Helford Passage: Durgan to Ponsence Cove

December 16, 2017

Helford Passage, the back pocket of Killigrew rogues who prove prison works.


More of an lazy amble then a ramble with its ferry and back-tracking, but with thick woods, lovely coves, open country, pretty hamlets and the glorious Helford River for company, an amble you’ll probably want to repeat over and over. 8 miles there and back. Parking at Helford (paying).


When Henry VIII split with Rome and helped himself to Catholic assets, so did his friends. It had profound and unpredictable consequences for society and individuals. I read an interesting book called Coal that argued it began the Industrial Revolution. (The Catholic Church owned the coal-rich lands and short-term leased them to farmers who could only afford to surface mine. With the Dissolution, Henry gave long-term leases to merchants who increased demand. To fulfil it they mined deeper and deeper. Air needed pumping in and water out. Necessity is the mother of invention someone said and, not wanting to disprove it, along came the first steam engines.)


Us Protestants against them dastardly Catholics also legitimised piracy against the Spanish, which fed Elizabethan coffers and led to advances in ship design. Suddenly we were rulers of the waves. The killigrews, minor Cornish nobles until the dissolution of the monasteries, took full advantage, adding smuggling to their piracy and land grabs.


Helford Passage is where they landed their plunder. The area is so stunningly beautiful it’s hard to imagine it the hub of a minor Tudor Mafia, but it was.


Parking at Helford car park above the village, Jane and I stopped for tea and cake at the Holy Mackerel café at its corner. A converted chapel quirkily decorated inside and out, it’s a delight to the eye but there was a strained atmosphere. There late October and the only customers, I think, on reflection, we may have walked in on a tiff between the couple who run it. So, don’t be put off. 


Head down through the village (car restricted and as pretty as a chocolate box) toward the ferry and enjoy the views to your right up and across the Helford River. At the quay, open up a large smiley face to call the ferry before finding a comfortable spot on the little beach to wait for it.


The ferry takes you over to the larger beach at Helford Passage, dominated by the Ferry Boat Inn—a lovely looking pub surrounded by holiday lets. We went left from here but the path/beach soon peters out (worth it though).


Returning to Helford passage press on through fields and woods past Trebah Garden’s (apparently a sub-tropical wonder) private beach to Durgan, a lovely riverside hamlet. The National Trust serves tea and advice if you want to visit Glendurgan Gardens, which backs onto it. Wrong time of year for the gardens so we backtracked.


Back at Helford, press on upriver to Frenchman’s Creek (yes, the creek that inspired Daphne du Maurier). We were running out of time, so didn’t, but this link  gives you all the information you need.


Returning to the car park, you’ll find the onward coastal path signposted. Now you’re walking with the river to your left through woodland toward the mouth of the Helford. Delovely, delightful and depressingly we had to turn for home just after pretty Ponsence Cove.


In your car—or even better stroll down to the lovely Shipwrights Inn for refreshments and do it there—ponder at the beauty that is the Killigrew legacy.  Generation after generation of the family took government positions and large salaries whilst avoiding tax and committing the foulest crimes. These were ethically ugly people yet they left us this.


It doesn’t seem right and thankfully, there is a moral element.  They may have robbed and murdered with impunity but at last one went too far (‘too far’ meaning owing Queen Elizabeth money) and ended up in jail. His son, not fancying repeating the ignominy or discomfort of Dad, decided to go straight (see, I told you: prison works) and opened a couple of Inns below Arwenack, their family home by the mouth of the nearby and larger Fal River, to serve thirsty sailors. Those Inns blossomed into Falmouth. God may or may not work in mysterious ways but progress certainly does.


Merry Christmas!! 


Ps: In a future Writer Tips post, I’ll be recommending the excellent book I got the lowdown on the Killogrews from (but let me finish reading it first).


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