I have lived close to Falmouth all my life but up until a few days ago I had never taken the ferry across the Helford River.
The aptly named Ferry Boat Inn was buzzing with people enjoying a drink in the late afternoon sun, and on the small beach children played in the shallows, while swimmers cooled off in the water. All this activity gradually receded as the little ferry took us further out into the river.
By the time we arrived on the opposite shore of the Helford River all the relative rush of my busy work day had vanished. We had arrived somewhere far more sedate.
There has been a crossing point here on the Helford River for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The Domeday Book mentions the safe crossing point and an even early reference to the ferry can be found in the chronicles of King Canute (1016 – 1035). I have read that during the middles ages the carts and their drivers would be loaded aboard the rowing boat while the horses would be made to swim along behind, as the ferryman rowed his passengers across.
Today the Helford village is still picture perfect. Cottages huddle along the narrow creek and the thatch Shipwrights Inn is like something from a romantic novel, with so the locals say extra thick walls to hide contraband!
Stories of smugglers abound in this area. The local pirates are said to have lured many a ship into these hidden waterways so that they could plundered it at their leisure. The antiquarian Richard Carew wrote in 1602 that the Helford was frequented by many retired pirates “who’s guilty breasts” he writes “with an eye in their backs, look warily how they may go out again”.
It seems this was once a pretty lawless place. Even as late as 1840 the Custom House in Helford was ransacked when around 30 men broke in and made off with 126 kegs of contraband brandy!
From the village there are beautiful walks in all directions. To Dennis Head and St Anthony in Menege, to Manaccan and Kestle Barton Gallery and Gardens.
Frenchman’s Creek, made famous by the novel by Daphne du Maurier, is an easy walk from Helford Village, down winding footpaths and ancient trackways. It is a silent and almost dreamy place. Eerily quiet, with old oak trees overhanging the seaweed-tangled water. It is certainly easy to imagine smugglers bringing their booty ashore in this silent creek.
S. H. Burton writes in his book The Coasts of Cornwall that this stretch of coast has some of the best walking in Britain.
“All of it is lovely. This is one of the very best walks in the whole of Britain, and no one can say that he knows this island until he has tramped these enchanted miles”
The ferry operates from 1st April until 31st October on demand between 9.30am and 5pm. Adult return £6 Children £2 (dogs and bicycles welcome!)
On the Helford side there is a large yellow circle which you open to summon the ferry. During July and August the ferry will run until 9pm, so make the most of these long sunny evenings while you can!