Walk - Gillan Creek & Dennis Head
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Heading out of the Helford car park towards the road, turn left on the track to pick up the South West Coast Path as it travels towards Dennis Head.
- Follow the South West Coast Path through the woodland above the Helford River and out onto open ground around the edge of fields as you approach Dennis Head.
The Helford Estuary is a ria - an ancient river valley that was drowned when melting ice caused sea levels to rise at the end of the last Ice Age. At very low tides there are still the fossilised remains of some tree stumps from this time.
Many of the creeks flowing into the river are reduced to mudflats and sandflats at low tide. The salt content of the water is high, except after periods of particularly heavy rain, and out in the estuary itself saltwater washes over the sandbanks at all states of the tide. This makes it a special habitat for a wide range of species, and it has been designated the Fal and Helford Special Area of Conservation (SAC). As many as 80 different species of fish are found in the estuary, including Couch's goby, a small fish that is found only in South Cornwall and Ireland. The rare Fan mussel thrives here and the river is famous for its oyster beds, which have been farmed since medieval times. The estuary is also host to beds of rare eelgrass, Britains only marine flowering plant, a valuable shelter for sea slugs, cuttlefish and seahorses.
Dennis Head is named from the Cornish 'dinas' meaning 'castle', and there was a cliff castle here in the Iron Age, about 2000 years ago. Its strategic position at the mouth of the Helford River meant that the headland was fortified throughout history. In 1643 it was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and the gun emplacements at each corner of the rectangular ruins can still be clearly seen today at Little Dennis. It is believed that there may also have been a small garrison chapel within the seventeenth-century fort.
The rocky shores on either side of the river mouth have been responsible for a number of shipwrecks throughout the centuries. In March 1891 the 'Bay of Panama' was caught in a storm at Nare Point and blown onto the rocks. The four-masted square-rigged steel barque was carrying jute from Calcutta, bound for Dundee. In 1920 the 'Rock Island Bridge' was wrecked in a collision in the fog. The American ship was towed to just north of Dennis Head, where she was scuttled. The wreck is now a popular site with divers.
- Retrace your steps from Dennis Head, forking left to carry on along the Coast Path as it passes behind Gillan Harbour.
The delightful riverside village of St Anthony in Meneage, a handful of stone houses clustered around the church, is one of Cornwall's earliest recorded Christian sites. It was first mentioned in the tenth century, when it was called 'Lanentennin' - 'Anthony's holy place'. 'Meneage' (pronounced 'menayg' or 'meneeg') means 'land of monks'. In the early Dark Ages it was one of a confederacy of small Celtic monasteries thought to have been founded by missionaries from Brittany.
Parts of the church standing today date back to the thirteenth century, with the granite tower added in the fourteenth. It was restored in 1890 and the organ added in 1954. There is an ancient christening well in the garden above the churchyard, housed in a seventeenth-century grotto. By the church gate there is a carved stone found in 1981 when a car park was being built. Now mounted on a thick stone slab on the church wall, the carving is considered to be a genuine chi-rho, an ancient Christian symbol dating back to the first few centuries after the Romans left Britain.
People have lived by the creek for many thousands of years. Flint flakes and pebbles were found here dating from Neolithic (Late Stone Age) times. A Bronze Age axe found during the creation of an ornamental garden in 1935 is on display in Truro Museum. A heavily decorated urn also found here from the same period is housed in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Traces of medieval oyster beds have been found in the mud in Gillan Creek, as well as the remains of an unnamed wooden hulk, hauled up above the high water line with only one side of its timber skeleton visible. In the nineteenth century a wooden cargo ship known as 'Veronica' caught fire at the mouth of the creek, but it is thought that nothing remained after the fire was out.
- Carry on along the road to where the Coast Path crosses Gillan Creek. Leaving the Coast Path without crossing the creek, continue ahead along the road to where it turns left. Go through the gate on your right to take the footpath through the trees. The path heads left between the buildings and follows Vicarage Lane to Roscaddon House, on the right a little further on.
The lane ahead here leads to the tiny village of Manaccan, whose twelfth-century church is famous for the 200-year-old fig tree growing from the steeple wall. If you detour to the village, retrace your steps to here.
- Take the footpath on the right immediately beyond Roscaddon, following the hedge through two fields to Trudgwell and on to the road at the end of the drive.
The settlement of Roscaddon was first recorded around the start of the fourteenth century. In the Second World War there was an auxiliary unit bunker in one of its fields which collapsed some years later when a cow fell into it! Trudgwell was first recorded in 1295.
- On the road turn left and pick up the footpath on your right after the entrance to the Bosahan Estate. Follow the path along the edge of the wood, turning left at the end of the third field to walk along the lane towards the buildings. As you reach them the footpath turns into a field on the right and heads to the far left corner to come out just before it on the road.
The nineteenth century Bosahan Lodge is a listed building. Bosahan was first mentioned in the fourteenth century. Historians believe that its name suggests its origins date from long before that, maybe even as early as the fifth century, when the monks were at Meneage. The name Halvose, associated with it, implies that there was a linear earthwork or dyke nearby. There are a number of these in Cornwall, thought to date from the Dark Ages, marking the territory of the local chieftain and possibly helping him to defend it against Anglo-Saxon incursions (see the Wheal Coates Walk and the Looe, Talland & the Giant's Hedge Walk).
- On the road turn briefly right and then take the lane on the left, leaving it at the end of the first field to take the footpath on the right, just before the hedge. Bear left to carry on ahead when you reach the road to return to the car park above Helford.
In Helford or St Anthony in Meneage, or in Manaccan, just off-route