Helford to Dennis Head

The walk follows the river valley from Helford to Manaccan and follows tracks and footpaths to reach Gillan Creek. The route follows the edge of the creek to St Anthony in Meneage and then rounds Dennis Head to the main Helford River. The return route is alongside the river estuary, passing several small coves.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.6 miles/7.4 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Helford car park
  • Parking: Helford. Satnav: TR126LB
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Historic villages of Helford, Mannacan and St Anthony
  • Views over Gillan Creek and the Helford River
  • Small, sheltered beaches along the route

Directions

  1. From the car park, make your way to the café and go through the pedestrian gates to reach a lane. Turn right and follow the lane downhill to a footbridge.

    Due to the natural harbours offered by the Helford creeks, the village of Helford was once quite an important port for trade with France. Goods imported included brandy, tobacco and lace and those landed legitimately were required to pay duty as the Old Custom House.

  2. Ignore the footbridge and continue on the lane to the bend, then follow the track ahead marked with a footpath sign to reach "Halvose".

    In September 1840, Customs Officers seized nearly 130 kegs of French brandy at Coverack and impounded these in the Customs House in Helford. However, the smugglers had customers that they were keen not to disappoint and therefore one night a large band of men broke the locks off the doors and raided the Customs House, seizing the majority of contraband, apart from 3 kegs which were left behind in recompense for the damage caused.

  3. At "Halvose", keep right to follow the waymarked path ahead leading alongside the thatched cottage. Continue through the woods to reach a crossing of paths at a waymark.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.

  4. From the waymark, follow the path ahead through the woods until you eventually reach a stile into a field.

    During the spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. The plants get their name due to their triangular flower stems and, as the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and can be used in recipes in place of spring onions or leeks. They are at their best for culinary use from February to April. By May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

  5. Cross the stile into the field and follow the path along the left hedge of the field. Just before the far corner of the field, turn right to follow the path along the grassy strip to reach a stile leading onto the road.
  6. Cross the stile and bear left across the road to the Public Footpath sign opposite. Cross the stile into the field and follow the left hedge to reach a stile on the far side.
  7. Cross the stile and follow the path along the fence to emerge onto a driveway and follow this ahead to reach a road.
  8. Turn right onto the road and follow it down the hill past the school until you reach a driveway on the left opposite Forge Cottage, leading to the church.
  9. Turn left and follow the driveway to the churchyard steps opposite the phone box. Climb the steps and walk through the churchyard to the gate on the opposite side.

    Parts of the church at Mannacan are thought to date back to Norman times and was altered and extended in the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries. From the oval shape of the churchyard and the name Mannacan (meaning "monk's church"), it is thought that the church could well be on the site of a Celtic monastery. During the 12th Century, it was recorded under the Saxon name Minster (spelt "Menestre"). The dedication to St Mannacca is thought to have been invented in late mediaeval times, when it was fashionable to associate church names with Celtic saints.

  10. Cross the road to the Public Bridleway sign opposite and follow Vicarage Lane to reach a pair of footpath signs.

    In 1791, the vicar of Creed Church, William Gregor, discovered a new metal which he isolated from a sample of magnetic sand. He called the new metal menachite after Mannacan, where it was found. In 1795, a Prussian chemist "discovered" the same element and named it titanium, only to find it had already been discovered four years earlier, but his impressive-sounding name involving Greek mythology was more favoured by the scientific community.

    The Christening bowl in Creed church is made of titanium to commemorate its discovery.

  11. At the footpath signs, continue ahead on the track until you reach a "Footpath" sign.

    The northeastern area of The Lizard, around the Helford creeks has been known for at least 1000 years as the Meneage, pronounced M'neeg. The name means "land of the monks" and it is thought that after the Romans departed, the area was a confederacy of small Celtic monasteries settled by missionaries from Brittany.

  12. Bear left as indicated by the Footpath sign and follow the path down into the valley to eventually reach a gate.
  13. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane to a National Trust Gillan Creek sign.
  14. When you reach the Gillan Creek sign, bear right and follow the permissive path alongside the creek until it re-emerges further down the lane.
  15. When you re-emerge onto the lane, turn right and follow the lane until you reach St Anthony church.
  16. Go through the gate directly in front of the church tower and follow the path through the churchyard to reach the lane.

    The first document mentioning St Anthony church is from around 1170 when it was owned by the priory of Tywardreath, near St Austell. It is said to have been built by shipwrecked Normans who settled on the mouth of the Helford River. The current building dates from the 13th Century with additions in the 14th Century and a re-roofing in the 15th Century, from which one of the bells in the tower also dates. A restoration was carried out in 1890 which was one of the more careful, preserving many of the mediaeval features.

  17. Turn left onto the lane and almost immediately bear right up the path alongside the wall to reach a track. Turn right and then keep left, following the Coast Path signs, to reach a gate into a field.

