Helford River – swimming at Durgan
“There can new few more inspiring sights than the oak–wood that crowds the water’s edge and spills over the Helford River, stretching out branches far over the narrow strip of beach that disappears under a spring tide when the river is brim full.”
Still damp from our swim in the harbour at Fowey, Molly and I are now locked in a race against the setting sun as we wind our way along empty B roads towards the Helford River.
Roger swam from the head of Frenchman’s Creek down into the wide river as it stares out into the Atlantic. Time and tide are not going to allow such a lengthy trip, so instead we park up above the village of Durgan and walk down a steep track to a narrow stretch of shingly beach.
Our timing is perfect, the sun just about high enough to warm us as we undress and peel on wet swimwear. The water does not even lap here, all is glassy calm. The only disturbance comes from a rib gunning out towards one of the countless yachts moored in the central channel.
We take tentative steps into the clear, icy water. The deep green of Scots Pines and ancient oaks is reflected here in the near shore, the water taking on an almost tropical feel. Roger did say when he swam here it was like taking to the Limpopo. As I push myself forwards into a heads out breaststroke it isn’t hard to see why.
In what is clearly going to become a Cornish tradition, Molly leads us towards the nearest moored boat, some 100 metres from the shore. Clasped onto a huge buoy I look back at an idyllic sunset scene. The small beach is empty except for a young family nestled in the corner having a barbecue, their little white dog jumping and yapping as the daughter runs across the shingly sand on all fours. The waft of cooking burgers is all too much. Even Molly, a vegetarian, says how ravenous it makes her feel.
Just upstream, fallen Scots Pines lay slumped over the cliffs, roots and all. At higher water, I could imagine swimming through one, clambering over those tentacles and diving into the ever deeper river. After the search for a secluded spot at Fowey, this is the antithesis. With the day ending, I couldn’t feel further from prying eyes, an isolated dip at the end of a long trip from the grime of South London.
We begin a long swim towards our waiting towels. I paddle on my back until I manage to beach myself, my swimmers caked in grey mud and sand. I begin to haphazardly dry myself off when a hand suddenly appears, proffering half a burger each. Molly and I stare in disbelief.
‘We had a spare one.’
Molly declines, her veggie status holding firm in this most extreme of provocations. I take my half, shaking with cold and extreme elation. I’m barely able to offer a thanks before I find my hand stuffing the home made pattie into my mouth.
We drink flask tea and take one last look at the beach, by now both of us soaring with a dopamine high after a day spent in the car. The weekend promises more Waterlog treats and so we make for Falmouth, the goodbyes of the barbecue family ringing out in this far away corner of Cornwall.