Lazing About on the Helford River

Lazing About on the Helford River

Nowhere epitomizes the gentle southern coast of Cornwall more than the Helford River does. Streams trickle slowly down into peaceful, secluded creeks, which join the river as it heads out to sea.

Being tidal, the river and its inlets offer the perfect habitat for marine and bird life, and the whole catchment area is protected by various environmental groups and organizations. The river is also the perfect habitat for the yachting enthusiast, and the overall scene is one of peace and tranquility – but it hasn’t always been that way.

The source of the river lies just above Gweek, which due to its proximity to the former mines at Wendron, allowed the village and the river’s upper reaches to be involved in the export of tin and copper and the importing of coal and timber for operating the mines. These days, even though there’s a thriving boatyard, it’s hard to imagine that this was once a bustling port, because apart from people coming to visit the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Gweek has reverted back to being a sleepy little village.


A stretch of water like the Helford River is actually known as a Ria. This means that the river which runs through the valley is drowned by the incoming sea. From Gweek to the mouth of the estuary is just 5 ½ miles by boat, but the shoreline is something like 25 miles, so it makes sense to take in the surroundings from the water if possible. Unless you’ve got your own boat, the only reliable option is to use Helford River Cruises, a small independent outfit that is based at the Budock Vean Hotel in Porth Navas Creek.

You can park up at the hotel and walk through the grounds down to the creek where the boat, HannahMolly, is kept. If you’re tempted to stop at the hotel for a liquid lunch beforehand, I suggest you don’t overdo it because the tiny boat has no facilities on board and you’ll be on there for an hour and a half. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Grounds of the Budock Vean Hotel
The HannahMolloy - the Helford River Cruises Boat

As the boat leaves the foreshore it navigates its way down Porth Navas Creek and into the Helford River where it takes a course eastward towards the mouth of the estuary.

Porth Navas Creek

The little boat gives you a cormorant’s eye view of the river which doesn’t make it easy for taking photographs or eating a cheese and pickle sandwich, but it does help to give you a closer feel for the surroundings: Some people may say a bit too close.

Some lovely houses overlooking the river came into view as we started to head downstream, including one belonging to the Queen drummer Roger Taylor who grew up in Truro.

Between Porth Navas and Helford Passage

A short distance downstream is Helford Passage which is a cracking spot for a drink or three at the Ferry Boat Inn, before catching the ferry across to the lovely village of Helford where you can top up with another a couple of drinks at the Shipwrights Arms.

Helford Passage
The Ferry Boat Inn at Helford Passage

The Helford River Cruises boat isn’t a hop on-hop off service, so if you want to do a pub crawl between Helford Passage and Helford Village, you’ll need to find an alternative means of transport, or stay locally – which is not a bad idea if I’m being honest.

Another good reason for staying in these parts is that not far up the road from the Ferry Boat Inn is the 200-year-old Trebah Garden. Trebah has been rated amongst the world’s top 80 gardens, which may or may not mean very much, but it’s certainly on my list of top gardens to visit.

Trebah Garden
A Chusan Palm
View from the Garden towards the Helford River

It may be classified as a garden but I prefer to think of it as a wooded glen with exotic plants. A natural spring runs down through the valley providing the perfect environment for shade and water-loving plants such as ferns and Gunnera.

The lush valley descends to Trebah’s own private, secluded beach on the river at Polgwidden Cove. On 1st June 1944 peace at this lovely little spot was shattered when soldiers of the 29th US Infantry Division commandeered it as their embarkation point for the D-Day assault on Omaha Beach.

After the war, Trebah had a succession of owners including Donald Healey, the famous racing driver and car designer who used some of the outbuildings here to develop his cars. He also helped to restore the post-war beach and lower gardens.

Garden lovers are well catered for around here because just up the road from Trebah is Glendurgan, a garden owned and maintained by the National Trust. I’ve still yet to visit this one, but I have no doubt that it would also be well worth a visit.

Below the garden is the tiny village of Durgan, and from here the river gradually opens out until it reaches the mouth of the estuary, and so if you haven’t fallen asleep yet, we’ll continue our journey back on board the HannahMolly as it turns around and follows the southern shore back upstream.

Looking towards the Mouth of the Estuary

The boat sails past Helford village and Frenchman’s Creek, and then keeps to the south of Groyne Point before reaching Merthen Wood whose sessile oaks cling to the slopes as they spread down towards the river – and have done for hundreds of years.

