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Hidden Creeks of Helford

A circuit of some of the peaceful tidal creeks of the Helford Estuary.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 328ft (100m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Good woodland paths and tracks and field paths. Short section of quiet lane, 10 stiles

Landscape Wooded creekside and fields

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 103 The Lizard

Start/finish SW 759261

Dog friendliness Dogs must be kept under strict control between Treath and St Anthony

Parking Helford car park. Large car park overlooking creek. Can become busy in summer. Only authorised cars are allowed beyond the car park into the village of Helford

Public toilets Helford car park

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1 As you leave the car park, turn left along a path, signed 'Coast Path'. Go through a metal gate and follow a sunken track. Descend steps, then turn right along a lane. At a steep right-hand bend, bear off ahead along a track. Follow this permissive path through trees, keeping left at any junctions.

2 Leave the wooded area via a metal gate, then turn left along a field edge to a stone stile, Follow the bottom edge of the next two fields. Cross a fence at a field gap beside a white pole and a red post and triangle (these are navigation marks). Follow the field edge ahead. Go through a kissing gate, then follow the field edge (there's a seat and viewpoint on the left), to where it ends at the beginning of a wide track (to make the short circuit of Dennis Head, follow the track ahead to a stile on the left).

3 To continue on the main route, turn sharply right at the start of the wide track and follow the left-hand field edge and then a path across the open field. Join a track behind a house, then go through a kissing gate and descend to St Anthony's Church. Follow the road alongside Gillan Creek.

4 Just past where the road curves round a bay, go up right between granite gate posts by a public footpath sign. Follow a broad track through trees to houses at Roscadden. Keep ahead along a track that leads to Manaccan at a T-junction opposite Manaccan Church.

5 Go through the churchyard and on through the gate opposite to a road (the village shop is to the left). Keep ahead to a junction, the New Inn is down to the left, then go up right, past the school. Keep uphill, then turn left along Minster Meadow, go over a stile, and through two fields to reach a road.

6 Go diagonally left to the stile opposite, cross a field, then go left following signposts to reach woods. Follow the path ahead. At a junction keep ahead, go over a stile and reach a second junction..

7 Bear down right and follow a broad track through trees to reach some buildings at Helford. Keep ahead on reaching a surfaced road and follow the road uphill to the car park.

The Helford River is enduringly popular with land-based visitors and leisure sailors alike, yet the area manages somehow to absorb it all. Cars probe tentatively between the unforgiving stone hedges of narrow Cornish lanes. The bulk of river craft are yachts, so that on a busy sailing day you will hear only the pleasing flap of sails blowing through, as flocks of vessels tack across the estuary mouth. The pelt of trees that lines the estuary and its subsidiary creeks plays a great part in this muffling of too much human racket.

Yet the picturesque, leisure-dominated Helford of today was once a bustling haven for all sorts of trade, and not least, was a haven for pirates and smugglers. During Elizabethan times especially, a passel of Cornish rascals, from the highest in the land to the lowest, was engaged in plundering the cargoes of vessels that sailed through the Channel approaches. The Helford, as it is popularly known, was a secretive, useful base from which all manner of goods could be spirited away inland. In later times the river became an equally secretive base for missions against German-occupied France during the Second World War.

There is little physical evidence of any of this busy past, but in the shrouded creeks that run off like fibrous roots from the main river it is easy to imagine the utter remoteness of life hundreds of years ago, when movement by sea was far more convenient than by land. This walk starts from the village of Helford and follows the southern shore of the estuary between Treath and Dennis Head, mainly through the deep woodland of the Bosahan estate. There are tantalising glimpses of the river through the trees and the path skirts tiny coves such as Bosahan and Ponsence with their inviting beaches that must surely have seen their share of night-landings in the piratical past.

The return leg of the walk follows the north shore of the adjacent Gillan Creek, far smaller and thus far less accommodating to vessels than the deep Helford. Here the tiny Church of St Anthony adds to the overall serenity. From near the head of the creek, you climb inland to Manaccan, a charming hamlet that seems to tumble down the slopes of the valley. Beyond the village the route leads into the wooded valley above Helford and takes you back to your starting point through chequered shade.

While you're there

There are two churches on the route of the walk, St Anthony-in-Meneage and St Manacca at Manaccan. Both have some fine features. At St Anthony the piers of the single aisle lean engagingly to port; the 15th-century font has fine reliefs of angels holding shields. Look for the granite drinking bowl, complete with engaging inscription, outside the main door. Manaccan's church has a splendid Norman south door. The church also has a single arcade, but its wagon roofs are well-renovated. There is an ancient fig tree growing out of the wall.

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