Helford Passage

A circular walk on the Helford River where the mild climate and south-facing slopes allow subtropical plants collected by Victorian expeditions to flourish in the gardens of Glendurgan and Trebah.

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The walk follows paths and a lane through the mediaeval farmstead of Bosveal to the pretty creekside hamlet of Durgan. From here the walk follows a coast path diversion around a collapsed cliff which takes the route past the gate into Glendurgan gardens before once more following the Helford River to Helford Passage. At The Bar, the route turns inland and passes the entrance to Trebah gardens then crosses the top of Porth Navas creek where oysters are still fished as they were in Victorian times. The remainder of the walk is on footpaths across daffodil fields, through woods and on small lanes.

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Cracking walk at Helford Passage today #Cornwall @iwalkc

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.3 miles/10.1 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Durgan NT car park
  • Parking: NT Bosveal TR115JR. From the A39/A394 double roundabout near Falmouth, follow the road through Mabe Burnthouse in the direction signposted for Mawnan Smith. Continue through Mawnan Smith to reach a crossroads with a road signposted to the left to Bosveal and Durgan. Turn down this to reach the car park.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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Highlights

Directions

  1. Follow the track across the field from the car park to the information board at a gap in the wall with a waymark post and sign for "Durgan and Coast Path".

    The National Trust now has over 4 million members and is the largest voluntary conservation organisation in Europe. In the UK, the National Trust has more members than all the political parties combined and the only organisation currently larger at the time of writing is the AA.

  2. Go through the gap and continue to reach another gap in a wall also with a waymark post and sign for "Durgan and Coast Path".
  3. Go through the gap and keep right to pass beneath the tree and go through a gap in the wall. As the path nears the bottom of the hill, keep right to stay on the main path and follow this to a flight of steps.

    Glendurgan Garden is situated in a steep south-facing valley beside the Helford river. The aspect and mild maritime climate allow frost-intolerant subtropical plants to grow here. The garden was laid out by Alfred Fox in the 1820s and 1830s and now covers 25 acres. It was given to the National Trust by the Fox family in 1962. The most well-known feature of the garden is the cherry laurel maze dating back to 1833.

  4. At the bottom of the steps turn right and follow the lane to some houses. Continue following the track between the buildings, bearing right at Beach Cottage and keeping left to pass Postbox Cottage, to reach a path leaving to the left opposite Chyandour.

    The hamlet of Durgan is largely owned by the National Trust. The name comes from the Cornish plural word for otters - dowrgeun (one otter is a dowrgi).

  5. Continue ahead up the valley, passing the gate into Glendurgan Garden. Continue until you reach a waymark with a coast path (acorn) marker.

    The creeks of the Helford River are an important habitat for juvenile bass and it is a designated nursery area.

    The sea fish known traditionally in the UK as bass, but internationally as the European seabass (to distinguish from river species particularly in North America), is part of the perch family. Given they are normally found in the sea, bass are surprisingly tolerant of freshwater and sometimes venture quite a long way upriver. Bass is very nice to eat but is a slow-growing species and therefore threatened by overfishing. Since 2010, two-thirds of the population has been wiped out in what has been described as "an unfolding environmental disaster" and although there are emergency EU measures in place to restrict both commercial and recreational catches, there is evidence that commercial catches are still well above sustainable levels, partly as a result of dead fish being dumped back into the sea as by-catch.

  6. When you reach the waymark, turn left onto the path and follow this until it ends in a gate into a field.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are generally used rather than the bulb, which is very small. Note that there are some lillies that look very similar and are poisonous! If it doesn't smell strongly of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic and should be avoided. A schoolboy error is to rub the leaves between fingers where the smell lingers so a subsequent poisonous lilly leaf could be misidentified.

  7. When you reach the gate, go through this and head across the field to join the path running along the bottom. Follow the path to reach a stone stile in the corner of the far 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.

  8. Cross the stile and follow the path through an arch and along some stepping stones. Follow the path from the other side, keeping left along the coast to reach a gate across the path.

    The beach - known as Polgwidden Cove - is private and owned by Trebah, accessible to visitors to Trebah Gardens. The name is from the Cornish for "wooded cove". The walk passes the entrance to Trebah Gardens a little further along the route.

  9. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach a junction of paths.

