Helford to Dennis Head circular walk

Helford to Dennis Head

A circular walk around the creeks of the Helford River and the small villages settled by Celtic monks from Brittany.

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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.


  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 4.6 miles/7.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-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)


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

Pubs on or near the route

  • The New Inn
  • The Shipwrights Arms


  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 tidal rivers, the discharge of freshwater and friction with the riverbed effectively "holds back" the rising tide. The further up the tidal region of the river, the shorter the interval between low and high tide and the faster the rising tide comes in when it eventually does.

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

    In most of the UK, thatch was the only roofing material available to the bulk of the population until Victorian times when slate became more widely available. At this point, thatch became regarded as a mark of poverty and therefore socially undesirable. In Cornwall, the transition from thatch to slate began earlier due to the local availability of roofing slate, particularly from Delabole.

    During the 20th Century, availability of good quality thatching straw declined after the introduction of the combine harvester and the release of short-stemmed wheat varieties. In 1964, heavy fines were introduced for growing an unregulated variety of wheat and all the traditional, tall-stemmed varieties that were used for thatching became illegal.

  4. Keep left at the waymark to follow the path ahead through the woods until you eventually reach a stone stile leading into an overgrown corner of a field.

    During late winter or early 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. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    All parts of the plant are edible by humans and the flavour of the leaves is relatively mild so they can be used in recipes in place of spring onions or chives. They are at their best for culinary use from November to April. By mid-May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

    The long leaves can be mistaken for bluebells or daffodils which are both poisonous but do not smell of onions. However, fingers that have previously picked 3-cornered leeks also smell of onions and so mistakes have been made this way.

    The first trees evolved about 360 million years ago which were a bit like tree versions of mosses. Seeds hadn't evolved at this point and so they reproduced via spores. After the arrival of the seed came conifers which were the dominant form of trees for nearly 200 million years. The flower evolved around 100 million years ago and following this, broadleaf trees appeared and eventually out-competed conifers in many habitats.

  5. Cross the stile and bear right up the slope to enter the main cultivated area of the field. Head to the protruding corner in the left hedge then, after a few more paces, turn right and cross the field to a stile leading onto the road.

    The trees on the left are good perches for crows to survey the landscape.

    Research has shown that crows have a much higher density of neurons in their forebrains than primates do (the density if neurons in this region is thought to correlate with intelligence).

    The brain of a crow accounts for 2.7 percent of the bird's overall weight whereas an adult human's brain represents 1.9 percent of their body weight. This is even more impressive when considered in context: birds need to be as light as possible in order to fly.

    Ravens are considered the most intelligent crow species, outperforming chimpanzees in some tests. Consequently an academic is quoted as saying that crows are "smarter than many undergraduates, but probably not as smart as ravens."

  6. Cross the stile and bear left across the road to the stile opposite. Cross the stile into the field and follow the left hedge to reach a stile on the far side.

    Cow parsley, also known by the more flattering name of Queen Anne's Lace, is a member of the carrot family. Over the last few decades, cow parsley has substantially increased on roadside verges: there is more than half as much again as there was 30 years ago. The reason is thought to be to an increase in soil fertility caused by a few different factors. In the more distant past, verges were grazed or the grass was cut and used for hay. Now when it is cut by mechanical devices, it is left to rot in place forming a "green manure". In the last few decades there has also been an increase in fertilising nitrogen compounds both from farm overspill and from car exhausts. Whilst this extra fertility is good news for cow parsley and also brambles and nettles, it is causing these species to out-compete many other wildflowers along hedgerows.

    The word "stile" is based on an Old English word stigel for ladder. This in turn came from an old Germanic word stig meaning "to climb" and the word "stair" also came from this.

    Conversely, the word "style" (now used for fashion etc. but originally for literary style or a writing tool i.e. stylus) is from French origins (naturally!). This came from an Old French word stile, derived from the Latin stilus. It's thought the "i" might have been changed to a "y" for snob value to be more like the (unrelated) Greek word stylos (for pillar).

  7. Cross the stile and follow the path along the fence to emerge onto a driveway and follow this ahead to reach a road.

    The stiles in Cornwall that consist of rectangular bars of granite resembling a cattle grid are known as "coffen" (coffin) stiles. These often occur on footpaths leading to churches such as the Zennor Churchway. The mini cattle grids are fairly effective at containing livestock and were significantly easier for coffin-bearers to navigate than stiles crossing walls. They are more frequently found in West Cornwall but there are a few in East Cornwall such as those on either side of Advent Church.

  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.

    The name Manaccan is thought originally to have derived from the Cornish word for monks, referring to a Celtic monastery here. In 967 it was recorded as Lesmanoc. It was subsequently known by the Saxon name Minster until the time of Henry VI. During mediaeval times it became associated with "St Manacca" but it seems likely this was retrofitted to keep up with the fashion of having a Celtic saint.

  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 Manaccan 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 Manaccan (meaning "monk's church"), it is thought that the church could well be on the site of a Celtic monastery.

  10. Cross the road to the Public Bridleway sign opposite and follow Vicarage Lane to reach public footpath signs on the left including one pointing ahead for St Anthony.

    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 Manaccan, 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. Continue ahead on the main track (signposted St Anthony) past Higher Roscaddon and follow this to where the track reaches several buildings.

    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 downhill to reach a grassy area and join the path to the left of the gate. Follow the path down into the valley to eventually reach a gate.

