Peace on the wooded inlets of the Helford River
The estuary of the Helford River is a tranquil wonderland of narrow creeks which probe far inland between trees and colourful clumps of hydrangeas. Small boats are the ideal way to explore the estuary, but there are many footpaths along the creeks and over the low headlands which separate them. It is worth facing the problems of narrow lanes and limited parking to find a peaceful spot beside the estuary when the beaches are crowded.
The rock-flanked sands of this popular beach are little more than a stone’s throw from a reedy pool on which there is boating in rowing boats and pedal boats. There is safe swimming from the beach, and there are rock pools at low tide. Floats and surf skis can be hired.
Maenporth’s sheltered sands become crowded during the holiday season, but there is a pleasant walk southwards over High Cliff and The Hutches to Rosemullion Head. Owned by the National Trust, the headland offers fine views over Falmouth Bay. The white lighthouse on St Anthony Head is a prominent landmark. There are floats for hire, and volunteer lifeguards patrol regularly in summer.
A lane from Mawnan Smith leads to this tiny hamlet, whose 13th-century church overlooks the mouth of the Helford River. The church tower has been a landmark for sailors for centuries, and in recent years trees obscuring the tower have been cut down. In times of war lookouts have been placed there to watch out for the coming of invaders.
One path from the church zigzags down through trees to Parson’s Beach with its shore of smooth rocks. Another walk crosses fields to reach sandy coves between Toll Point and Durgan. There is limited parking space by the church.
The cottages of this picturesque hamlet, half of which is owned by the National Trust, are clustered behind a sand-and-shingle beach backed by wooded slopes. Small boats moor in sheltered waters where traders from as far afield as the eastern Mediterranean anchored in pre-Roman times. The walk down from the car park takes about 10 minutes.
The beautiful gardens of Glendurgan, covering 40 acres, lie on both sides of a steep valley running down to the water’s edge. They were given to the National Trust in 1962 and include a laurel maze planted in 1833. In the sheltered setting exotic plants such as tulip trees, bamboos, tree ferns and mimosa flourish among the primroses, bluebells and hydrangeas. The house itself is not open to visitors.
Overlooked by a golf course, Helford Passage is one of the Helford River’s many popular anchorages for small craft. Its sand-and-shingle beach faces due south across the estuary to a rolling landscape of fields and woodlands.
The passenger ferry to Helford has operated since the Middle Ages, and provides walkers on the coastal path with an alternative to the 8 mile detour through Gweek. There is virtually no parking in the village, but cars may be left in the lane, about a 10 minute walk from the shore.
Sailing boats, rowing boats and motor boats can be hired.
THE CORNISH LANGUAGE
The Iron Age Celts who settled in Corn wall from about 500 BC introduced a
Celtic language which survived the com ing of the Anglo-Saxons and was still spoken until the 18th century. Dolly
Pentreath, popularly supposed to have been the last person to speak Cornish as her native language, died in Mousehole in 1777. In modern times there have been attempts to revive the ancient tongue; meanwhile its legacy is apparent in countless place-names. alt cliff morva seaside bal mine, tinwork pen head, top brea hill pol pool, anchorage dynas hill-fort porth harbour, cove efan spacious, vast pros pasture eglos church ruan river glyn deep valley towan sand-dune hayl estuary
Ire home, village, leven level
This pretty little village of stone cottages on a narrow, tree-lined creek is the headquarters of the Duchy of Cornwall’s oyster fisheries in the Helford River, which are said to date back to Roman times. Marked by thin stakes, known as withies, the beds produce nearly a quarter of Britain’s oysters. They are gathered by rowing boat, to a void disturbing or polluting the oyster-beds.
The oyster was not always so highly esteemed as a table delicacy as it is today. In the 19th century oysters were regarded as food only for the poor, who gathered them from the muddy banks of the creeks. As Sam Weller says in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers: ‘It’s a wery remarkable circumstance that poverty and oysters always seem to go together.’
