A walk across the water

Hamish Scott takes the ferry to Cornwall's St Anthony peninsular

It felt as if we were leaving the safety of the harbour for a mystical, unknown land visible across the water. However, as we stepped on board the ferry at St Mawes we realised it was most unlikely we'd be shot with poisoned arrows in St-Anthony-in-Roseland. For all that, the romantic creeks and wooded hills that we could see across the estuary did look like the stuff of Cornish legends..

Though it is possible to reach the St Anthony peninsula by car, it's a long and winding road. The 15-minute ferry trip is quicker, much more fun, and a suitably adventurous start to any walk.

The ferry landed us at Place, beneath the sloping lawns of an enviable mansion. An exotic little egret was bobbing on the waters of the bay as we headed up the Percuil estuary along the coastal path, and our sense of being in a foreign land was heightened by the lushness of the vegetation. The woodland shimmered with an iridiscent haze of greenery and wild flowers. Across the water, we could see palm trees in the gardens of St Mawes.

Following the path around North-hill point, we continued on our way along the shore above the muddy waters of Porth Creek. This, according to a man we met repairing an old stile, was once notorious as a smugglers' haven; a labyrinthine waterway between steep, wooded hills where the excisemen from Falmouth had little chance of finding hidden contraband. It's a peaceful enough spot today, but two centuries ago no law-abiding citizen would have dared to venture on this path unarmed.

The upper waters of the creek are dammed to form a tidal pool beside a lovely old mill-house, where we crossed a footbridge to the Tarmac lane. A hundred yards further on, a track off to the left took us down to Towan beach and a sudden change of scenery. We had reached the open sea.

Despite a bracing offshore breeze, there was plenty of activity on the beach. It was a typically English scene, with families rock-pooling and fighting with recalcitrant wind-shelters. Turning right along the coastal path, we passed another equally attractive beach at Porthbeor, beyond Killigeran Head. Coming under the protection of the National Trust, this whole stretch of coast remains remarkably unspoilt, and despite the sandy beaches it's still a wild landscape of low but unforgiving cliffs and jagged rocks. Countless ships have come to grief here as they have battled winter gales around the headland of St Anthony aiming at safe anchorage in Carrick Roads.

Resting on the headland, we admired what is claimed to be one of the finest natural harbours in the world. Across the estuary Pendennis Castle guarded Falmouth Dockyard; to the north we could see the castle of St Mawes; and beneath our feet magazines and tunnels lay buried in the hillside.

Before continuing along the path, we diverted down steep steps to the lighthouse, where the offshore rocks are home to teeming colonies of cormorants and shags.

The final mile of our circuit was an idyllic stroll past isolated sandy coves and above a rocky shore.

It was rush hour out in Carrick Roads, with fleets of dinghies, yachts and sail-boards manoeuvring and racing in a close-packed dance of interweaving wakes.

We watched our ferry boat approaching from St Mawes and through binoculars we could see our lunch time destination - the Rising Sun. We were waiting at the quayside as our boat pulled in.

A six-mile walk and fresh sea air can whip up quite an appetite. Sitting in the Rising Sun's plainly furnished public bar, we ordered up a feast of crabs and prawns which we washed down with St Austell beer.

Glowing with a sense of well-earned satisfaction, we listened to the conversation of a weatherbeaten man seated at a nearby table.

"Of course," he was saying, "it's so easy nowadays to sail single-handed to America ..."

Directions

St Mawes is on the A3078, 10 miles south of Truro and 15 miles south west of St Austell. The St Mawes-Place passenger ferry runs at 30-minute intervals from 5 May to 30 September.

From Place Quay, follow the coastal footpath north-east up Percuil estuary.

At Porth farm, cross the footbridge and turn right down the Tarmac lane.

After 100 yds, turn left down the beach access track.

Above Towan beach, turn right on to the coastal path.

Follow the coastal path to St Anthony's Head car park.

Continuing along the coastal path, return to Place Quay.

Length of walk: about 5 miles.

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