The Helford River is a delightful unspoilt estuary stretching from the outer edge of Falmouth Bay up to the old port of Gweek.
In the broad lower reaches open fields run down to a rocky shore dotted with little beaches. On the north bank the beautiful valley gardens of Glendurgan and Trebah lead down to Durgan village and Polwigwidden Cove; famous for its part in the D-day embarkation. The Helford River is a large estuary that nestles snugly between the western edge of Falmouth Bay and eastern side of The Lizard Peninsula. It is renowned for its scenic beauty and marine ecology and is a popular tourist destination.
The shoreline is approximately fifty kilometres in length, providing an abundance of quiet beaches and villages to explore. Its size ensures that there should be something for everyone to enjoy and that there will generally be a secluded cove to be found. Many people choose to explore the river by boat as this gives the best opportunity of discovering the inland creeks. These are tree-fringed and muddy-shored and boast a wealth of marine wildlife. More secluded than the main estuary, the creeks are extremely peaceful and beautiful. The steep sides of the creeks rise up sharply from the water and are tree-covered and verdant. The short banks are of mud and rock and provide habitats for a wide range of bird species, including little egrets, grey herons, cormorants and various divers, grebes and ducks. Daphne Du Maurier immortalised one of the Helford River’s creeks in her novel “Frenchman’s Creek“, though in its quiet tranquillity it is hard to imagine discovering a French pirate lurking there, as there was in the novel!
The river provides an excellent base for water sports as it is generally sheltered from most winds, except those in an easterly direction. It is possible to take boats out from some locations along the river, including the ferry journey from Helford Passage to Helford village. Other leisure activities around the river include walking and birdwatching, as well as visiting the beaches, pubs and gardens that are dotted around the shoreline of the estuary.
On the Falmouth side of the river are two beautiful gardens, Trebah and Glendurgan. Glendurgan is a National Trust garden so entry is free for National Trust members. The gardens are both home to a number of exotic plants, including many sub-tropical ones in Trebah. Both gardens wend their way down to the water’s edge on the shores of the Helford so it is possible to end a visit to the gardens with a picnic on the beach. Both gardens have plenty of features to interest children, including a number of waterways and ponds containing Koi carp in Trebah and a maze and “Giant’s Stride” swing at Glendurgan.
It is also possible to rest and enjoy the scenery of the Helford at one of its many welcoming pubs and restaurants. The Ferryboat Inn at Helford Passage and The Shipwrights Arms at Helford Village, for example, provide excellent food, drink and stunning scenery as a rest from a coastal footpath walk or from boating. There are many other dining pubs in the Helford River area, including The Trengilly Wartha near Constantine andThe Ship Inn and Old Courthouse Restaurant at Mawgan.
The Helford River is an extremely important area of conservation and wildlife. It has Sites of Special Scientific Interest and provides sheltered and varied habitats that make it an important breeding ground for some species. The rocky shores at, for example, Nare Pointand Prisk Cove provide the habitats for a number of creatures, including porcelain crabs, sea-squirts and sponges, as well as a variety of anemones, worm populations and starfish. The eelgrass beds around the Bar Beach,Treath and Gillan areas that disappeared in the 1980s are now recovering and these are being monitored by marine conservation groups. There is also an oyster fishery providing important industry for the Helford River area, along with the tourism industry.