Walk - Frenchman's Creek
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the car park at Helford walk down the road to the river, carrying on ahead past the bridge and taking the public byway signed up a lane on the left.
The pretty waterside village at Helford consists of a handful of thatched whitewashed cottages clustered around a ferry crossing beneath wooded slopes. There was a settlement here in medieval times, first recorded in 1230, and the ferry and ford are thought to date from around then. There are also records of medieval oyster beds in the river. Later there was a lively fishing trade, and the boathouses and fish cellars still stand beside the creek today.
- Follow the footpath through the woods, following the KB waymarkers towards Kestle Barton, and carry on uphill along the hedge through the field beyond.
- At the top right-hand corner, fork take the track ahead between the buildings, crossing the road at Kestle Barton to follow the footpath ahead through more woodland, down to the creek.
Kestle Barton was built in the seventeenth century on a medieval site first documented around 1300. The organic farm preserves precious habitats for a wide range of wildlife, and the barns have been converted into an arts centre. The exhibitions in the gallery are changed every month, and there is a lively programme of workshops and other arts events. For more information see www.kestlebarton.co.uk
- Reaching the river, turn right to carry on along the permissive path above it.
Daphne du Maurier wrote her novel 'Frenchman's Creek' in 1941, setting it during the reign of Charles II. It tells the story of a high society wife, Dona St Columb, who finds her London life hideously shallow and her loving husband unbearably dull. After a childish escapade in the city almost goes wrong, she takes her children and flees to her husband's Cornish estate, above the creek.
Jean-Benoit Aubéry is a fellow rebel, equally jaded by the empty lifestyle of the courtiers across the Channel in France, and he is making his own entertainment through capturing the cargoes of English merchant ships as they bring home their lavish booty from foreign ports. St Columb's manservant is one of Aubéry's own men, and the pirate has been using the empty house as his base. Wandering through the woods soon after her arrival, Dona stumbles upon the pirate ship anchored in the creek. Before she can decide what to do about it, a member of Aubéry's crew captures her and brings her aboard for his master to deal with.
Recognising that they are two of a kind, Dona and Aubéry set up a secret liaison. The Frenchman teaches Dona to fish and to cook her catch over a fire. She later disguises herself as a ship's lad and joins him on one of his pirate missions, plundering a ship belonging to one of her own neighbours. Things go badly wrong, and it looks as though Dona's lover will hang for his sins unless she can do something to stop it.
Du Maurier fell in love with Cornwall after holidaying in the county as a child, and during the war, she and her children moved to Fowey (see the Lankelly & Menabilly Walk). Many of her novels were set in Cornwall, including her most well-known book, 'Rebecca', which featured Menabilly as the famous Manderley. She also wrote the non-fiction book, 'Vanishing Cornwall', in which she and her photographer son set about capturing the spirit of a county that she knew was about to change forever.
- When the path forks, ignore the creekside path to take the right-hand one above it, travelling uphill beside the hedge. Turn right on the track at the top of the field.
- Turn left on the lane at the end of the field and then right along the permissive path signed to Helford via Penarvon Cove, taking the lane downhill to the secluded sandy cove. Turn right to follow the path behind the beach, bearing left on the far side to head towards the point.
Above Penarvon Cove are the wooded slopes of Pengwedhen ('head of the fair stream' in Cornish). This was donated to the National Trust by the daughters of Col C F Jerram. Sailing down the Helford River, the Colonel had spotted a 'For Sale' sign. Horrified at the idea that a post-war housing estate might be built in this tranquil haven, he bought the 34-acre piece of land, building himself a small and private bungalow here in 1926.
At the bottom of the path is a small stone building, trimmed with Constantine granite and Delabole slate, known as St Francis's Chapel. It was built in 1930 and dedicated to the memory of Dr Leo O'Neill, brother to Sybil Jerram. O'Neill, too, was a yachtsman who had loved to sail on the Helford River.
- Follow the footpath signs between houses to return to Helford village, detouring left to visit Helford Point, where there is a ferry landing.
- In Helford village walk past the pub and the village stores, alongside the river, turning left after the bridge to take the road back up to the car park.