Words and photographs by Rebecca Bentley
When the east wind blows up Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores. The short seas break above the bar at ebb-tide, and the waters fly inland to the mud-flats, their wings skimming the surface, and calling to one another as they go,” writes Daphne du Maurier in the beginning of her historical romantic tale, Frenchman’s Creek.
Whilst du Maurier talks of how this landscape was largely unchanged and infrequently visited in the 17th century setting of her novel, it hasn’t altered greatly from her description of it when she published the book in 1941and the “drowsy beauty” she refers to is still very much a part of its lure, drawing walkers to its tree-lined paths throughout the year.
This moderate walk that takes in woodland, meadows and coves starts off from the reasonably priced car park at the Down By The Riverside Café on the hill near Helford village. This converted chapel makes for a quirky café filled with home-made cakes and cream teas – it’s the perfect place to freshen up before heading off and even better afterwards.
From here you can either follow the sign for the coastal path that leads down the peninsula to the village of St Anthony-in-Meneage and Dennis Head or take the road right from the café down to Helford village – I chose the latter as the longing to see Frenchman’s Creek in all its glory was far too pressing to wait and this is a much shorter walk of just 1.5 miles.
Walking down to the small picturesque village it’s hard to imagine that this was once a bustling port where trading ships brought rum, tobacco and lace in from Europe and smuggling is said to have been rife along the river. Today pretty whitewashed cottages perch on the slopes leading down into the village where swans glide in the glistening river as the autumn sun filters through the treetops.
Cross the little bridge in the heart of the village and follow the road down to the beautifully thatched Shipwrights Arms pub – here you can either follow the road round and up to the left or take a little detour following the sign for ‘Helford Point and Ferry’, from where you can enjoy some truly beautiful views across the Helford River dotted with dinghies and yachts.
Back on the main path, continue along past white washed houses then take the public footpath on your right that leads down to the little tucked away beach at Penarvon Cove. From here carry on up the hill to the left, then head into an open field on your right where beautiful views open out to colourful meadows and lead down to Frenchman’s Creek.
This time of year, when a few amber and golden leaves still cling to the branches, the Creek is awash with colour with its waters an aqua-green hue in shallow parts. It really is best on sunny days when all the colours come to life. The woodland path winds up inland along a rather steep hill past an adorable orchard with friendly horses and chickens towards Kestle Barton gallery and sculpture gardens, where you might find home-made pickles and an array of vegetables for sale outside.
An award-winning conservation project transformed this ancient farmstead into a contemporary gallery and beautiful sculpture garden that’s open to the public on Tuesdays to Sundays from April to November. The four onsite houses are also used for workshops, artist residencies and holiday lets. Keep an eye on the Kestle Barton website for any upcoming exhibitions in the springtime.
Continue in the same direction past Kestle Barton, cutting though a gate and meadow down to the woodland again. Over the quaint little stream, take the road left in the direction of the water if you feel ready to head back to the car and café or take the right if you’re up for the challenge of walking on to St Anthony.
This route adds another 5 miles to the 1.5 mile-long walk above but offers yet more beautiful views and picturesque village stops; the first being Manaccan where you’ll find the 12th-century church of St Manacca with its much-loved 200 year-old fig tree reaching out from the steeple wall.
Passing trees and houses at Roscaddon, the path joins the main road alongside Gillan Creek where you’ll enjoy glorious views leading on to the pretty little coastal village of St Anthony-in-Meneage with yet more beautiful vistas looking out to Gillan Harbour. The predominantly medieval church of St Anthony in the heart of the village is worth a visit and from here follow the coastal path past Ponsence and Bosahan Coves through Treath and back up to the car park.
It would be interesting to know du Maurier’s opinion of the Helford as it is today, but even if a few more buildings have sprung up over the years, this is a landscape that has undeniably retained its appeal over the centuries, making it a time capsule filled with
colour and natural beauty.