Helford and Frenchman's Creek

A circular walk through the wooded valleys of the Helford River including the most famous - Frenchman's Creek - which is still as pristine as when it inspired Daphne Du Maurier's novel

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The walk begins at Helford and after passing through the village follows the valley from Penarvon before descending to Frenchman's Creek. The route follows a National Trust permissive path along the length of the creek and another circle on the other side before reaching Kestle Barton. The final stretch is along the wooded valley.

Reviews

We loved your Helford and Frenchman’s creek walk.
Wow... What a fab walk today... Helford and Frenchmans Creek with sumptous foraging of clams for supper and skinny dipping in the river! Daphne DuMarier would be proud!
Just done this walk recently, lovely little walk, great views of the Helford River.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.7 miles/6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Helford car park
  • Parking: Helford TR126LB
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

  • Pretty creekside village of Helford
  • Tiny chapel at Penarvon
  • Pristine wilderness surrounding Frenchman's Creek
  • Mature broadleaf woodland with bluebells and wild garlic in spring

Adjoining walks

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. Cross the bridge and turn right on the other side. Follow the lane, passing the pub, until you reach a corner with a footpath sign and sign to the ferry.

    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 the footpath sign, turn left up the concrete track and follow this to reach a footpath sign on the right.

    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.

  4. Turn right at the footpath sign, take the path indicated and follow it until it eventually emerges onto a small beach.

    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. As the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and have a small bulb. In fact, in New Zealand they are known as "onion weed".

  5. Turn left and cross the top of the beach to a track. Turn right onto the small path marked "Pengwedhen Woodland Walk" and follow this past one (private) flight of steps on the left to a second marked "footpath" just before the gates for Penguin and Pengwedhen.
  6. Turn left and follow the path up the steps to emerge beside some buildings.
  7. Turn right and walk past the buildings and a short way up the track to reach a parking area where the track bends sharply to the left.
  8. Continue ahead through the parking area to a kissing gate on the far side marked "Pengwedhen Woodland Walk" and go through this. Take the right-hand path and follow it to a junction of paths at the bottom of a couple of steps in front of a small chapel.

    There are some nice spring flowers along the path from the kissing gate to the chapel including snowdrops.

    Snowdrops are a member of the onion family, and one of the earliest plants to flower. They use energy stored in their bulbs to generate leaves and flowers during winter, whilst other plants without an energy reserve cannot compete. The downside to flowering so early is that pollinating insects are more scarce, so rather than relying exclusively on seeds, they also spread through bulb division. Although it is often thought of as a native British wild flower, the snowdrop was probably introduced in Tudor times, around the early sixteenth century.

    The bulbs are poisonous but contain a chemical compound which is used in the treatment of early Alzheimer's, vascular dementia and brain damage. The plant produces another substance in its leaves which inhibits the feeding of insect pests. This is being researched to see if this substance can be introduced into other plants.

  9. The walk continues on the path to the left but first you may want to have a look at the chapel. Note that the path continuing past the chapel just leads to the water's edge. Once back on the main path, follow it on a loop through the woodland to eventually return to the kissing gate you passed through earlier.

    The tiny chapel was built in 1930 in memory of one of the owners of Pengwedhen and dedicated to St Francis. The stone for the chapel is through to have come from a quarry higher up the headland and Delabole slate was used for the roof.

    At low tide, there is a small shingle beach at the end of the path that leads past the chapel.

  10. Go through the gate and walk back through the parking area to reach the lane. Turn right onto this and follow it away from the buildings. Continue to reach a junction with a track leading up from the beach on the left.
  11. Continue ahead onto the lane and follow it to a T-junction, with a gravel track leading to the right.
  12. Turn right at the junction, signposted for Frenchman's Creek, and follow the track to another junction just after it passes through a gap in the hedge.

    The curving hedges are the remnants of an Iron Age hillfort and the origin of the place name Kestle (i.e. castle).

    The purpose of enclosures within ramparts varied quite considerably. Some were built as forts to defend from marauding invaders such as the seafaring Scandanavians. Others were defences built around small villages either as a status symbol/deterrent or for the more practical purpose of preventing domestic crimes such as theft of property by occupants of neighbouring villages. There were even some which were probably just a confined space used to stop livestock escaping!

