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Thread: The Helford River - A Week in Cornwall (part 1 )

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    Default The Helford River - A Week in Cornwall

    "When the east wind blows up the Helford River the shining waters become troubled and disturbed, and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores. The short seas break above the bar at the ebb-tide, and the waders fly inland to the mud flats, their wings skimming the surface, and calling to one another as they go. Only the gulls remain, wheeling and crying above the foam, diving now and again in search of food, their grey feathers glistening with the salt spray."
    - from Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

    I think I know what she meant as the wind became my constant companion during our stay, marking out each trip by its direction and strength. When I first saw the river, I was not sure that I was much impressed, as it seemed both busy and very tidal. But by the end of the week I found it had taken hold of me, and had become a living thing in my mind, as I began to know the ebb and flow of its tides, to see the dramatic change in water level in the creeks from spring to neap. I came to rely on the Egrets and Sandpipers appearance with the ebb and flow of the tide, and looked out for the Swans and the Sea Bass scouring the edges of high water. I found that I had lost my fear of the choppy waters of the main river channel and the winds I fought there each day until in the end they were just a part of the journey and I felt we had come to know one another just a little. When it came time to leave I felt that I understood the pull of saltwater, for it is alive, always changing, always promising something new, every hour of every day, and I was very sorry to have to leave it.

    The Helford River is one of Britain's most southerly rivers, lying only a dozen miles or so from Lizard Point in the far south of Cornwall. It is not really a river as most canoeists would have it. It has no real flow at all, and the water that runs out of the steep Cornish hills is nothing compared to what the sea brings in. In truth it is a large tidal inlet, several miles long, with a number of large creeks carving up the land about it, the principals of which are Porthnavas Creek, Polwheveral Creek and the mysteriously named Frenchman’s Creek. It is only sparsely populated, for the hills of the Lizard Peninsula are very rugged, permitting few settlements and only the tiniest of roads to exist along its coastline.

    We were staying in a riverside boathouse in Porth Navas at the end of a small inlet off Porthnavas Creek. It was a great location, balcony overlooking the river and only yards from a public slipway. However at the start of the week, the spring ebb tide emptied the creek completely of water, and so all trips were tied around the high tide. Inconveniently, high water was early morning and late evening to begin with, and not knowing what margin I had around the high tide, morning trips were out, which left only the evening for paddling.



    I would love to tell you I paddled every inch of this river system, but in truth I paddled only a few hours each day, for it was a family holiday with other outings planned, and I left plenty of river undiscovered. Maybe I’ll go back some day.

    Sunday – Porthnavas Creek

    First day on the river, we launched into our side creek, my daughter Alice and I, and paddled tandem into the main creek out as far as The Helford River. There it quickly became apparent that wind and water were a little too much for us together. This was a shame as it meant that days out canoeing were not going to be possible. Don’t know about anyone else, but though my family enjoy canoeing they’re not that experienced, and big open water makes me and them pretty nervous. So we came back and played in the sheltered waters of our creek. Alice and Trudi both had turns solo. Trudi had forgotten most of last years acquired skills and had to be coaxed back to some degree of confidence. Alice though took her first steps solo in the safe, sheltered waters of the creek and did really well. When they had finished I went out again by myself as far as the main river again. My confidence in open water was also in need of improvement.

    Trudi Solo


    Alice Solo


    Monday – Lower Calmansack

    With high water at 8:42pm, I paddled out of Porthnavas creek at about 6:30pm determined to get out into the Helford River. Slipping silently along the creek edges I watched all the other boats as I went. Porthnavas Creek it must be said, is the car park of the Helford River system, as it offers one of the few access points by road. Although this makes it busy, it cannot totally detract from the natural beauty of the creek. Ancient woodland grows everywhere right down to the rivers edge, full of Oak, Holly and Hawthorn, and all the trees that always speak to me of England.

    Trees on the river's edge


    Heading out into the main river, I passed the rocky waters edge around Calmansack Wood, the clear waters showing the rocks below my boat. Then out into the face of a strong westerly wind, ripping down the river towards the sea. The first thing you face here is a rock spit which you must paddle around as the wind drives you back. I fought my way doggedly against it, sometimes holding station and sometimes being forcibly blown backwards, but gradually inching my way forwards. Eventually passing the spit I tacked the boat northward towards the bay at Lower Calmansack, where finding more shelter, I paddled around to the far edge and stopped for a rest. I sat staring across at the entrance to Frenchman’s Creek, thinking how badly I wanted to go there, and how much wind and water lay between. Tomorrow perhaps.

    Lower Calmansack


    The return was much easier, but even with the wind behind me I found my progress slow in the choppy water, as I couldn’t seem to get a good rhythm going. I paddled back up our side creek as the light started to fade, my family watching from the balcony for my return. A nice feeling.