At low tide, when the Helford River flows seawards between acres of glistening mud, it is difficult to believe that Gweek was a busy little port for many hundreds of years. Old quays provide the clue. From the Middle Ages until the 19th century they bustled with activity, because Gweek became Helston’s main link with the outside world after the mouth of the River Cober was blocked by a spit of sand and shingle, today’s Loe Bar. Timber, coal, lime and other cargoes were exchanged for tin and produce from local farms. Gweek’s isolation also provided ideal conditions for smugglers, despite the village having a Customs House.
The woods and creeks around Gweek were well known to the writer Charles Kingsley, who went to school at Helston. He set the scene of part of his novel Hereward the Wake in the district, calling Gweek ‘Alef’s Town’.
A sanctuary for seals was moved to Gweek from St Agnes in 1972, and is open to visitors throughout the summer. Baby seals that have lost their parents, together with sick or injured adults found on the beaches, are raised and tended in pools before being returned to the sea. Some seals have been born in the sanctuary. Leading from the sanctuary is a nature trail which follows the river and passes through woodland.
An old stone bridge spans this attractive little creek where boats moor at a private quay. Trees bow down to meet the tide as it flows in over mud-flats draped with seaweed.
Immortalised by Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, Frenchman’s Creek is an idyllic stretch of water whose romantic atmosphere has been preserved by the National Trust. Sheltered by trees whose branches form a leafy tunnel, it is reserved for walkers and small-boat sailors.
One path follows the creek inland from its junction with the Helford River. Another, flanked by ferns and ivy-clad trees, reaches the creek after a 10 minute walk from Kestle. It is a place to find peace even on a sunny August day when Cornwall’s beaches are thronged with holidaymakers.
Thatched roofs, whitewashed walls and little gardens bright with flowers contribute much to the picture-postcard beauty of this creek-side village on the Helford River’s southern shore. Visitors’ cars are banned from the village from June to September, but it is only a 2 minute walk from the car park to the creek, with its ford and wooden footbridge, where swans and ducks may be seen.
The ferry which links Helford to Helford Passage during the holiday season has operated since the Middle Ages, when the village was a haven for fishermen and coasters which loaded Cornish tin.
There are motor boats for hire, and there is a sailing club.
This tiny village clusters round a church said to have been founded in the 12th century by shipwrecked Normans. The legend maintains that they vowed to build a church dedicated to St Anthony if their lives were spared. There may be some truth in the legend, as the fine-grained granite used in the building of the tower is found only in Normandy. The tower overlooks a shingle beach where muddy sands draped with seaweed are uncovered at low tide. The description of Meneage applied to the surrounding district means ‘monks’ land’, and dates from the time when Celtic monks settled in the area and built the earliest churches.
Gillan Harbour, the creek on which St Anthony-in-Meneage stands, is a sheltered anchorage whose waters are bright with small boats during the summer. The creek can be waded for 1 hour either side of low water.
A short walk eastwards leads to Dennis Head, a fine viewpoint with the remains of an Iron Age fortress. The ancient earthworks were fortified by Royalists during the Civil War, but fell to the Parliamentarians in 1646 after holding out for longer than any place in Cornwall apart from St Michael’s Mount and Falmouth’s Pendennis Castle.
Motor boats, rowing boats, sailing boats and sailboards can be hired, and there are sailing and sailboard schools.
A small, secluded and attractive hamlet at the head of Gillan Harbour, Carne is seen at its best when high tide laps the tree-lined shore. A narrow lane follows the inlet seawards to St Anthony.
There are very few places to park a car on the southern shores of Gillan Harbour, but footpaths enable walkers to explore the unspoiled coast between Flushing and Por-thallow. Flushing itself is a small, scattered community through which a narrow lane runs down to a low-tide beach of shingle, sand and rocks.
The 20 minute walk along the coastal path to Nare Point – a low headland with views across Falmouth Bay – passes similar beaches at Gillan and Men-aver.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Military Vehicle Museum, Lamanva, 3 miles W of Falmouth, Daily.
Penjerrick, Budock Water, 2V5 miles W of Falmouth, Valley garden. Some afternoons in summer.