My Favourite Place – Malpas by Alan Murton

You’ve all got your favourite spots, I bet. One thing for sure is that we’re spoilt for choice in Cornwall, aren’t we? Don’t ask how I choose mine – I couldn’t tell you how_ when or why my list is as it is, or how I rank them like my father used to say: “There’s no bad beer boy – just some’s better’n others.” Many date back to happy childhood memories, a few are more recent, and the list is still growing. For example, since we moved in to Perranzabuloe last June we’ve come to an entirely new perspective of Perranporth and have fallen in love with it all over again.

Malpas is very high on my list, yet it took until our second pilgrimage there since coming home for me properly to identify the three key factors that makes it so magic for me.

There is only one road that leads to the village. In Truro take a left turn into Malpas Road at the roundabout by the police station and follow the river. On the way you will pass Boscawen Park where the Truro Cricket Club has its ground and where there are colourful gardens and open parkland – an amenity that reflects great credit on the city council gardeners. On the left are the water gardens which is home for so many swans that the locals have always called it the “Swan Park”.

A little further and the road narrows at Sunny Corner, where there used to be a but to provide changing rooms for the bathers who swam in the river. You pass through an avenue of tall pines and arrive almost by surprise at the entrance to the village. Be warned. The village street is narrow, and the road runs out at the yacht club, parking is very limited and the Western National gets cross if you leave your car in its turning bay.

Sunny Corner

Take the first spot you can and walk. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for parking back at the park and enjoying a pleasant stroll along the river. The small village sits on a bluff above the junction of three rivers where the Tresillian and the Truro Rivers merge to become the Fal – the “Cornish Danube” others have called it. It is a place of great natural beauty. The banks on both sides are clothed in shrubby oak trees – further down its journey to the sea at Carrick Roads, you may find the odd kea plum and by the King Harry Ferry indigenous conifers as well. The oaks cover the bands in smooth curves and the branches of the lower ones dip to and overhang the water.

St. Michael Penkivel is perched on the opposite bank and a sparkling white house dominates the waterfront. Unless my memory is playing me tricks, that’s where the ferryman used to live who provided the foot passenger ser-vice from the village to Malpas and its bus service to Truro. He used to pull his rowing boat across the furlong or so of tidal water that separates the two. I expect the ferry still runs.

St. Michael Penkivel has a fine church with some interesting brasses – somewhere I could still have the rubbings I took there half a century ago. In sunshine the whole scene sparkles with life. A variety of boats in fresh, still water. Even under winter cloud when the rivers have their own dull green sheen the surface is almost always mirror still. Yachts and motor cruisers, lifeless now, seem to be waiting for a crew to bring them to life. Sea birds wheel above the water. If you are lucky you can sit on the terrace of “The Heron” or on the benches opposite the village pub and watch the cormorant diving to fish or perch on a buoy and hang its wings, half spread, to dry.

In the late war years – 1944/45 – I spent weeks of my summer holidays in an aunt’s cottage in Scobles Terrace, perched above the only road in the village. All my waking hours were spent in games and play by or on the river and the sun shone every day…. With children from local families, I fished for tiny crabs, dangling open cockle shells tied to pieces of string in the shallow water – often from the stern of a boat half-beached by the slipway. We’d release them on the stony foreshore and watch them scuttle back to the river. On a good day we’d be allowed the use of a rowing boat or a praam – a rudderless boat of Dutch origin with a square bow that was high out of the water, easy to pull but hellish to hold straight in a strong wind. Sometimes our rowing outings were courtesy of the ‘owners of a yacht who’d come ashore in their dinghy to re-stock the galley or refresh themselves in the Malpas Inn.

Most often ‘the boats would come from Sam Martin or one of the other river-men who hired out boats by the day. It was a popular recreation for Truro families – taking a picnic down the river to Coombe Creek or Turnaware Bar, perhaps fishing with a hand line around the navy ships moored in the deep anchorage at King Harry Reach. I think that the last time I went – with friends from Kenwyn Youth Club – we shared the eight shillings hire charge for the boat.

Malpas has changed little over the years – its inherent beauty has been retained. True, more houses and the Yacht Club have been built, mostly beyond the slipway on the fields we once walked to St. Clements. There is a complex of luxury flats on the bank below Scobles Terrace but there is still a village store where it always was. The houseboat has long rotted that was home to Ernie Cocks – a well-known local eccentric – whose boat building and repair skills were second to none. Gone too are the thin poles that marked the many oyster beds – victims of ignorance and pollution. There is no latter-day Sam Martin hiring rowing boats to holidaymakers or local young bloods.

Today it is the MV Enterprise not the steamship Queen of the Fal that takes day trippers to Falmouth and back from Truro’s Lemon Quay (or at low tides from the wooden pier at Malpas). The Queen was requisitioned in the Second World War. I last saw her moored where Tesco’s customers now park their cars – on a mission to raise money for the war effort. Her red and black livery was hidden under battleship grey but her proud little smokestack still carried a band of scarlet. She was armed with a 6 pounder and “Pom-Pom” anti-aircraft guns; whether they were fired in anger I don’t know.

For all that, when I sit with my beer on the terrace of the Heron – the Malpas Inn that was – I see the same breathtaking scenery that I carry in my memory. Perhaps there are fewer boats moored now. I guess there are fewer buses on the service to Truro. In my visits I don’t see or hear children at play – perhaps the village too has grown old.

Perhaps most weighty element in my love for Malpas is in the sheer tranquillity that adorns the place. Lack of parking and touristy facilities ensure that it is not over-populated with visitors or internal combustion engines. I have had lunch outside the pub and soaked up the sun for over and hour and heard only songbirds celebrating the summer or sea birds calling.