Tidal estuaries are places of the moment. The ebb and flow of the water opens up the possibility of fresh adventures every day. Self-reliance is key in this beautiful but fleeting landscape.
In the third episode of our microadventures, we immersed ourselves in the rhythms of the river, with three women who live and work by them. Having grown up on the Helford, Rebecca McDonald shared her unique perspective and what life on this tidal waterway means to her.
I grew up in a tiny village on the Helford river. I had a lot of freedom to explore as a child and my memories are of endless days roaming swimming and exploring in and around the river. We were allowed out on the river from a young age, and taught how to understand what the tides and winds and currents were doing. Which is invaluable to living in a place like this.
I lived in a lot of different places as an adult but there was always this draw for me to come back. The landscape was so embedded in my psyche from my time as a kid that I still find it the most inspiring and interesting place I’ve been to.
I think growing up on the river teaches you a kind of self-reliance and independence. You are responsible for your own direction. I think that comes into my work too. I’ve been freelance my whole life; I run my own business and I think it continues to drive me forward and be responsible in the choices I am making in my work.
The rhythms of the river have consistency in their ever-changing state. And trusting in the mercurial nature means you become an opportunist. Learning to make the most of the moment when it arises, when the tide and wind and weather all align. Or even if they don’t enjoying it all the same.
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The fluctuating impermanence of the river within this ancient landscape is reflected in my work patterns too. Part of the enjoyment is the balance of creating impermanent and permanent work. A memory as much as the legacy of a lasting item. Things which have the ability to appear and disappear in the same place are a bit magic and like the tides. The trick is to leave nothing behind like the river.
The high tide is almost a conduit to another world. It’s like this magic carpet that floats you off to places that can only be accessed tidally. And then you won’t rediscover it until the tide is right again. but there is also something very nourishing about low tides as well feeding all the birds and creatures, the mudbanks expose themselves for just enough time to feed the other wildlife on the river.
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I swim the river a lot, but my favourite thing is taking the kayak out. I love being as close to the water as possible. It’s so quiet and you can get very close to the egrets and herons, or slip right beneath the wild oaks and come into a tiny little strip of beach that only presents itself at a certain tide. There is this amazing quietness and freedom to it.
One of the most lasting memories I have of the river was seeing phosphorescent for the first time. We were coming back very late at night from sailing to France - feeling like smugglers stealing up the river in the early hours of the morning, I ran my hand in the warm dark water which sprang to life like a galaxy of stars. It was amazing. I realised the river is always living. Just because you go to sleep, it’s not sleeping too – it’s alive in every state and at every time. Communing with the moon. Pulled by forces which we are all governed by but so rarely pay attention to.
My time on the river has taught me so much about myself. And over the years that changes. staying observant to what the river can offer you is important. Right now it's about enjoying the moment and sharing all its wonder with people I love.