My comfort read to end all comfort reads is Daphe du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek.
I have no idea why, but when the world is against me and I need to escape for a while, I reach for Dona St. Culomb, a dashing pirate and a hidden creek. You can take down the big du Maurier collection I have on the shelf and you see immediately where in the thick tome the story is just by looking at the pages. I don’t actually need to hold the book anymore, either. For the most part, I can lie in the bath and “read” it very comfortably in my head.
Despite that, I’ve never really thought of finding the creek and seeing for myself whether it has the magic I so much enjoy in the story. I’m that way a lot. When fiction meets reality, things can go wrong very easily. So I don’t like to pit the magic in my mind against cold reality, but that means sometimes losing out on something even more amazing.
Then my husband spotted a boathouse on the Helford River that we could rent for our Cornwall holidays, and I didn’t have the heart to turn him down.
Actually, I owe him a bunch for the discovery. We live in a tiny village, so I’m used to dark nights without streetlighting, millions of stars and the silence you never get in towns. What amazed me here was having that silence tempered by the sounds of water. And I was utterly riveted by the tide.
Relaxing doesn’t come easy to me. I need something to read or something to fiddle with when I’m not near a laptop, but here it was easy. Sitting on the balcony with a mug of tea or a glass of wine, I would simply watch the water, or lack thereof. And it was strangely addictive. The first question on getting up was “Is there water in the creek?” Then we’d watch boats settling in the mud or floating free while we ate breakfast. By day we’d be out, negotiating roads narrow enough to be called trails, exploring mines and castles, and walking the cliffs, but as soon as we were home, we’d watch the tide again.
I’d found a sense of the peace I love about du Maurier’s story when, on the last day, we decided to leave the car at home. We walked to Helford Passage, took the boat to Helford itself and from there walked to Frenchman’s Creek.
The land around the creek is in the care of the National Trust, which means that nobody had stuck holiday cottages alongside that stretch of water. Nobody had built jetties or moorings and the creek might have been as pirates and smugglers knew it three hundred years ago. In fact, if I’d seen a brig lie at anchor in the creek, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Walking around Helford and meandering around Frenchman’s Creek was the perfect end to a busman’s holiday. It was like taking a deep, cleansing breath after being stuck underwater for too long, the same way that reading the story helps me find the quiet centre of the maelstrom when real life gets on top of me.
Sometimes, when fiction meets reality, nothing goes wrong.