    Entrance to Porthnavas Creek


    Tuesday – Frenchman’s Creek

    Despite being a little disheartened by my battle with the wind the previous night, I was still determined to make it across to Frenchman’s Creek. With high water at 9:09pm I pushed off at about 6:30pm when there appeared to be just enough water. Slid along the banks under the trees, mostly unnoticed by the noisome motor launches and RIBs. It amazed me during the week that most of the beautiful and expensive yachts moored there appeared never to move, so that I wondered what the point really of them was.

    On reaching the main river, I found a fair north-westerly in progress. This was OK to begin with as it did not seem to be causing too much trouble, and anyway I was sheltered by the hills around Calmansack. I took the opportunity therefore to tack straight across the river to the Helford side. It is narrower here than at other points and as the wind wasn’t too bad I though I’d give it a go. By and large it was a good plan, though about three-quarters of the way across the wind started to hit me more seriously, and the chop became quite significant. I dug in though and continued on, skirting past Tremurlon, every other stroke a correction against wind or water. In particular the rocks around Frenchman’s Creek entrance are pretty dangerous on both banks and needed some careful avoidance.

    Entering the creek though was like entering another world. There are no boats here at all, and its farthest reaches are really only accessible by shallow draught boats like canoes. The trees run right down to the water’s edge here, which is littered with dead wood and fallen trees. At the creek’s end mud flats are tangled in tree falls, and I was convinced otters should be found here, for the habitat looks near perfect for them. Egrets roosted in the trees (they are very common here), and curlew flew overhead, crying out their annoyance at my arrival. All was peaceful and silent, and it was easy to imagine the pirate ship La Mouette lying safely at anchor here. There are no paths, no beaches, no slipways. It is really quite wild and untouched.

    Frenchman's Creek



    Leaving the creek, I turned west, to try and head for the narrower Helford River channel before crossing back. As I paddled out of the creek, the wind really had a go at me, forcing me into the rocks jutting out around the creek mouth. Fought my way back out and up river, and slowly across to Groyne Point between the Helford River channel and Polwheveral Creek mouth. There, more curlew and stood sentinel against the failing light, and I simply headed straight across for the north shore, and let the wind blow me down river towards Calmsack. Then in the lee of the hills I paddled quietly home again.

    Looking across to Calmansack


    Groyne Point and The Helford River entrance


    Helford Passage from Calmsack


    Sunset on The Helford River
    Last edited by Matto; 4th-September-2006 at 09:19 PM.
    Matto

    Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea.


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    Default The Helford River - A Week in Cornwall part 2

    Wednesday – Passage Cove and Porthnavas Creek

    I always get grumpy when the weather looks like spoiling a trip, and Wednesday evening was the worst bit of weather so far. Windy, with gathering clouds and rain, it did not look promising. Still who’s to say it wouldn’t improve? High water (as you may have gathered is getting later and later) at 9:35pm tonight. Launched at about 7:00pm into mizzling rain. Hugged the eastern bank of the creek for a change and once out into the main river, turned seaward towards Helford Passage. Passed an amazing rowing boat pulled up by one of the clubs. I would dearly love to see that on the water. The coast here is a mix of sand/shingle beaches and rocks. The rain is getting harder and a mist gathering, but Passage Cove is safe and welcoming, the pub lights beaming down onto the beach from where a sailing race is in progress. Had the weather been kinder the next two coves of Polgwidden and Durgan are wonderful places, each with beautiful public gardens above them, but tonight was not the night for them. So I turned back into the westerly (again) wind, and headed back into the safety of Porthnavas Creek, where I paddled its entire extent. Towards its highest reaches the boats thin out, and the side creek at Trenarth Bridge is very quiet and peaceful.

    Long Boat


    Passage Cove


    Friday – Polpenwith and Polwheveral Creek

    The last day, sigh! The week has come to its end, and the tides have changed about. HW today is more sociable 10:50am (or 11:15pm – don’t think so!), and the neap tide has meant that low water only half empties the creek, leaving it paddlable almost all day, though I don’t quite realise this until later.

    I am determined to get as far as possible today, though another stiff north-westerly has other ideas. I head out once more around the spit into the main rive channel, battling ever with the wind. Today it is a real fight again, but one I am determined to win. The water is unsettled and very choppy also, but I find to my amazement that I am not much fazed by it, for I know that both the boat and I can handle it.

    I head across to Groyne Point, intending to head up the Helford River towards Gweek, but at the last moment change my mind and head up Polwheveral Creek, as it looks the quieter of the two. The Egrets are lined up along the banks and at one point I see five of them in one tree. In a side creek, a Kingfisher dives close to the boat and returns to a nearby tree, daring me to get my camera out before it leaves (I don’t manage it). The Sea Bass seem particularly tame, coming inches from the boat. I head up Polpenwith Creek towards the houses at Polpenwith. Marsh grass has found a hold on the muddy waters edge, making it a unique spot. I head on again towards Polwheveral as far as Scott’s Wood, but the two hours I have allowed myself for the outward journey are up and it is time to head back.

