Helford Passage

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 passes 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.


  • The route includes some stiles consisting of stone footholds over walls, one of which is quite high.
  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 6.3 miles/10.1 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

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


Pubs on or near the route

  • The Ferry Boat Inn


  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".

    Conifers evolved around 300 million years ago, a long time before the first dinosaurs. For nearly 200 million years, conifers were the dominant form of trees and it wasn't until around 65 million years ago that broadleaf trees were out-competing conifers in many habitats.

  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 and reach a coast path sign.

    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. Follow the path uphill 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 a member 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.

  6. When you reach the waymark, turn left onto the path marked with the yellow arrow 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 lilies 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 lily leaf could be misidentified.

    When a tree is injured, it exudes resin - a thick, sticky liquid which hardens and seals up the wound. The resin also contains anti-fungal and insecticide chemicals to protect it from parasites and pathogens. Frankincense and myrrh are both examples of resins.

  7. When you reach the gate, go through this and follow the path along the length of the field 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 down some steps and between the fence and wall to a gate onto the beach. Follow the path from the other side to where the path goes through a gateway.

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

  9. Continue through the gate and follow the path a short distance further 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 into a field. Follow the path nearest the water along the length of the field to reach a path leading through the bushes to 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).

    A problem with rhododendrons is that they kill bees. Rhododendron nectar is highly toxic to honeybees, killing them within hours. Some other bee species such as mining bees are also adversely affected. Bumblebees seem to be unaffected though.

    Rhododendron is a member of the Ericaceae family to which heathers also belong and like its cousins, it is tolerant of acid soils. The word rhododendron is from the Ancient Greek for "rose tree" due to their spectacular flowers. As a result of these, 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. Being a vigorous plant, common rhododendron was often used as a root stock onto which more fragile but exotically-coloured hybrids were grafted.

  13. Climb the concrete steps beneath the rhododendron tree and continue uphill on the path to emerge onto a lane.

    Cornwall has the mildest and sunniest climate in the United Kingdom, both due to its southerly latitude and the Gulf Stream carrying warm air from the Caribbean. The county has become even milder over the past decade, according to a report from Exeter University. Average temperatures in Cornwall stay above 10°C for more than seven months of the year and the southwestern part of the county is classed as subtropical.

  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.

    A manor at Trebah was first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1085 when it was owned by the Bishop of Exeter. The first record of the place name is from the early 14th Century as Treveribow. By Tudor times it was recorded as Trebah. From other Cornish names, one would expect it to be pronounced "tri-BARR" but it's actually pronounced as "treeber" - to rhyme with beaver. This could be because it's the remnant of the "trever" within "trever-RIB-ow".

    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 in the bottom hedge located a short distance to the left of the metal gate in the far corner.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.


    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).


    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  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 over the bridge to a path with 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.

    Bluebells are extremely poisonous, containing a number of biologically-active compounds and were used (probably with varying success) in mediaeval 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.

    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 from this to a gateway where a track leaves the field.

    The word crow is from the Old English crawe. Since this sounds a lot like the noise the bird makes, there is a misconception that the Old English is directly derived from this. In fact the word is far older. It's related the the Old Saxon kraia and can be traced back further to a Proto-Indo-European word from the late Neolithic period which is thought to mean "to call hoarsely".

  21. Go through the gateway and follow the track ahead until it emerges onto a lane.

    Foxgloves have a life cycle which spans two years. The seeds germinate in spring and during their first year they produce a "rosette" of large, velvety green leaves with toothed edges. These are particularly noticeable from October onwards once other vegetation has died back. The leafy foxglove plants remain dormant throughout the winter, ready for a quick start in the spring.

  22. Turn left onto the lane and follow it away from Trenarth. Continue until you reach the track to Drift Farm with a post with public footpath and public byway signs opposite.

    Crocosmia (also known as Montbretia) is a garden plant in the iris family with bright orange flowers in summer. It has South African origins and was bred in France as a garden plant, then introduced into the UK in the 1880s.

    It has spread into the wild, particularly along the west coast of Britain and is extremely invasive. It is now a criminal offence to cause it to grow in the wild.

    Crocosmia means "saffron scent" and alludes to the smell of the dried leaves (the crocuses which produce saffron are also members of the iris family).

