Wednesday 4 November 2009
Helford river walk
I did this walk back on a perfect summer's day (yes, we did have one) that will stay with me for a long while...
A circular walk in Daphne du Maurier country -
by the Helford river, St Anthony Church and Gillan Creek
The Helford river has great allure for me, mostly because of Daphne du Maurier's books, which I have read avidly since a teenager. While the pirates might be absent, and the traders be long gone, if you walk carefully and keep your senses alert, I swear you can catch the rustle of a crinoline, the flash of a sword and the rattle of an anchor.
With this in mind, Mollie Dog and I set off one morning with Deb, Viv and her effervescent terrier, Titch, left Falmouth and headed to towards Mawnan Smith. In the middle of the village we bore right past the Red Lion pub, following signs to Helford Passage. This road passes Glendurgan and Trebah gardens, and when it bears round to the right we drove straight ahead signposted to the Ferryboat Inn. Towards the bottom of a steep hill was a sign to the Ferryboat Inn and car park – we turned right and parked here (£1 per day). Down the hill was Helford Passage, where the passenger ferry operates over to Helford Village and back in the summer months.
Unfortunately a stiff easterly wind was blowing, and together with a very low tide, meant the ferry couldn't run, so we had to get back in the car and follow signs to Gweek, then Mawgan and Helford. Finally we arrived at the car park at Helford Village and headed towards the sailing club, took a Public Footpath sign and turned left through the woods. The path here is rocky and can be very muddy in winter, and leads down some steps onto a road where we turned right up the hill then left with a stream on our right, past a stall with an incredible selection of glass stoppered bottles in blues, greens and browns. Taking the next left into Bosahan Woods (dogs under strict control here) we followed this narrow windy path through the trees.
This path closely follows the shore looking over to Porth Saxon beach and Toll Point opposite. Out in Falmouth Bay we saw several tankers moored up, a couple of yachts with yellow and blue spinnakers billowing and St Anthony lighthouse in the hazy distance. Passing through a kissing gate we entered a field flanked by nettles, sorrel and clover. At this juncture we met a pack of dogs of various shapes and sizes with their owners and a friendly dog battle ensued. Thankfully canines were all rescued intact and unharmed and we continued round the edge of several fields, up a steep path, into a field at the top of the hill where the ground was scattered with speedwell and field bindweed. Looking down we could see the vastness of Gillan Creek, parched of water at low tide.
Passing through a wooden kissing gate we followed the path down the middle of this field. Knowing that I'm not keen on cattle, Deb waited till we'd got towards the end of the field before telling me that the last time she'd been here the field was full of cows and a bull, but thankfully this time there were just cowpats. This path led to a dusty track and we turned left down towards St Anthony Church.
The first mention of the church of St Anthony in Meneage is in 1170. This church, built on the bank of Gillan Creek, is said to have been built from Normandy stone by Norman sailors, as a thanksgiving for being saved from drowning. The carpeted church is beautifully kept, still lit by candles, has an old whipping post near the entrance and is well worth a visit.
Leaving the church we walked along the creek as it was low tide – otherwise take the lane bordering the creek inland for about a mile. Every Good Friday local families gather at the cockle beds at Bar Beach, Treath and Gillan to collect cockles and other shellfish. This tradition, dating from pre-Christian times, is known as trigging. People are encouraged to leave any undersized cockles (smaller than a 20p piece) and only take as many as they need for their own consumption, while still enjoying their traditional family day on the shore.
Tripping over a little spider crab, I saw a grassy knoll on our right with a wooden caravan on wheels, like a Victorian bathing machine. Incredulously we looked round, and set back in the trees was a smaller one, like a gypsy caravan, newly painted in cream and red trimming. Delighted, Mollie and I ran over to investigate and found, in amongst the bushes, several sheds and a picnic table covered by an awning. With a barbecue area out front, it was just like a scene out of Swallows and Amazons.
Leaving this area of paradise behind, we headed along the creek while a rooster crowed in the distance. Mollie scampered into what little water there was in the creek, and emerged with her tail wagging, all four legs covered in black treacly mud.
Scrambling further along the creek we came to a newly built stone wall, and just before this an almost sheer path which led back up to the lane. Hauling ourselves up, we were able to enjoy hedges full of dog roses and campion, and looking back at the creek through the trees was a bevy of swans, splashing and enjoying an afternoon siesta.
Turning sharp right inland we headed through a wooden gate (if you're under a size 10 you can squeeze past the gate post) and into woods up a long steep hill. It was stony and damp underfoot but ahead was a wall of tumbling wild roses, almost obscuring what looked like a studio in amongst the foxgloves. All we needed was the fox and we could have stepped into a Beatrix Potter book.
The path bore round to the left, past some restored barns and a sign to Manaccan. Past a churchyard on the left, we walked ahead through a lych gate and stopped in the churchyard, where an empty wooden seat awaited us, in the shade of a fig tree growing out of the church wall.
Restored by biscuits, apples and water for us and the dogs, we left the churchyard and turned right up the hill, past Manaccan Primary School. Wild sweet peas billowed out from the wall on our right and passing a cafe on the right, we took the first left signposted to Helford.
This field led over a stile, crossed the road and into another field, then downhill and into more woods. Looking up on the right was a beautiful white (grey) horse, so perfect it seemed unreal. Dazzled, we headed on through more woods ignoring waymarks to the right or left, continuing ahead where we passed a row of whitewashed cottages. Heading down a steep concreted path, this led to another row of cottages which we kept on our right, up the hill past several painters, eager to capture the beauty of Helford Village, until we arrived back in Helford car park. At the entrance is Down by the Riverside cafe, and we settled on seats outside for very welcome tea and slabs of home made cake.
As I lay awake that night, I knew that this day and this walk will remain with me forever. I relived the white sunlight sizzling the ivy leaves, the welcome easterly breeze as we rounded Dennis Head, and the silent, peaceful mystery of Gillan Creek. I can't wait to do it again.
OS Explorer 103, The Lizard, Falmouth and Helston
Length: 5.5 miles
Duration: 2 ¾ hours
Grade: moderate, some steep hills; walking through the woods can be muddy and slow
Helford Passage ferry - www.helford-river-boats.co.uk.
Ferryboat Inn, Helford Passage - 01326 250625.
Shipwrights Inn, Helford Village – 01326 231235
The beach at Helford Passage is not dog friendly in summer
Down By the Riverside Cafe at Helford Village car park. There are also public toilets here.
New Inn, Manaccan