On the Water
Helford is all about getting out on the water, and you can either bring your own boat (arrange temporary membership at the sailing club – 01326 231 006), hire one from Sailaway (01326 231 357), Helford River Boats (01326 250 770), or just catch the ferry! Shallow draught moorings can be arranged off Helford Point; contact us for details.
Fishing is a popular activity here, and there have been lots of fish in the river recently as well as dolphins on occasion. Several of our customers have managed to catch buckets of mackerel straight off the pub pontoon, and there has also been a lot of squid fishing going on in the river. For deep sea fishing out in the bay, contact Dan (www.bluepointercharter.co.uk)
Kayaking has become very popular and is a great way to explore our little tidal creeks – Frenchman’s Creek is a particularly nice paddle from Helford Village. You can bring your own and launch them from the footbridge, tide permitting, or hire them from Sailaway. Several of our cottages now have kayaks for guests to use – see the individual cottage description for details. There is a good dive centre nearby (www.porthkerris.com), and excellent windsurfing tuition in Coverack (www.coverack.co.uk).
We find most kids visiting Helford are very happy paddling and swimming in the creek at high tide, rock pooling at low tide, crabbing off the end of the pub pontoon, messing about in boats, and generally roaming free-range. We put on a series of children’s shows and events at the Shipwrights in the school holidays, including the famous Squashbox theatre, John Brolly the story teller and art classes run by local artists.
All kids love the maze at Glendurgan gardens, just the other side of the river, and the hedges are about 4’ high, enabling grown-ups to keep an eye on things without too much effort, although I have to admit I still get lost every time!
Pendennis Castle in Falmouth is a great place to explore for budding knights and princesses, and there is also the excellent National Maritime Museum Cornwall down the road.
Younger children especially find Paradise Park in Hayle very exciting – lots of tropical birds, farm animals and penguins – and the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek now also has penguins as well as seals and a sea lion.
Flambards Theme Park in Helston has a few small rides best for younger children, but the main attraction here is the surprisingly brilliant Victorian museum and Britain in the Blitz exhibition. Flambards also has a separate indoor play centre for under 11’s, which can be a life-saver on a rainy day.
Helston Folk Museum, which records life on the Lizard through the ages, is worth a look, and is free. Just beyond the museum is the lovely Craftbox cafe, where you can paint pottery, make mosaics and dreamcatchers, and eat cake at the same time.
There is a golf club nearby in Mullion (01326 240685) and horse-riding at Newton farm (www.newtonequestrian.co.uk). There are tennis courts at Manaccan, just a mile up the hill.
For swimming, you can just jump in the river, or there is a nice indoor pool and spa at the Budock Vean Hotel on the north side of the Helford River, as well as a 25m public pool in Helston.
If you would like to hire a bike, contact Porthleven Cycle Hire (01326 561101) – they will deliver to Helford if you spend more than £60.
There are lots of lovely walks from Helford. My favourite two are round the corner to Penarvon Cove (5 minutes), then down to the atmospheric Frenchman’s Creek made famous by the Daphne Du Maurier novel, and the other way along to the river mouth and Dennis head, and around the headland to the riverside hamlet of St Anthony, with its Norman church.
For a gentle woodland walk (buggy friendly), head to Tremayne Quay – drive to the gate (10 mins) and stroll down to the large Victorian quay from which you can glimpse the moorings in Helford.
The banks of the Helford River are woody and sheltered, so for a taste of the rugged cliffs characteristic of the rest of the Lizard Peninsula, I like to go to Poltesco, a slightly spooky, pebbly little cove with ruins of 17th century pilchard and serpentine works nestled in the valley, and walk from here round to Cadgwith (about 40 mins) for a well-earned pint in the pub.
Beyond Cadgwith, towards the Lizard on the coast path, is the Devil’s Frying Pan, a circular cleft in the rock into which the stormy sea gurgles and appears to boil – a good way to tempt reluctant kids out for a walk on a less than-clement day!
Cornwall’s gardens are a blaze of colour from March to June, and a couple of the best are just across the river – the sub-tropical Trebah and Glendurgan with its famous maze – catch the ferry and walk along the coast path to find them.