  13. At the junction, turn left and follow the track downhill to reach a permissive path on the left indicated by a National Trust sign.

    Frenchman's Creek was the inspiration and location for Daphne Du Maurier's romantic novel of the same name published in 1941. The opening two paragraphs describe the Helford estuary:

    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. Only the gulls remain, wheeling and crying above the foam, diving now and again in search of food, their gray feathers glistening with the salt spray.
    The long rollers of the Channel, travelling from beyond Lizard point, follow hard upon the steep seas at the river mouth, and mingling with the surge and wash of deep sea water comes the brown tide, swollen with the last rains and brackish from the mud, bearing upon its face dead twigs and straws, and strange forgotten things, leaves to early fallen, young birds, and the buds of flowers.
  14. Turn left onto the permissive path and follow this until you eventually pass a flight of steps on your right and descend a flight of steps on the main path to reach a junction at the bottom.

    Daphne Du Maurier was born in London in 1907 and began writing from an early age. Her parents were in the theatre, which helped her to launch her literary career. The family visited Cornwall for holidays and bought a second home at Bodinnick in 1926. In 1943 Daphne moved to Cornwall full-time where she spent the majority of her life.

  15. At the bottom of the steps, turn left to cross over the footbridge then keep left to follow the path up the steps. Follow this to where it joins the (undermined) lower path then continue all the way up the creek to reach a fork in the path at the top of the creek.

    Grey mullet are related to the perch family (such as the bass) and surprisingly unrelated to the "red mullet" (which is in fact a type of goatfish). Mullet caught in the open sea are excellent eating fish and can be used in similar dishes to bass. However, those living in muddy water (such as the harbour) generally taste of mud. This can apparently be diminished by soaking them in acidic, salty water but the flavour is still described as "earthy".

  16. At the fork, keep left to follow the path uphill until it emerges onto a track.

    Like its domesticated relatives, wild garlic grows from a bulb. To distinguish it from other wild plants from the onion/garlic family (such as the three-cornered leek), the species sometimes just called "wild garlic" (Allium ursinum) is often known by the name ramsons or broad-leaf garlic. The scientific name (meaning bear leek) is because the bulbs are thought to be a favourite food of brown bears on the European mainland.

  17. Turn right onto the track and follow it into a turning area then follow the path from the back to reach a public footpath sign at a junction of paths.
  18. Turn right and follow the path down the steps and over the footbridge. Continue on the path and keep right up the steps to reach a waymark where a permissive path departs to the right.

    The small path to the left at the top of the steps leads to the ruins of a building and well. It is known to date from some time before 1880 but the exact age is unknown.

  19. At the waymark, turn right on the permissive path and follow this until it emerges beside another waymark in an area with a bench.
  20. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path uphill to reach another waymark.
  21. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path towards the gate. As a stile comes into view, bear right to reach this.
  22. Cross the stile and continue ahead across the field to reach a stile on the far side roughly 20 metres from the right-hand corner.
  23. Cross the stile and go down the steps to join a path leading into the valley. Follow this to reach the waymark you arrived at earlier then continue ahead to retrace your steps to the footbridge.
  24. Cross the bridge and turn left at the top of the steps to return to the parking area then follow the track up the hill. Keep following the track until it eventually ends on a lane.
  25. Cross the lane to the track opposite marked with a footpath sign. Follow the track between the buildings to reach a gate at the end of the track into a field (the right-hand of the two gates).

    The settlement of Kestle was first recorded in around 1300 as Kestel (Cornish for castle). A mansion here was owned from the 14th Century to the 17th Century by the Kestle family and is thought may have had an attached chapel. The present house dates from the 16th Century.

  26. Go through the (rightmost) gate and follow the left hedge to reach a pedestrian gate in the bottom corner.
  27. Go through the gate, cross the stone stile and follow the path over a footbridge to a waymark at a junction of paths.

    Bluebells are extremely poisonous, containing a number of biologically-active compounds and were used (probably with varying success) in mediaeval plant medicine. The sap was used as a glue for book-binding as its toxicity repelled insects. It was also used to attach the fletchings onto arrows.

  28. At the waymark, turn left and follow the path to pass a thatched cottage and emerge onto a concrete track.
  29. Follow the track ahead to reach a lane. Continue ahead onto the lane and keep right to return to the car park.

    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.

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 very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and 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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