The Land of Saints

It was an unexpected pleasure – and initially less a pleasure than a trial. A wedding between two strangers, and me an awkward plus-one. Dress-shopping, fretting over opinions of people I had yet to meet, quizzing my other half on what would be expected. But then a pause to draw breath, a pin in the map, and the realisation that our journey would draw us straight down memory lane.

You see, St Mawes is a name that evokes an immediate response from me. Autumn half term, raincoat rattling around my ears, the smell of kelp and the call of oyster catchers, crabs scuttling through rockpools away from bright elephant wellies, and a steaming pasty on the harbour wall. This was the pattern of our days, for a time, and a very English sort of heaven. It was something I needed to share.

That’s why, once we’d been dropped off in Truro, bedecked with suit bags and shoes, we jumped straight on a little boat and out into the estuary for two whole hours in paradise.

There were views on that waterway that you wouldn’t believe were in Britain. Steep, verdant banks with great Gothic manors rising from the trees. Tall sailing ships aflutter with black-and-white flags. Grey herons eyeing the men cutting mussels from ropes. And at its mouth, where the sea opens up and everything changes scale, a sailing regatta of old working boats, silently drifting in unison.

We rounded the corner and everything changed, like the kindest punch in the gut. The trefoil-shaped castle clinging to the rocks brought season upon season back to me, and I greedily followed the road with my eyes as it moved from the fortress to fishermen’s cottages, and met us in the little walled harbour.

Then all at once we were upon that road, pausing to admire the sturdy Tudor walls and rows of cannon, before slipping through a wooden gate and into the bracken-scented wilderness. The blue-grey clouds broke as we skirted the shore, and the sun’s warmth hung on the haze of ferns. A tiny gap in the hedge heralded a tunnel of trees, which bore us downward to the sea. A sand beach gliding into water in complete seclusion, and that ever-pungent seaweed smell.

I paddled, then waded, then pulled up my skirt and stood thigh-deep in the warm and sand-lined water. This was the first time I had known St Mawes in its most clement of seasons. It was something I could get used to.

A glance at the watch and a race against time, dashing back up the grassy track to make the last boat back to Truro. A delay in the schedule allowed us the pleasure of a cold beer on the harbour wall and the sounds of a local folk band. The village was out in force for the end of the regatta, and the feeling was infectious.

We cut the boat journey back short, disembarking in the green hamlet of Malpas and sipping cider on the estuary bank, a host of little boats bobbing silently below us. It was a world away from the coast we knew, and we had fallen hard for it.

That night, laying tipsy on a park bench with the friendliest of strangers and a bottle of prosecco, watching the last of the Perseids blaze into obscurity in the cracks of a mackerel sky, something warmer than the balmy summer evening washed over me. The feeling that, for the first time since the big move and its associated madness, we had done what we do best: taken a chance, touched the sea, seen history, and found beauty in strange places.

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