My day out: Hidden Helford

The owner of ‘The Cabin at Little Bosveal’ in Mawnan Smith offered to take us out in his boat and show us the hidden creeks of the Helford River, and how could we possibly refuse?

The Helford River is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Special Area of Conservation. There’s 47km of shoreline to explore, yet most of this cannot be seen from the road, so getting out onto the water is the best way to see it.

Launching at the National Trust slipway at Durgan, we thought we would board his little dinghy, fire up the outboard motor and cruise upriver. Oh no - Captain Henry had other ideas for us, and after boarding the little dinghy we were then transferred to his 32ft Sadler yacht. Once aboard and with a strong wind, we hoisted the main sail and set off at a brisk pace, skimming the waves across Falmouth Bay towards Pendennis Castle and St Anthony Lighthouse.

Having now got our sea legs and with Ali at the helm, we tacked across to Porthallow on The Lizard and then back to the shelter of the Helford River. In stark contrast and with the engine now running we then sedately cruised upriver passing Helford, Port Navas Creek and the infamous Frenchman’s Creek. With the wind now against us, even the river can get choppy so we returned to dry land and took the car to The Ferry Boat Inn. As promised, Captain Henry got his fish and chips and it was the perfect end to a perfect day sitting outside river watching.

We certainly got more than we bargained for and thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected.  Sailing was thrilling in open water and the coastline looks so dramatic from the sea, yet to then see the tranquil wading birds along the tidal banks of the river and the numerous floating vessels of all shapes, sizes and nationalities was a real contrast and delight. 

Helford is relatively unspoilt and remains a hidden corner of Cornwall; the shops are few and far between but the maritime town of Falmouth is only a 20 minute drive. The nearest village is Mawnan Smith which has a local store and a very and dog friendly traditional thatched pub.

The ferry running between Helford Passage and Helford village is thought to be the oldest passenger ferry in the UK, as mentioned in the Chronicles of King Canute, the Doomsday Book and the Middle Ages. The cart and driver would be onboard and their horse would swim behind.

I definitely want to go back to the Helford, and I think next time we may hire a self-drive motor boat and have a picnic on one of the many secluded coves; you’re given full instructions, a map of the river, fuel and safety equipment.

Top tips for sailing the Helford River:

  • If bringing you own boat or canoe, the launching fees at the Durgan slipway are £6 per boat per day, and £2 per canoe per day.
  • There is also an easy public slipway at Falmouth Haven. Port Navas Yacht Club has temporary moorings, subject to availability and with prior notice.
  • Alternatively, Helford River Boats have kayaks, paddleboards and self-drive motor boats available to hire.
  • If launching at Durgan, all vehicles must be left in the National Trust Bosveal car park, 700 yards up the hill and costs £3 for all day. Similarly the car park for the Ferryboat Inn at Helford Passage is uphill.
  • To ensure you enjoy your day messing about on the river, give yourself all day, perhaps take a change of clothes and limit any valuables just in case you take a dip!
  • Dogs are allowed on Durgan Beach all year round.

About the authors: Ali and Chairman are our holiday home specialists, and they enjoyed a boat trip on the Helford River in June 2019.