Nanny Pat’s days out: The Helford River

Boats beached by Helford River next to a church on a sunny day.

The area surrounding the Helford River area is one of the jewels in Cornwall’s crown. Bosinver’s Nanny Pat discovered this part of Cornwall while walking the coast path, and she enjoyed it so much she decided to return to explore further – this time with the whole family.

The Helford River is a renowned sailing area, a narrow estuary in a drowned river valley like many of south Cornwall’s fishing ports. A special feature is the wooded valley sides that reach down to the water’s edge, often ancient oak forests which have been untouched for thousands of years. Wading birds abound, searching at low tide for mud living creatures, making their special music so evocative of holidays in Cornwall. There are eel beds and oyster beds here, as well as an area of Cornish marl.


The area is also home to Frenchman’s Creek, the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s book of the same name. Today, this is a tranquil spot, but Helford Village was once an important port, with trading ships bringing in goods from the continent such as rum, lace and tobacco. In the early 19th century, pirates and smugglers, rather than tourists, were frequent visitors to this area.

The National Trust gardens at Glendurgan go down to the river’s edge, as do the gardens at Trebah. Both are outstanding and have plenty to offer all year round.

North Helford

The Ferryboat Inn in the village of Helford Passage is a wonderful place for to stop for lunch. Dating back 300 years, its waterfront position and south facing terrace is ideal for watching the world go by. The seafood here is simply divine. Most of the oysters and shellfish they serve are grown and harvested at the Duchy of Cornwall Oyster Farm (a short boat-ride up-river from the pub), and their fish, crab and lobster come from local fishermen.


South Helford

If you just want to potter, take a leisurely walk around Helford Village and soak up the atmosphere before heading to the Shipwrights Arms for lunch.

You can follow the coast path back from the car park for a 20 minute walk taking in lovely river view and a couple of small secluded beaches.

Nanny Pat’s top tip: “You can park above Helford village next to the sailing club and if you’re feeling fit there’s a delightful walk of about five miles which takes you back to Manaccan, along Gillan Creek to St Anthony. We hired a boat here at Sailaway (you’ll need to book in advance) sailed around the headland and up the Helford River for a lovely day out with fishing included!”

The Helford Ferry

You can easily get across from one side of the river to the other on the Helford Ferry, which has been running continuously since the Middle Ages. In the past, it was an important link between communities and was used to transport produce across the river to be taken to market in Falmouth. Today, it operates as a passenger ferry, but you can take bikes, pushchairs and dogs across with you.

The ferry operates from Good Friday (or 1st April) to the end of October, and runs on demand during the day.


Walking in the Helford area

With pretty creeks, secluded coves and picture perfect views around every corner, this is an excellent area to explore on foot. There are several gentle short walks that are perfect for families and can easily be combined with a boat trip or a visit to one of the lush sub-tropical gardens nearby.

Getting there

You can reach both sides of the Helford River by car. To reach the northern side (Helford Passage), head for Falmouth and take the Mawnan Smith road, heading for Durgan (approx. 50 mins’ drive from Bosinver).

To reach the southern side (Helford Village), you need to head for Helston and then Gweek, following the road towards Coverack out on the Lizard Peninsula. Helford Village is signposted after Manaccan (just over an hour’s drive from Bosinver).

Why it’s great for a family day out: secluded creeks, woodland and hidden coves means there are plenty of possibilities for adventure! Roam free and let your imagination run riot.

Share this post:

Red cow with a red heart clipart

Here are some more posts you may like

Action Nan and the rest of the team are always busy writing posts that we think you’ll like – from top tips on where to take the kids, to what’s likely to be going on in the local area when you stay – we’ve got it all in our blog!