Some­thing fishy about a ferry on the south­ern English coast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence Praising The Titanic In Belfas - PAUL SPINKS

WALK­ING the Cor­nish stretch of Eng­land’s 1015km South West Coast Path in 1987, I reached Pad­stow vil­lage, where a ferry is re­quired to cross the Camel River. It was mar­ket day and stalls crowded the quay. A lo­cal’s out­stretched hand pointed to a ferry sign where stone steps led to a small­ish wooden boat.

I plonked my back­pack against a bulk­head and joined the other com­muters. A leath­ery, wiry Cor­nish­man, re­vealed as the skip­per, sat­is­fied him­self there were no more pas­sen­gers and we mo­tored off, bon-voy­aged by dis­cor­dant seag­ulls. I re­laxed, con­fi­dent of re­join­ing the trail be­fore the sun dipped near the yardarm.

We took a di­ag­o­nal route. I as­sumed the skip­per was nav­i­gat­ing ob­sta­cles and would soon tack to­ward the op­po­site bank, but he con­tin­ued in a beeline to the river mouth. As the head­land loomed, the knot of un­cer­tainty tight­ened in my stom­ach. I turned to a pas­sen­ger and asked, ‘‘This is the ferry, isn’t it?’’.

‘‘No. It’s a fish­ing trip . for mack­erel.’’

Af­ter ini­tial sur­prise, I saw the hu­mour in my mis­take, but this was an in­con­ve­nient di­ver­sion. I ap­proached the skip­per, ex­pect­ing sym­pa­thetic ears and pos­si­ble trans­porta­tion to the other side.

‘‘Too bad,’’ he blurted be­fore I had time to prop­erly ex­plain my­self. ‘ ‘ You’re on board and go­ing fish­ing.’’

His ac­cent re­minded me of the stereo­typ­i­cal Dis­ney­land pi­rate.


. look­ing ‘‘Didn’t you see my back­pack?’’ ‘‘Plenty of peo­ple bring packs with them.’’

Yes, I thought, those who think they’re catch­ing a ferry.

‘‘You are pay­ing the four quid, and that’s it.’’

I re­turned to my seat and went with the flow, which in this case meant a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres out to sea.

I had no in­ter­est in fish­ing, but the skip­per’s side­kick — his son, about 11 years old — of­fered me line and bait, and I ac­qui­esced.

The weather was fine, the sea calm and the shore­line pro­vided a pic­to­rial back­drop. The fish­ing was sur­pris­ingly mack­erel plen­ti­ful.

The South West Coast Path orig­i­nally served as a route for the coast­guard in pur­suit of smug­glers. A de­cep­tively hilly trail, one cal­cu­la­tion has it that walk­ing its length is the equiv­a­lent of climb­ing Ever­est’s height four times.

There is ac­com­mo­da­tion along the route, but I would have to camp this night. We con­tin­ued rolling in mack­erel like tuna fish­er­men, and the skip­per’s son gath­ered the catch. Even­tu­ally we pulled up an­chor. The son divvied up the fish and asked how many I caught. I had no idea, so said:

easy and

the ‘‘Twenty.’’ He wrapped them in news­pa­per. The skip­per soft­ened and com­pli­mented me on my catch. Then we re­turned to shore.

Lug­ging 20 mack­erel in a back­pack would quickly be­come a smelly propo­si­tion and I had no de­sire to be Pied Piper to a flock of seag­ulls. I ap­proached a lo­cal restau­rant in hope of a sale.

‘‘How­much­doy­ouwant?’’ I was asked. I told them four quid would do it. Done deal.

I re­turned to search­ing for the ferry de­par­ture point and dis­cov­ered it sev­eral hun­dred me­tres down­stream from the sign. On a sand­bar.

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