    Sea Bass


    Polwheveral Creek




    The wind is fickle today and I fight it all the way back to the main river where it finally gets behind me, and a gentle paddle home ensues. I am amazed that the choppy waters no longer disturb my paddling rhythm and the swell and waves cause me no concern at all. Something has changed during the week. The journey back takes only fifty minutes, and the sun beaming down on me, I pull the boat out of the water for the last time, feeling that I have achieved something, as though in some way I have staked a small claim to this river, and that its ways are no longer entirely strange to me.

    Epilogue

    In the whole week of paddling I saw a handful of sit-on-tops, two kayaks, but not a single other open canoe. I was alone. This is undoubtedly yacht territory, and in truth it is easier to get about by boat than by car. But bringing an open canoe here is worthwhile and rewarding I found. There are creeks and rivers and woods, sandy beaches and rocky coves to explore. In short it has much to recommend it despite its first unpromising appearance.

    I must also commend my Old Town Charles River, which handled the conditions admirably. Yes it catches the wind, as I have said before, but it rides the chop and swell with great confidence, enabling me to really get to grips with the open water properly. Although my Bell canoe is a great solo boat, I’m not sure it would have given me quite as much confidence in these conditions.

    So there you have it. A long blog. If you have read to the end of it, give yourself a pat on the back and have a cup of tea. Cream Tea, Cornish style of course.
    Matto

    Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea.


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    Great Blogg!

    I have been out in a lot of choppy open water now and have become not blasé but comfortable with it. I am as comfortable now with the girls with me as with me sitting centrally I still have control of the canoes balance. Sounds like you too have got yourself comfortable with the choppy stuff.
    John

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    Excellent, thanks for that write up.

    The Helford looks like my home water (which can be no surprise I guess): well worth a few days exploring. I'm very fond of the tidal rivers here abouts, these waters do challenge, but they equally reward perseverance - and you do find the Way of the river, it's pace, and it's ebb and flow become part of that experience, part of the relationship you develop.

    I'm not surprised that the weather featured so much, the wind has been a devil down here in the SW for what seems like weeks and weeks now.

    Did you find that the sound of waterbirds really sits at ease with this water.
    Sandpipers and Oyseter catchers particularly so I think.

    Nice work.

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    Yes you're right, though I hadn't thought about it like that. The birds do create a particular feeling that does seem somehow "right" on this kind of river, and perhaps just a little special.

    I'm glad you mentioned the Oyster Catchers, as I had been scouring my books to recall what they were. Saw a couple of small gatherings of them, though the sandpipers were everywhere.
    Matto

    Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea.


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    Great write up. Almost like being in the boat with you.
    Aslan




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    Quote Originally Posted by Matto View Post
    Yes you're right, though I hadn't thought about it like that. The birds do create a particular feeling that does seem somehow "right" on this kind of river, and perhaps just a little special.

    I'm glad you mentioned the Oyster Catchers, as I had been scouring my books to recall what they were. Saw a couple of small gatherings of them, though the sandpipers were everywhere.
    I've been a bit worried about Oyster Catchers over the last few years as they seem to have become far less common than I recall. To me tho' - they are the sound of the river, especially towards evening as they travel home. More concerningly I see the RSPB have them at amber now ...

    Sandpipers are great little birds and by contrast - seem more common now, I see them on Dartmoor, and on the coast - and I'm sure the same birds travel the rivers as corridors, from the open moor down to the sea.

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    Default Wow. Great blog. I'm going down to Helford asap. Thanks for inspiration.

    Wow. Great blog. I'm going down to Helford asap. Thanks for inspiration.
    Ben

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    Great blog with photos to match. It does sound like a magical stretch of water.

    TGB
    May the gentleness of morning, greet your silent passage through endless waters...

    May all your winds be gentle. And for ww - May it rain the night before.

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    "Fair Braw".
    Not a long blogg at all really interesting seeing other waterways .Particularly liked Frenchman's Creek.

    MP - Oystercatchers . Still see them regularly up here.

    Maggie
    Maggie.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mutineering Maggie View Post
    "Fair Braw".
    Not a long blogg at all really interesting seeing other waterways .Particularly liked Frenchman's Creek.

    MP - Oystercatchers . Still see them regularly up here.

    Maggie
    Glad to hear that Maggie.
    I've only seen the odd few here this year so far.

    :-(

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    I'm a quick reader, but I sat with this blog for about half an hour. Thanks!

