Things to do on the Helford
The Helford really does have it all: secluded creeks and fishing coves, mile upon mile of public footpaths for stomping, historic homes and gardens to wander, brilliant places to eat and drink, and lovely beaches for swimming and watersports. If you’re planning a trip to the area, look no further — here’s our guide to things to do on the Helford.
The Helford was made for walking: ancient woodlands, quiet fishing coves, beautiful views — and plenty of good watering holes to stop off at for lunch or an end of walk pint. There are countless routes that crisscross both sides of the river (and a 5-minute ferry ride between Helford Passage on the north and Helford on the south means you can explore both sides on a single walk). A particular favourite is the four-mile Helford and Frenchman’s Creek Circular Walk, which starts in the pretty thatched village of Helford and explores woodland, creeks and farmland with beautiful waterside views. There are a number of great pubs and cafes along the route, including the brilliant Shipwrights Arms in Helford and the Holy Mackerel cafe in Helford.
Feeling peckish? See our round-up of places to eat on the Helford, from restaurants and pubs to cafes and delis.
The National Trust gardens on the banks of the Helford, Glendurgan Gardens is a lush, tropical valley that meanders down to the little fishing cove of Durgan. In spring, come for the carpets of bluebells and primroses; in summer for the cool and tranquil woodland glades, and ice cream on the beach. There’s a second hand bookshop on site, plants for sale and a 180-year old maze — a highlight of any trip here (and a great opportunity to lose the children for an hour or so while you soak up the valley views).
Taking full advantage of south Cornwall’s sub-tropical climate, the beautiful 26-acre Trebah Gardens is packed with wild and wonderful flora and fauna, including 100-year old rhododendrons, giant gunneras (with two-metre-long leaves) and an entire valley of hydrangeas. Four miles of paths and passages lead down to the garden’s private beach — thousands of soldiers departed from here for the D-Day landings in 1944. The award-winning Trebah Kitchen cafe, housed in the stylish and airy cafe, champions local, seasonal food. Plenty of fun for children too with wooden forts, rope swings and an aerial slide.
The Cornish Seal Sanctuary
The small, quiet village of Gweek, on the shores of the Helford, isn’t the sort of place you’d expect to find the country’s largest seal sanctuary. Roughly 60 orphaned and injured seals are brought here to the Seal Sanctuary on the Helford each season, and are cared for by a dedicated team before being released back into the wild. You’ll need a few hours to wander around the various pools and enclosures to see seals, penguins and sea lions, and the hospital to catch a glimpse of the newly rescued pups. There are nature trails (children get a prize at the end), a team of brilliant, informative staff who hold interesting talks about the sanctuary and its inhabitants throughout the day, and a good cafe serving vegan food.
Messing about on the river
The hour-and-a-half trips with Helford River Cruises are a great way to explore the secluded creeks that line the Helford. Putter down the river, ogle at the waterside mansions with grounds that stretch to the river, past the gardens of Trebah and Glendurgan. Spot herons, little egrets, kingfishers, cormorants. The incredibly jolly Roger at the helm is a font of knowledge on all things Helford — this is a history lesson and wildlife-watching trip in one! And it’s just as fun for children — those on best behaviour may even be given the chance to steer the boat.
A grand estate
The 1000-acre Trelowarren Estate on the Lizard peninsula near the Helford , with its impressive manor house, has been the seat of the Vyvyans — a prominent Cornish family — since the 15th century. A number of woodland walks, ranging from between one and five miles, loop around the grounds, with Victorian folly, Iron Age Hill Fort and 18th-century garden to spy along the way. At the heart of the estate in the old courtyard is the New Yard Restaurant and the Pantry cafe, walled kitchen garden and art gallery displaying local work from a cooperative of Lizard-based artists.
Discover more places to eat and drink on the Lizard Peninsula
The Helford from the water
Soak up the Helford from the water with south Cornwall-based Koru Kayaking, who run guided kayak and paddleboarding trips from a private beach near Mawnan Smith. The two-hour trips are a great introduction to the area: paddle past oyster farms and the ancient oak woodlands that line the Helford and down Frenchman’s Creek, made infamous by Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name. Fantastic wildlife (sometimes a seal might pop up to say hello), shipwrecks, hidden creeks, and the chance for a dip on sunny days.