    Black fungi that resemble lumps of coal are known as coal fungus but also King Alfred cakes due to a legendary baking disaster by the regent. The dried fungus can be used with a flint as a fire starter - a spark will ignite the inside which glows like a piece of charcoal and can be used to light dry grass. There is evidence that prehistoric nomadic tribes used glowing pieces of fungus to transport fire to a new camp.

  13. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane to a National Trust Gillan Creek sign.

    Gillan Creek is thought to be named based on the Cornish word gillynn (meaning inlet or creek). Consequently the "Creek" in the name is redundant and is an example of a place name where an English word has been unknowingly added to a Cornish word that already more-or-less means the same thing. Others include "Coombe Valley" and "Porth Beach". Gyllyngvase (beach) in Falmouth is derived from the same word.

  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.

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

    From mid November to January, the plants produce spikes with pale pink scented flowers. The scent resembles marzipan i.e. almond and vanilla.

    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.

  16. Go through the gate directly in front of the church tower and bear right to follow the path, passing the church on your left. Continue on 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.

    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.
  20. Go through the gate and follow the path down the steps and between the hedge and fence to reach a gateway between the two fields.
  21. Go through the gateway and follow the path between the hedge and fence to a stone stile.

    The fields are hedged with blackthorn.

    Once you've made your sloe gin, don't throw away your gin-soaked sloes! Instead buy some cheap sweet "cooking" cider (the kind that comes in 2 litre plastic bottles preferably with words like "value", "basic" or "economy"; do not commit heresy and waste good quality drinking cider) and replace the gin with this. Ensure your lid is on tight so your cider doesn't lose its fizz. Leave to infuse for a few more months for your cider to become osmotically fortified. The resulting delightful drink is known as "slider" (after several glasses anyway). Based on "experience", small-sized glasses are recommended.

    The expression "Blackthorn Winter" is a rural expression for a final cold snap in late March or early April when the blackthorn is in flower. It was generally used in the context of not getting too carried away (e.g. planting crops) if there was a warm week in early March as more frosts may still be yet to come.

  22. Cross the stile and follow the path between the hedge and fence to another stone stile.

    As you climb the hill, there is a view across Falmouth Bay to the Roseland peninsula. The lighthouse on the opposite side is on St Anthony Head and the settlement to the left of it is St Mawes.

  23. Cross the stile and follow the path between the hedge and fence to a kissing gate.

    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.

  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.

    Seabirds such as black-backed gulls, cormorants and shags perch on the offshore rocks.

    The large black birds nesting on offshore rocks, known colloquially as the cormorant and shag, are two birds of the same family and to the untrained eye look pretty similar. The origin of the name "shag" is a crest that this species has on top of its head and the cormorant doesn't. The cormorant is the larger of the two birds with a whiter throat. The shag's throat is yellow, and mature shags have a metallic green sheen on their feathers which cormorants lack.

  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.

    All plants in the onion family are poisonous to dogs including wild garlic. This is one of the reasons that feeding dogs human foods (many of which contain onion such as gravy powder) is not good for them. Garlic is extremely toxic to dogs and cats and the consumption of even a small amount can lead to severe poisoning. Keep dogs away from wild garlic and wash their paws if they come into contact with it.

    The beach is known as Bosahen Cove and is sandy due to its proximity to the mouth of the estuary (higher up the estuary things turn more muddy).

  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.

    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.

    Gardeners have known for a long time that acidic soils lead to blue hydrangea flowers whereas alkaline soils lead to pink flowers. Biochemists have found that aluminium is the thing that actually turns the pigment in hydrangeas blue. Acidic soils free-up aluminium already in the soil to be absorbed by the plant. Within the plant, aluminium combines with a normally-red pigment to turn it blue. Varieties of hydrangeas have been bred with a higher concentration of the pigment and these have more vivid colours (i.e. red rather than pink). Similarly varieties with lower concentrations of the pigment have been cultivated to create pastel colours.

    Since Victorian times, it's been common practice for gardeners to use aluminium sulphate to turn their hydrangeas blue (without necessarily knowing why) but this has become less popular in recent years as aluminium sulphate is extremely harmful to aquatic life. Twenty tonnes was accidentally deposited into Camelford's drinking water supply in 1988 which was hastily flushed into the Camel river system, killing many fish.

    Cockles and clams look fairly similar, but cockles have much thicker shells. There are a few different varieties of various shapes and sizes.

    In the cockle department, you're most likely to encounter dog cockles which get their name because they are tough if overcooked; however if cooked correctly they are very good to eat and taste of almond (and are known as Amande de Mer). They have an almost round, slightly ringed shell which is smooth on the outside but has some grooves on the inside edge. The common cockle has a heavily ridged shell, but do not seem to live up to their name in Cornwall.

    Clams generally have smoother, more delicate shells. Venus clams have a porcelain-like shell with rings and are about the size of a golf ball. The surf clam is larger, often around the size your hand and has the patterning resembling a mussel.

    Cockles and clams can be collected by raking them from the sand at low tide. The Magna Carta grants every English citizen the right to collect up to eight pounds of cockles/clams from the seashore per day.

  27. Follow the track ahead until it ends on a lane.

    The large stone structure is the remains of a a limekiln. The Customs House was opposite and has since been converted into a cottage.

    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.

  28. Bear right to follow the lane downhill. Continue until you reach "Treath 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. Go up the steps on the left immediately before the gate to "Treath Cottage" and follow the path through one iron kissing gate to a second iron kissing gate leading back into the car park to complete the circular walk.

    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.

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