| A walk by the river triggers memories of a bygone age|
|Five cygnets, closely attended by their mud-stained parents, shuffle about and peck off grass near the lime kilns on the quay. Tide floods between mudbanks, beneath mud-coated lower branches of oak and the fresh greenery of reed beds where growth – almost to the top of last year's withered stems – now hides the swans' nest beside the millstream. Dog rose and clematis scramble up stumps in the marsh and, in an adjoining orchard, trees are swamped in tall grasses and oxeye daisies.|
Voluble wrens sound louder than the stream beside the woodland path, and then, across a footbridge and sunny glade, the mill comes into view. My grandfather was miller here, as tenant of the Edgcumbes. Now it is a National Trust museum and includes reproductions of memory paintings by my mother, Marie Lorraine Martin. During her childhood, her father, as well as milling, kept pigs fed on freshly ground barley meal; the house cows, which produced milk for cream and butter, grazed in the meadow, and there were wooden sheds for the flock of ducks and hens. Tree trunks from the woods were dragged across this useful space towards the saw-bench geared to the water wheel. The sawn timber was made into gates and fencing posts for the estate. Now the field is a flowery haven, where the cutting regime allows southern marsh orchids to thrive, distinct from the rank tangle of dropwort, meadowsweet, rush and flag iris.
Back on the quay, where red valerian flowers alongside maidenhair spleenwort on old walls, the swans await high tide. The cygnets still lollop and graze, overseen by the vigilant parent birds, proprietorial among people unloading canoes and setting up stalls for the special "wet weekend" that includes the Cotehele "splash and dash": a 400m swim and 4km run.
The song of reed warblers carries upriver and, below the mass of shadowy tree crowns in Braunder Wood on the opposite Devon bank, the morning sun is mirrored on the widening reach of tidal water.