    Donald Healey was born in Perranporth and became famous in the 1930s as a racing driver and later as a car designer resulting in the Austin Healey sports car. During the years he lived in Perranporth he owned a number of businesses there including a garage (naturally). With the wealth that he accumulated, he bought Trebah House on the Helford River. His descendants set up and run Healey's Cyder Farm.

  10. At the junction, take the left-hand path (marked as the coast path on the waymark in the bushes on the left) and follow this across the field to reach a gate.

    During the last Ice Age, up to about 12,000 years ago, ice sheets up to 2 miles thick lay over the northern half of Britain. The weight of this ice was immense and it pressed down onto the Earth's mantle which is a treacle-like liquid rock. The mantle was slowly squished away from beneath the Earth's crust beneath heavy ice. When the ice melted, the pressure was released and the mantle began to flow back creating a super-slow motion rebound effect which will take thousands of years to level out. The result is that the north-western edge of Britain is rising and the south-eastern part is sinking. As South Cornwall has been slowly sinking into the sea over the past few thousand years, this has compounded the rise in sea levels, creating creeks from flooded river valleys.

  11. Go through the gate and down the steps to the beach. Walk along the concrete path at the top of the beach to reach a coast path sign. Bear left onto the lane and follow it until it ends.

    The ferry to Helford runs from the landing stage on the beach.

    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.

  12. At the end of the lane, follow the path ahead onto the beach. Walk along the top of the beach. Once you cross over the slipway, continue for about 20 metres to reach a flight of steps hidden beneath a large rhododendron tree (before the larger private flight of steps).

    Due to their spectacular flowers, rhododendrons have been popular ornamental plants for over two centuries and the species that we now call the common rhododendron was introduced in 1763. The plants thrive in the UK climate and were once native but were wiped out by the last Ice Age.

  13. Climb the waymarked steps beneath the rhododendron tree and follow the path to emerge onto a lane.
  14. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until it ends at a junction.
  15. Turn left at the junction and follow the road uphill until it also ends at a junction.

    The manor of Trebah was first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1085 when it was owned by the Bishop of Exeter. The current house was built in the 18th Century. In the early 19th Century, the house was purchased by a wealthy Quaker who began work on a 26 acre pleasure garden. The gardens were improved and extended by subsequent generations and owners to reach a peak just before the Second World War. In 1990 the ownership was passed to Trebah Garden Trust - an independent charity who have since been working to preserve, enhance, and re-create the garden for the enjoyment of the public.

  16. At the junction turn left onto the road. Follow this past Budock Vean Hotel and to the end of the row of houses to reach "Gate Acre" on the left with a public footpath sign.

    The settlement of Budock Vean is related to St Budock, and was recorded as "Sanctus Budocus" in 1327. vean is the Cornish word for "little". It is thought the word was added to distinguish it from the parish of St Budock near Falmouth, with a larger church.

  17. Bear left off the road towards the gate into the field and go through the kissing gate on its left. Head down the field to a kissing gate a short distance to the left of the metal gate in the bottom corner.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  18. Go through the kissing gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow it a short distance until it ends in a junction and then turn left. Follow the road along the creek until you reach a signpost for Port Navas and Constantine and bear left across the stream to a public footpath sign.

    The lane runs along two of the heads of Porthnavas Creek. The creek is home to oyster beds that now belong to the Duchy Oyster farm. The river was owned by the Church of England until 1908 and then taken over by the Duchy. During Victorian times, oysters were the food of the poor but as oyster beds became exhausted and oysters became more rare and thus expensive, they became popular with the rich and were exported from Cornwall to London on the railway.

  19. Follow the public footpath from beside the postbox. Keep left when you reach a fork in the path and continue following the path through the woods to reach a small waymarked gateway into a field.

    For many centuries, it was traditional for landowning families to create trusts from the land and assets so future generations could live off the income, but were unable to dispose of the assets so these would be available for future generations. The Duchy estate is an example of this and was created in 1337 by Edward III to provide his son (and future Princes of Wales) with an income. Consequently, unlike other Royals, the Prince of Wales and his family are not paid for by the taxpayer via the Civil List; instead their living costs and all their charitable activities (such as The Prince's Trust) are funded by income from the Duchy estate.

    Only 13% of the Duchy land is in Cornwall; the rest is dotted over 23 other counties with some in London but most is in the South West of England, with nearly half on Dartmoor.