    At low tide it is possible to cross Gillan Creek between Halamana (on the Flushing side) and St Anthony. Although there is a line of stepping stones, these are sometimes covered with slippery seaweed, in which case it is safer to wade across in the ankle-deep water, avoiding a narrow stretch of deeper water leading towards some old gypsy caravans. A ferry runs at high tide during the summer.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path which bears left slightly across the field to reach a coast path sign and kissing gate in the top hedge.

    The Helford creeks are formed from an ancient river valley that has been flooded by rising sea levels. In total, seven creeks (Ponsontuel Creek, Mawgan Creek, Polpenwith Creek, Polwheveral Creek, Frenchman's Creek, Port Navas Creek, and Gillan Creek) connect to the main Helford River inlet between the headlands of Nare Point and Rosemullion Head. The creeks are an important area of marine conservation and contain eelgrass which provides a habitat for a variety of wildlife including seahorses.

  19. The walk continues through the kissing gate.
    Beforehand, you may want to follow the path to the right signposted "Headland loop" for views from the headland. Also, the path ahead of the kissing gate leads to a bench overlooking the river.
    To continue the walk, turn left once through the kissing gate and follow the path between the fence and hedge to reach a waymark and iron kissing gate.

    Elderflowers appear in June and are easily recognisable as large white umbels on the shrubby green trees. Elder trees were associated with witchcraft which may have arisen because their berries were used in medicines. Consequently there were many superstitions about cutting down or burning elder trees.

    Elder be ye Lady's tree, burn it not or cursed ye'll be.

    If you are harvesting the flowers to make cordial or wine, avoid picking umbels where the flowers are going brown or haven't opened yet; they should be bright white with a yellow centre. If you are harvesting the berries they should be black (not red) and not shrivelled.

  20. Go through the gate and follow the path down the steps and along the hedge of the next field to reach a gateway between the two fields.
  21. Go through the gateway and follow the path along the right hedge to a stone stile.

    On 2nd November 1940 British minesweeping trawler HMT Rinovia struck an enemy mine off Falmouth. The boat was originally a fishing trawler called Good Luck which had been requisitioned for minesweeping in the First World War and returned to commercial fishing in the inter-war period. From the moment the mine exploded, only 48 seconds elapsed before the Rinovia had completely sunk. Fourteen men lost their lives but 9 were saved including the skipper (trawlers engaged in minesweeping were under the command of a Lieutenant rather Captain who was known as 'skipper' and not 'Sir'). He died later in the war in a night-time shipping collision where following the collision, the crew abandoned the sinking ship into lifeboats but as it sank, the ship rolled over onto the lifeboats.

  22. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to another stone stile.
  23. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to a gate.
  24. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast until you descend into a valley with a beach and the path crosses a stream.

    As the tide flows into the creeks, flotsam can wash ashore on the beaches which may be covered in goose barnacles if it has been at sea long enough.

    Goose barnacles are alien-looking creatures, usually found on flotsam such as driftwood that has been at sea for a while. In mediaeval times, before it was realised that birds migrate, it was believed that goose barnacles hatched into geese just before the winter. The association is thought to be based on similarities in the colour and the long necks of the barnacles. Since there were no plastic bottles or wellies floating in the sea back then, they were only ever seen on driftwood and it was assumed that the wood was already covered in the barnacles, laid by geese, before it fell into the sea. This elaborate lifecycle was also exploited as a "loophole" in religious doctrine which forbade the eating of meat on certain days. As geese were deemed "neither flesh, nor born of flesh", they were exempt and could be eaten.

  25. Cross the stream and follow the path to the left to reach a sign for the Bosahen Estate, then keep right along the waymarked path. Continue following the path to reach a beach with a hut in the valley.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.

  26. From the hut, follow the path ahead and climb the steps on the other side of the valley. Continue following the waymarked path until it eventually emerges onto a track.

    Some estimates suggest the UK has up to half of the world's total bluebell population; nowhere else in the world do they grow in such abundance. However, the poor bluebell faces a number of threats including climate change and hybridisation from garden plants. In the past, there has also been large-scale unsustainable removal of bulbs for sale although it is now a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild bluebells.

  27. Follow the track ahead until it ends on a lane.
  28. Bear right to follow the lane downhill. Continue until you reach Treth Cottage where there is a sign for steps for the Coast Path and Village.

    Treath (or dreath) is the Cornish word for "beach" hence place names such as Portreath, and Tywardreath (which means "house on the beach").

  29. Turn left up the steps indicated by the sign and follow the path through one iron kissing gate to a second iron kissing gate leading back into the car park.

    The river ferry runs to Helford Passage from the point on the other side of Helford village.

    The origins of the Helford River Ferry are described eloquently by its operators:

    The ferry connecting the North and South banks of the Helford River has been running continuously since the Middle Ages. Then, it was a vital link for the communities providing transportation for local produce to the markets in Falmouth. The cart and driver travelled on the ferry and the horse swam along behind!

    The Ferryboat Inn at Helford Passage dates from the 16th Century, providing shelter and refreshment for travellers waiting for the ferry.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be also very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is useful as some single women can just about manage one or two but not a dozen.

email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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