    Jim

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    Default Nice Blogg

    You could imagine reading it out of a book, sat in your favourite chair by the fire side (with a glass of single malt) on a cold and wet evening.
    Alec aka Wayne

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    Default Helford River Expeditions

    Brilliant Blog - a great read!
    I'm looking forward to more blogs on canoeing & kayaking on the Helford River from "Song of the Paddle" bloggers - I will put links on the site

    Good thing is that since your blog there are now quite a few sit on tops and kayaks on the River -see vids. There are the occasional canoes, mine is one! But for when it gets choppy or the wind is a pain I have a 5 HP outboard - Cheat! I hear you say but it is after all a safety response canoe and handles brilliantly and is just perfect for this River. I do paddle more than motor!

    We have tandem sit on top kayaks using Malibu 2's (NZ spec) and Perception Kiwi's. Kiwi's are very stable in these waters and don't get the wind! We are never more than 25m from shore and because we use Tandems it means twice the manpower! Along the shoreline theres woodland and overhanging trees, settlements steeped in history, and very well-to-do Estates. Some of the best Gardens in the country are here and we are very fortunate to be based at the best bamboo garden in the country set in 14 acres. Coves and deserted shorelines is where you see the birds, the otters, and the coves and river side beaches. The Helford River forms part of a Special Area of Conservation, Site of Special Scientific Interest and An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Eel Grass beds that are found in the river provide home to Sea Horses. This is where sit on tops provide great snorkelling opportunities! The water quality and condition of the Helford River is impeccable. The Helford River Marine Conservation Group does brilliant work. The joy of the Helford River is that there is always a creek to explore and there is so much wildlife!

    As so many SotP people are keen on the Helford River is anyone for a August Helford River canoe & kayak fest with an overnight expedition to Frenchmans Creek? ...sounds good to me...any excuse for an overnighter!


    Regards
    Howard
    Helford River Expeditions & Helford River Garden Tours

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    Excellent blogg Matto

    Thanks for putting in all the effort.
    The Helford's now on my list for next year.

    Cheers

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    Default Nicely done ...

    I live about two fields away from the end of Frenchmans Creek so the blogg was 'right up my street' so to speak. I use the Helford for the majority of my paddling, which amounts to family adventures and solo camping trips. Your blogg was well written and explained the area in depth, it is shame you had poor weather and untimely tides as it can be a very relaxing and beautiful location when you are not thrashing against the elements ...

    If you do come back and fancy some company drop me a line, there are not many open boaters down here and it can get a bit lonely when SWMBO will come out and play.

    Helford River Excursions suggested an excursion in August ... count me in and let me know if you want some help organising ...
    When the world has passed you by .... where are you ?

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    Default Helford River Expedition August 2010

    Hey Pastypaddler and all the rest of you paddlers out there!

    The Helford River is a great place for an Expedition so lets all get together and make an event of it for next year with a camp out! How about the August Bank Holiday 2010?

    Howard Jackson
    Helford River Expeditions Ltd
    www.helfordriverexpeditions.co.uk
    T)01326 250 258
    M)07968 024 457

    ***Did you know that we post a new photo of the Helford River every day! See the website***

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    Count me in. Just remind us all nearer the time
    Cheers
    Paul

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    Interesting blog, I like tidal paddles.

    I would be interested in a meet on the Helford river, but would prefer to miss the bank holiday as it is too busy and makes it hard to book accomodation.
    You don't stop playing because you are old, you get old because you stop playing.

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    Nice blog, Matto.

    Did the suggested meet up in August 2010 happen in the end? The Helford River Expedition website no longer seems to exist. Howard, are you still on SoTP? I am holidaying down in that direction this coming week and intending to do some canoeing and canoe sailing, as mentioned here: http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/for...579#post344579

    All the best,
    Ian

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    Default I Just Saw the Sea Bass!....Whoah!

    My frying pan's now packed and I'm on my way!
    Keep yer paddles wet, and powder dry....

    MB

    ´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸ ><(((( ((º>
    `·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸ ><((((º>

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    Great blog.

    I know exactly what you mean about the interest factor in tidal creeks. I spent 2 weeks in Lerryn a couple of years ago and explored the Fowey in a similar way, working with the tides and wind. It's great fun.
    The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bonarmbj View Post
    My frying pan's now packed and I'm on my way!
    I'll be there later today. I'll keep an eye out (a nose?) for the smell of your now-legendary cooking! (No doubt you don't really mean you're literally on the way but I can dream of bumping into the author of SoTP's renowned cooking canoe blogs, can't I.)

    Best,
    Ian

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    I take it you have'nt heard ? We've shut the Tamar Bridge to all vehicles with canoes on !!!

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    I snuck through. My folding canoe was disguised as luggage on the roof rack.

    Ian

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