The entrance to the Helford is about a mile and a half across from Rosemullion Head at the north to Nare Point at the south. Though not as notorious as the Manacles to the south, the rocky shores on either side of the river mouth have seen their share of wrecks over the years. In March 1891, the Bay of Panama, a four-masted square-rigged steel barque, carrying jute from Calcutta bound for Dundee, was caught in a terrible storm at Nare Point and blown onto the rocks. In 1920, an American ship, the Rock Island Bridge, was wrecked at sea in a collision in the fog and towed to just north of Dennis Head where she had to be broken up and sunk. The wreck is now a popular dive site.
Nare Point was used in World War 2 as a Starfish decoy for Falmouth. Elaborate lighting was installed in the hope of deceiving the German bombers. After the war the MOD observation post became part of a torpedo test range. In July 2007 the post was taken over by the National Coastwatch Institution, a voluntary organisation formed to maintain a watch over our coastal waters.
The 12th century church at St Anthony is thought to have been built by grateful Normans who, caught in a violent storm, prayed to St Anthony and found safety in Gillan Creek. The 18th century fish store on the beach is now home to a boat hire business and shop.
Durgan is a tiny village on the Helford with its own beach. Several of the cottages are available for rent through the National Trust, who also operate Glendurgan Garden just above the village.
Trebah is described as the ‘Garden of Dreams’ – a steeply wooded ravine full of tree ferns, waterfalls, and rhododendrons leading down to Polgwidden Cove, a secluded beach on the river. It’s wild, enchanted and full of beautiful surprises.
In 1944 a regiment of 7500 men of the 29th US Infantry Division embarked from Polgwidden Cove to the D-Day assault landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy where they suffered terrible casualties. A memorial at the bottom of the garden commemorates the courage of these brave young American soldiers.
Helford Passage has a safe sandy beach, a little shop and a popular family pub: The Ferry Boat Inn. The coast path leads east from here to Mawnan Glebe and Falmouth beyond. Helford River Boats operate ferries to Helford and to the gardens at Trebah and Glendurgan. Boats can be hired to explore the river and creeks.
Helford village is home to the Helford River Sailing Club, and has a Post Office and a popular waterside pub: the Shipwright’s Arms. Between Helford and Helford Passage the ferry, which is thought to be medieval, allows walkers from the coastal path around the Lizard to continue towards Falmouth and beyond.
Port Navas saw considerable expansion in the mid 19th century with the construction of Higher Quay, now home to the Port Navas Yacht Club, and later Lower Quay. The quays were used to offload lime and ship stone from the granite quarries around Constantine. The Duchy Oyster Farm has operated in Port Navas for more than a century and still raises oysters and mussels in the river.
Most of the riverside commercial activities are at the head of the estuary at Gweek, once a trading port serving Helston and the surrounding area. A commercial drilling rig company and a thriving boat yard carry on the maritime tradition even though access is only possible at high tide. The National Seal Sanctuary is a popular tourist attraction, operating as a home and hospital for seals and other marine animals rescued from the surrounding seas.