Around The Helford

The Helford River

The Helford River is a delightful unspoilt estuary stretching from the outer edge of Falmouth Bay up to the old port of Gweek.

Where the river narrows, Helford on the south shore and Helford Passage on the north are still linked by a pedestrian ferry that has been in operation since the Middle Ages. This part of the river is now largely given over to yacht moorings, with a handful of active fishing boats.

In the broad lower reaches open fields run down to a rocky shore dotted with little beaches. On the north bank the beautiful valley gardens of Glendurgan and Trebah lead down to Durgan village and Polwigwidden Cove; famous for its part in the D-day embarkation.

Around the corner is Port Navas, where hugh granite blocks were once loaded for shipment to London and beyond. Further up river, past the oyster beds and beyond Frenchman’s Creek to the south and Polwheveral to the north, ancient oak woods line the banks creating a truly timeless atmosphere.

Nare Point

Nare Point was used in World War 2 as a Starfish decoy for Falmouth. Elaborate lighting was installed in the hope of deceiving the German bombers. After the war the MOD observation post became part of a torpedo test range. In July 2007 the post was taken over by the National Coastwatch Institution, a voluntary organisation formed to maintain a watch over our coastal waters.

Gillan Creek

The 12th century church at St Anthony-in-Meneage is thought to have been built by grateful Normans who, caught in a violent storm, prayed to St Anthony and found safety in Gillan Creek. From here the coast path leads round Dennis Head and along the south bank of the Helford through the Bosahan estate and Treath where the ferry used to land and on to Helford Village.

Mawnan Glebe

The coast path leads from Falmouth past the beaches at Swanpool and Maenporth around Rosemullion Head and to the old church at Mawnan. From there it continues around Mawnan Glebe, with wonderful views across Falmouth Bay to St Mawes and south west to Nare Point and Dennis Head, then down across the beaches at Porthallack, Porth Sawsen, Durgan and Trebah and finally to Helford Passage.

Durgan

Durgan is a tiny village on the Helford with its own beach. Several of the cottages are available for rent through the National Trust, who also operate Glendurgan Garden just above the village.

Trebah

Trebah is described as the ‘Garden of Dreams’ – a steeply wooded ravine full of tree ferns, waterfalls, and rhododendrons leading down to Polgwidden Cove, a secluded beach on the river. It’s wild, enchanted and full of beautiful surprises.

In 1944 a regiment of 7500 men of the 29th US Infantry Division embarked from Polgwidden Cove to the D-Day assault landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy where they suffered terrible casualties. A memorial at the bottom of the garden commemorates the courage of these brave young American soldiers.

In 2019 veterans came together on the beach to commemorate the D-Day embarkation.

Helford Passage

Helford Passage has a safe sandy beach, a little shop and a popular family pub: The Ferry Boat Inn. The coast path leads east from here to Mawnan Glebe and Falmouth beyond. Helford River Boats operate ferries to Helford and to the gardens at Trebah and Glendurgan. Boats can be hired to explore the river and creeks.

Helford Village

Helford village is home to the Helford River Sailing Club, and has a Post Office and a popular waterside pub: The Shipwright’s Arms. Between Helford and Helford Passage the ferry, which is thought to be medieval, allows walkers from the coastal path around the Lizard to continue towards Falmouth and beyond.

Port Navas

Port Navas saw considerable expansion in the mid 19th century with the construction of Higher Quay, now home to the Port Navas Yacht Club, and later Lower Quay. The quays were used to offload lime and ship stone from the granite quarries around Constantine. The Duchy Oyster Farm raised oysters in Port Navas for more than a century. Although they closed down in 2017 it’s hoped that a new tenant will be starting operations there again soon.

There’s lots more information about Port Navas on the village website: portnavas.com

Frenchman’s Creek

Polwheveral

Polwheveral is a beautiful quiet wooded creek on the north side of the Helford. It’s home year-round to herons and scores of little egrets as well as migrating curlews and oystercatchers. Scott’s Quay, where Polwheveral and Polpenwith creeks divide, was built in the early 1800s to load granite from the quarries above Constantine.

The original much larger quay deteriorated and was replaced by the present quay in 1932 mainly to encourage public access to the river. A footpath leads down the hill from Doctor’s Lane in Constantine via Goongillings.

Tremayne Quay

Tremayne Quay was built by Sir Richard Vyvyan in 1847 anticipating a visit from Queen Victoria. She never actually came to the quay which is now owned by the National Trust. The tranquil walk down to the quay from the road runs along the wooded creekside and takes about forty minutes. It’s a great place to visit on foot or by boat for a picnic or an overnight camp.

Merthen Wood

The magnificent and ancient Merthen Wood has dominated the North shore of the Helford since medieval times. In 1972 it was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest largely because of its unspoilt natural population of Sessile Oak. It is one of the largest remaining oakwoods in Cornwall and historical records indicate that it has been coppiced for centuries.

Bishop’s Quay

Gweek

Most of the riverside commercial activities are at the head of the estuary at Gweek, once a trading port serving Helston and the surrounding area. A commercial drilling rig company and a thriving boat yard carry on the maritime tradition even though access is only possible at high tide. The National Seal Sanctuary is a popular tourist attraction, operating as a home and hospital for seals and other marine animals rescued from the surrounding seas.