Things to do on the Helford River

Things to do

Things to do on the Helford River


Helford River isn’t somewhere I visit often as it takes me over an hour and a half to get there. But whenever I do I curse myself for not being a more regular visitor. It is an absolutely stunning part of Cornwall packed full of interesting wildlife, history and stories and well worth a journey. So, in a bid to get to know the river a bit better, I went on a boat trip in Cornwall with Helford River Boat Tours. 

The tours are run from Budock Vean Hotel which offers free parking - always handy. Having parked up, we were directed down to the slipway. As you make your way down, check out their gorgeous award-winning gardens. Even in the mizzle they looked gloriously impressive.

Helford gardens Helford flower Helford garden


We met Hetty at the slipway and she helped us all aboard The Hannahmolly. It’s a traditional Cornish boat which can hold up to 12 people, so it’s great for big groups and all ages. Once all settled in we headed off on our tour of the Helford. 

Aboard the boat we got to explore this area of outstanding natural beauty which encompasses ancient oak woodlands and deep valleys. Unsurprisingly, the wildlife here is phenomenal. Along the river and its creeks you’ll find magnificent birds including buzzards, herons, egrets, kingfishers and cormorants. If you’re really lucky, you might even see a pod of dolphins or some seals. One of the lovely things about the wildlife here is the seasonal variation. 

The tour took us all around Helford river, but my favourite spot was Frenchman’s Creek. On the corner of the creek Hetty pointed out a gorgeous house snuggled right into the edge. It was a beautiful spot and despite being surrounded by trees I’m sure it afforded brilliant views. 

Helford boat trip Helford boat trip Helford boat trip


The owner of both was artist and adventurer Percy Thurburn. Tired of his affluent London lifestyle, Percy and his partner sailed south in search of somewhere more private. Their first port of call was Devon, but disagreeable neighbours meant they soon moved on. And I bet they're glad they did, because they eventually happened upon this delightful spot in Frenchmans creek. He built the wooden house and planted the glorious garden and resided here until he died in 1961 and donated the house to the National Trust.

Just beyond the house, up the river, you’ll spot the rusting remains of the boat they originally travelled down in from London – the Iron Duke. 

Frenchman's Creek

Daphne Du Maurier lived opposite Frenchman’s Creek for a while, so its little wonder where the idea for her novel ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ came from! I’m not surprised to hear that Du Maurier based herself here for a while, as inspiration hangs in the air. Even on our trip, when the skies loom grey and soft mizzle persists, it was totally captivating. 

Further along we pass a fallen but sturdy looking tree, peeking elegantly out of the water. It turns out that Kylie Minogue thought it was pretty interesting too and featured it in the video for her single ‘Flower’

By the time we pulled up back at the Budock Vean Hotel I felt much more knowledgeable about this neck of the woods. If you’re interested in the local area, spotting wildlife and the legends of the Helford River, I can’t recommend a boat tour enough. Just try and pick a slightly sunnier day than I did! 

Helford river boat trip

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