The Helford is probably one of the most unspoilt rivers in Cornwall, with its deep sheltered valleys, ancient oak forests and hidden creeks.
The Helford Estuary, is to the south of the university town of Falmouth, it is an unspoilt area, a different place away from time and modern pressures entirely. The natural beauty here is captivating – it will steal your heart.
You can explore sleepy coves, secluded beaches and beautiful villages with houses and semi-tropical gardens that have stood for generations looking across the timeless scene.
It has history that goes back forever!
There is wildlife in abundance, cormorants, kingfishers, osprey, seals, dolphins all come up the estuary.
Top Tip: Take a river cruise to see all of this glory surrounding you!
The shoreline, from the sea up the muddy creeks covers over 30 miles in length and includes a wide range of habitats. The rocky coast at the mouth, gives way to sandy beaches and hidden wooded inlets, many only accessible by water.
The Helford River is a ria (flooded valley) fed by small streams into its many creeks. There are seven creeks on the Helford; from west to east these are Ponsontuel Creek, Mawgan Creek, Polpenwith Creek, Polwheveral Creek, Frenchman’s Creek, Port Navas Creek, and Gillan Creek. Wikipedia
At the head of the river you will find the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, best visited in the winter months when seals are most likely to be rescued and brought here for treatment.
During the Napoleonic Wars, pirates and free traders populated the reaches of the river.
It’s hard to imagine the thousands of troops launching from the sleepy Helford Estuary, yet 76 years ago American troops from the 29th Infancy Division launched from Trebah Beach for Omaha and the D Day landings, this was one of the most important turning points by the Allies in the Second World War.
A pedestrian ferry links the north and south banks of the river, crossing over to Helford Passage. A ferry connecting the North and South banks of the Helford River has been running continuously since the Middle Ages, then it was a vital link for the communities providing transportation for local produce to the markets in Falmouth. The cart and driver travelled on the ferry and the horse swam along behind! These days travel is slightly more conventional and the ferry is purely a passenger ferry although bicycles, dogs and pushchairs can all be accommodated. The ferry runs demand between 9.30am and 5.00pm April to October each year. Please check on their facebook page ‘Helford River Boats Ltd‘ for daily updates.
Explore the gardens at Trebah and Glendurgan, which are full of sub-tropical plants, tree ferns, rhododendrons and azaleas, protected from frost by both the mild climate and the warming effect of the sea. for more information see our ebook: Castles Houses and Gardens.
There are beautiful villages such as Durgan, owned largely by the National Trust and difficult to reach by car.
Helford Passage, with its famous Ferryboat Inn. Located on the north side of the estuary where the ferry crosses the river from Helford Passage to Helford, the beach is a popular launching place for motor boats and small yachts and from the village you can hire boats by the hour or for a full day.
There are plenty of paths all along the estuary, taking you to delightful hamlets such as St Anthony in Meneage ,and Manacan with its thatched cottages. The lovely old church of St Anthony-in-Meneage is situated on the bank of Gillan Creek, near the mouth of the River Helford. It was said to have been built by shipwrecked Normans, driven to land here by a terrible storm. The little church is well worth a visit.
Gweek at the end of the Helford became the main port of the Helston area, shipping much of the tin mined locally. The area prospered and many fine houses were built around the Helford River during this period. When the Cornish mining industry collapsed, due to cheaper deposits being available from elsewhere, the Cornish emigrated in their masses to mining areas of Australia and elsewhere and many sailed from the Helford.
Today the Helford is a haven for the rich and many of the grand houses are owned by celebrities. The ferryman will tell you more…