Further afield, the Lost Gardens of Heligan have a truly lovely, nostalgic atmosphere, and the famous Eden Project is continuing to change and grow, with a new aerial walkway in the rainforest biome, and now accepts canine visitors. They have also just built a 660m long zip wire over the whole valley so you can soar over the biomes. Trelissick gardens, near Truro, makes a good day out, with a craft centre and gallery in the grounds as well as an enormous child-friendly climbing tree in the middle of the main lawn, the bark smoothed by thousands of bottoms over the years!
Arts and Shopping
We have an excellent art gallery just outside Helford at Kestle Barton (on the way to Frenchman’s Creek) which focuses on contemporary Cornish artists and has a beautiful sculpture garden. Sarah’s shop at Helford Passage sells nice gifts and cards, and there is a Cornwall Crafts gallery at Trelowarren (about 15 mins drive), showcasing the best of Cornish contemporary crafts and is well worth a visit.
If you find yourself in Cadgwith, Nicky’s driftwood boats are cute and reasonably priced – her house is next to the corrogated iron chapel on the footpath down to the cove.
In Helston, the artists cooperative, Creftow (opposite the museum), stocks local prints, ceramics and cards. Further afield, St. Ives has lots of galleries, including the Tate and the fabulous Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden. Chapel Street in Penzance is famed for antiques and bric a brac shops, and is worth a wander just to see the incredible facade of the Egyptian house.
A short walk from there, through Morrab gardens, is the Penlee Art Gallery and museum, specialising in the Newlyn school of painting. In nearby Newlyn, there is the excellent, contemporary Newlyn Art Gallery, and also the Newlyn Art School, which offers a range of day and weekend art courses.
Falmouth is fun for independent vintage shops, boutiques and homestores, as well as having a branch of the Cornish bargain store, Trago Mills, which stocks a good range of art supplies. Falmouth Art Gallery is a fantastic free resource for Cornish Art lovers, with a large variety of exhibitions, as well as family workshops and a nice little gift shop. For all the big brand names, head to Truro.
There are small beaches all along the river, fringed by woodland, that you can walk to, or take a boat. Larger coves with dramatic cliffs are just the other side of the Lizard Peninsula, about 20 minutes drive, including the awesome Kynance Cove, a supremely pretty beach with unusual rock formations and a light and breezy cafe with a young, funky vibe perched right on the edge of the cliffs. If you only venture out of Helford once on your holiday, make it here!
Kennack Sands, about 15 minutes drive South, is a lovely sandy beach, with easy access, loos and a cafe, making it ideal for young children, and the second beach is dog friendly. Coverack beach is another good family option, as it is right in the village, so near to the Roskilly’s ice-cream shop, cafe, and pub. Teenagers and grown-up kids love Rinsey, (about 4 miles beyond Helston on the Penzance road) for rock-pools, rock-scrambling and a tin mine to explore on the top of the cliff.
Gwithian, near Hayle, is very long, backed by dunes and popular with kite-surfers and dog-walkers – this is one of our favourites for a windy winter walk. Another perfect place to head to in the cooler months is Porthleven, as there is a nice long beach, a woodland walk around Loe Bar, and a couple of pubs to cosy up in afterwards.
The Shipwrights Arms in Helford is the nearest option for eating, and we run it, so please come and say hello! There is also a pub on the other side of the river, easily accessed by a five minute ferry ride, called the Ferryboat Inn, which has a lovely sandy beach and is a fantastic spot for a drink and some mussels and chips.
Other local pubs to try include the excellent Five Pilchards at Porthallow, New Inn at Manaccan, Prince of Wales at Newtown, the Cadgwith Inn and the ever cosy Trengilly Wartha at Constantine.
For a mid afternoon treat, Roskilly’s Croust House in St. Keverne is a hit for all ages with a massive range of ice-creams as well as lunches and teas. The Fat Apples cafe, just off the coastal path in nearby Porthallow have home-made cakes, pies and hot sandwiches as well as a thermos refill service.
Our favourite places to go out for a posh dinner are the Ship Inn in Mawgan, run by chef Greg and his wife Ali, and the newly re-modelled New Yard Restaurant at Trelowarren, also in Mawgan.
Porthleven near Helston has become a bit of a foodie mecca; there are several nice restaurants in this large harbour village, including Kota, Seadrift, and the family friendly Kota Kai. They also host the Porthleven Food and Music festival every Spring.
When you can’t decide what you feel like eating, wandering through Falmouth is always a good idea, as there are loads of good restaurant options ranging from burritos and pizzas, to shellfish and Caribbean curries.