoured as much as time spent with a rod and a dog. I work the rocks again with a lure, not a sniff, maybe the dog was right? Several lure changes later to suit both underwater terrain and conditions provide little response, maybe one little knock, I’m not too sure and all too soon we are walking back to the cottage, there’s always hope. Walks planned tomorrow may shed further light on where the fish are holed up.

Red Lion
Storage vessels

“There’s always the pub” as my old dad would say after a fruitless day and before long we are sitting in one of my favourite haunts in this part of the country. The place is adorned with old artefacts of a bygone age, things which catch the eye and inspire curiosity, for example; just how did a roach in a bow fronted glass case end up in a coastal village pub?….”the closest you’ve got to a fish all day!” quipped my girl. I think I’ll just have another pint……and think about the fish again in the morning!

What is a roach doing here?

All Writing & Images RBT Cornwall September 2021