  23. Turn right onto the track to Drift Farm and follow this to reach a fork in the track just before a large barn.

    During winter, from November to March, winter heliotrope is visible along the edges of roads and paths as carpets of rounded heart-shaped leaves.

    The name of the plant is Greek for "sun direction" because the flowers turn to follow the winter sun.

  24. Keep right where the track forks to cross the yard. On the far side of the yard, take the track on the right and follow this along the line of fence posts. Continue on the track until you reach a junction of tracks between some cottages with large granite gateposts either side.

    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. Once through the gateposts, bear right to reach a concrete section of track. Continue in the same direction onto the stony track at the end of concrete and follow this away from the main settlement to an isolated cottage on the right where the track bends into the property and an unsurfaced track continues ahead.
  26. Continue ahead on the unsurfaced track to reach a gate.
  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) many of which were created 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 was established in 1959 and 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 typically powered from a low voltage source such as a car battery which charges a capacitor to release a periodic pulse of high voltage electricity. This is often audible as a quiet "crack" which is a good indicator that a fence is powered. As with the high-voltage shock caused by static electricity, the current is not high enough to cause serious injury but touching an electric fence is nevertheless unpleasant. 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.

    Bluebells are very vulnerable to trampling. The reason for this is that when their leaves emerge in the early part of the year, they are powered by the stored sugars in their bulbs. Sunlight is very limited at this time of the year and even more so in the shady places where they grow. In order to survive, they then need to photosynthesise flat-out to store enough starch in the bulb for next year's growth. If a bluebell’s leaves are crushed, it cannot photosynthesise and and doesn't have enough reserves left in its bulb to grow new ones. It's therefore important to stick to footpaths in bluebell woodland and best to take photos with a zoom lens from there as wandering around in the bluebells to take photos will inadvertently kill them.

    Holly has separate male and female plants, so not all holly bushes produce berries - only female plants. In less biologically-enlightened Pagan times, holly was though to be a male plant (the spikes symbolising aggression) whereas ivy was regarded as a female plant (symbolising attachment). The Christmas Carol "The Holly and the Ivy" is thought originally to derive from Pagan fertility myths onto which Christian symbolism has subsequently been added.

  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.

    Mosses' lack of deep roots mean they need to store their own supply of water during dry periods which is why they are found in shady places that are not dried-out by the sun. This also applies to moss on trees - it rarely grows on the south-facing part of the trunk which can be used as a crude form of compass when navigating.

  31. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until you reach a stile on the right with a public footpath sign next to a telegraph pole.

    Since its reintroduction, sycamore has spread widely as the seeds are extremely fertile and able to grow just about anywhere where the ground is sufficiently wet. In particular they can grow within the shade of the parent tree, creating dense cover that crowds-out other species. In some areas it is regarded as an invasive weed.

  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.

    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.

    The collared dove is a fairly easy member of the pigeon family to recognise. The clue is in the name: they are pale with a thin black ring at the back of their neck.

    Before 1930, there were no collared doves in Western Europe and the most easterly part of their range was Turkey and The Balkans. Within just 20 years they colonised most of continental Western Europe and in 1955 they bred for the first time in Britain. They have since become one of the top 10 most common birds in British surveys.

    Their rapid spread seems to be down to both their ability to make epic journeys of over 400 miles and their ability to breed all year round if the weather is mild. They will even start building a new nest whilst there are still chicks in the current one, and take breaks to from incubating eggs in the new nest to nip back to the old nest to feed the recently fledged young. They feed on seeds and grain so arable farming has provided a supply of food.

  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.

    The dishes ahead are part of the Goonhilly Earth Station.

    Goonhilly Earth Station was set up in the 1960s for telecommunications. Its first dish, Antenna One (also known as "Arthur"), was built in 1962 to receive TV from the Telstar satellite and was ready for the first day of broadcasts. In 1969, the sound and images from Apollo 11 were broadcast to the world from here as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon.

    It went on to become the largest satellite earth station in the world for a while, with over 60 communications dishes and 25 in use at any one time. During the 21st Century, it has been repurposed for space exploration.

  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 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.

    According to the "Glossary of words in use in Cornwall" compiled in 1880, tummels was West Cornwall dialect for a large number of something e.g. "tummels of daffodils".

  35. Continue ahead past the cottage to where the track becomes a 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" (early mediaeval period).

  36. Carefully 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 period i.e. "Vael's dwelling".

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