Merthen Wood

At Merthen Wood the boat turns around and heads back towards Porth Navas Creek, but first it sails up Frenchman’s Creek, the very same one immortalized in the novel by Daphne du Maurier. It’s easy to see where she got her inspiration from and you can do a 3-mile circular walk from Helford that will bring you back to the Shipwright’s Arms, but it’s probably best to do it when the tide isn’t completely out.

Frenchman's Creek

The final leg of the journey takes us across to Porth Navas Creek and up to the village of Porth Navas before returning back to our starting point.

The top speed of the HannahMolly is 15 knots, and it’s the sort of trip that could make some passengers doze off, but that’s the beauty of the Helford River – it’s just that sort of place.

Porth Navas



26 thoughts on “Lazing About on the Helford River

  1. Fergy.

    Another brilliant piece, Malc.

    As you know I have “served my time” visiting Cornwall and I had never even heard of these places. A brilliant piece although the lack of facilities on the good ship Hannah does put a certain dread into me. Well, at my time of life………………..

    A lovely piece of toponymy with Alli, I swear it is one of my life’s ambitions to be present with the two of you in one place, the conversation would be amazing. I might even manage to shut up for an hour or two but no promises. Great stuff, please keep it up, it is much appreciated and who knew that Healy cars were dreamt up in this idyllic place.

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Hi Fergy, how the hell are you? I’m glad that you’re back on the blogging trail again, and obviously pleased that you enjoyed this post. I’ll take a look at what you’ve been up to later, and I reckon a conversation between your good self, Alli and me would be an interesting one, especially after a drink or two 🙂

  2. Alli Templeton

    Gosh this looks inviting – what a fabulous place to de-stress! Another delightful corner of your world, Malc. And I have to say I love the name ‘Gweek’ for a village. I’m fascinated by place names and how they came about, and this one really intrigues me! 🙂

    1. Easymalc Post author

      It’s still all very unspoilt around this part of Cornwall Alli if you don’t know it, and as for Gweek, its name apparently derives from the Cornish ‘Gwyk’ meaning Forest Village. Thanks for making me look it up 🙂

      1. Alli Templeton

        Ah, thanks for letting me know about the origins of ‘Gweek’, Malc. How fascinating. Brilliant stuff. 🙂

            1. Easymalc Post author

              It is Alli. If I remember correctly you said that you were a fan of Marillion, and Fergy was a friend of ‘Fish’, so you have something else in common. I’m glad that you’re still keeping in touch 🙂

              1. Alli Templeton

                Oh very much so. Marillion are my all-time favourite band, so I’m impressed with the link there! Of course, the lead singer now is Steve Hogarth who has been with them much longer than fish was now (and he lives locally to me), but their music is still amazing. 😀

                  1. Alli Templeton

                    Yes, Fish started the group in Aylesbury where I went to college and near where I lived back then. One of their first songs, ‘Market Square Heros’, was about Aylesbury Market Square. And now Steve Hogarth lives in a village near me too. Small world, eh? 😀

                    1. Alli Templeton

                      Well I’d definitely be up for that – many’s the time I’ve been heard belting out a Marillion song from the shower – or even from the cockpit! 😀

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks Adam. I take it that the Helford River is now on your list of places to visit in Cornwall.

  3. equipsblog

    Gorgeous write up, Malc. Glad to read about Frenchman’s Creek. I fell in love with Cornwall after reading that book in junior high. Now I need to look up if today is Martini Day or just Francisco’s reason to enjoy a martini.

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks as always Pat. I know the book was set in a different era but Frenchman’s Creek hasn’t changed. As for Martini Day, everyday is an excuse for a drink of any description for Francisco 🙂

  4. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    A lovely narrative Malc. We’ve many rias in Spain, especially in Galicia, las rias gallegas…but this looks like a splendid place and with the palm tree it almost has a tropical feel. You’ve naturally enhanced your words with incredibly beautiful photographs. Another wonderful post my friend which I’ve enjoyed tremendously! Cheers…

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks again Francesc and I hope you’re having a lovely Sunday. I’m just reading your posts from today 🙂

      1. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

        A lovely Sunday it is although quite windy in the Aegean Sea today and the temperature has dropped significantly, I sure hope we have enough summer to last through the end of September. Almost wine time my friend and today is martini day, vodka martini…salut!


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