  20. Go through the gateway and cross the field (or follow along the right hedge if there is a crop in the field) to meet the hedge protruding from the right. Follow along the right hedge to a gateway where a track leaves the field.
  21. Go through the gateway and follow the track ahead until it emerges onto a lane.
  22. Turn left onto the lane and follow it away from Penarth. Continue past one public footpath sign until you reach a post with public footpath and byway signs opposite the track to Drift Farm.
  23. Turn right onto the track to Drift Farm and follow this to reach a junction of tracks.
  24. Keep right where the track forks to cross the yard. On the far side of the yard, take the track on the right, leading along the hedge ahead. Follow the track until you reach a junction of tracks between some cottages with a large granite gatepost against the building on the right.

    The settlements of Drift and Treworval both date from early mediaeval times and were recorded later in the mediaeval period. The spelling of Treworval hasn't changed, and is thought to be based on a personal name. Drift was originally spelt Dreff which is thought to be a variant of tre, simply meaning "farmstead".

  25. Bear right to pass the cottages and follow the track until the track bends just after you pass a cottage and an unsurfaced track continues ahead.
  26. Continue ahead on the unsurfaced track to reach a gate.

    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.

  27. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to another gate.

    The area around the Helford River is part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that extends from The Lizard.

    There are 33 regions in England designated Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which were created in 1949 at the same time as the National Parks. In fact the AONB status is very similar to that of National Parks. There is a single Cornwall AONB which is itself subdivided into 12 sections. 11 of these are stretches of the coastline and the 12th is Bodmin Moor.

  28. Go through the gate and cross the field to a pedestrian gate opposite.

    Electric fences are powered with a car battery which charges a capacitor to release a periodic pulse of electricity; this is often audible as a quiet "crack" which is a good indicator that a fence is powered. The power is not high enough to cause serious injury but touching an electric fence is nevertheless unpleasant in a similar way to stinging nettles. If you are answering the call of nature in the vicinity of an electric fence, be mindful of the conductivity of electrolyte solutions!

  29. Go through the gate and follow the path through the woods to reach a footbridge over a stream.
  30. Cross the stream and pass the cottage then keep left to follow the track away from the cottage until it ends on a lane.
  31. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until you pass a Public Footpath sign on the left and reach another shortly after it on the right.
  32. Cross the stile on the right and head directly across the field to a small stone stile in the middle of the hedge opposite.
  33. Cross the stile and lane to the gate opposite, go through this and cross the field to reach a waymarked stile in the bottom corner of the far hedge.

    In late winter you may encounter fields in this area planted with daffodils.

    Growing daffodils has been an important industry in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for over a century. When the Great Western Railway reached Cornwall, this provided a means to export perishable goods such as fresh flowers and fish which previously would not have survived the long journey by boat or horse and cart. Out of respect for the dead, coffins were transported by the railway for free. It was therefore not unheard of for coffins filled with daffodils to arrive in London from Cornwall.

  34. Cross the stile and follow the stony track ahead leading downhill, keeping left where the track forks. Follow the track through a pair of gates to reach a waymark in front of a cottage.

    Water pepper grows along the track in the shady areas under the trees.

    Water pepper, as the name implies, grows on wet ground such as on the margins of lakes. The plant has a number of common names including "smartarse". As Emma Gunn points out in her foraging book "Never Mind the Burdocks", this is nothing to do with being clever: in the past, the dried leaves were added to bedding to drive away fleas etc. and the name comes from rolling over on a leaf in the wrong way. The leaves can be used as a herb and have have a lemony flavour similar to sorrel followed by heat which is a little like chilli.

  35. Continue ahead past the cottage and onto the lane. Follow this up the hill until it ends at a crossroads.

    The settlement around the crossroads is now known as Higher Penpoll but was originally just known as Penpoll from the Cornish for "top of the creek". The earliest record of the name is from 1419 although, based on the Cornish language name, the settlement is likely to date from the Dark Ages.

  36. Cross the road to the lane opposite, signposted Bosveal. Follow the lane to reach the National Trust car park and complete the circular route.

    The settlement of Bosveal was first recorded in 1327 and spelt Bosvael. The name is Cornish and is thought to be based on a personal name from the early mediaeval (Celtic) period i.e. "Vael's dwelling".

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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