Helston (Cornish: Hellys) is a small market town in the south west of Cornwall which is famous for its Flora Day celebrations and Furry Dance (on or around the 8th May each year). It is the most southerly town in mainland United Kingdom, and it acts as a gateway to the Lizard Peninsula. There is easy access from here to the picturesque fishing village of Porthleven and the unspoilt beaches or coves of Gunwalloe, Poldhu, Mullion, Kynance and the Lizard Point. Helston is adjacent to the beautiful grounds of the Penrose National Trust Estate. The Estate contains Cornwall’s largest natural freshwater lake, Loe Pool, which is cut off from the sea by a large natural sand bar called Loe Bar (accessible from Helston by a moderate walk through the Penrose Estate).
Unless you are in the area on Flora Day, when the town is packed with locals and visitors, the main reason to visit Helston is as a starting-off point for exploration of the eastern coast of the Lizard Peninsula. The walk to Loe Bar through Penrose parkland and along its woodland, lake-side tracks, is scenic at any time of year, and from there the South West Coast Path to Gunwalloe, Mullion, and further south is exhilarating, with spectacular cliff-top vistas.
Helston was granted its Charter in 1201, and some believe it to have been a port before the silting up of the River Cober which runs through the Cober Valley at the base of the town. In 1725, Daniel Defoe described Helston in these terms: “This town is large and populous, and has four spacious streets, a handsome church, and a good trade: this town also sends members to Parliament.” He also mentions that the River Cober makes a tolerable good harbour and several ships are loaded with tin. However, geologists believe the sand bank at Loe Bar is older than the settlement, and would have prevented using the Cober as a harbour.
Helston no longer has a member of Parliament of its own (it is part of the St Ives constituency), and its former castle (in ruins after 1478) is now the site of the Grylls monument and bowling green at the end of its main street (Coinagehall Street).
There is a nearby Naval Air Base, RNAS Culdrose, which usually hosts an annual Air Day (military airshow) in the summer.
The nearest train station is 1 Redruth station, with trains from London Paddington. From Redruth, take Bus 37 to Helston. Alternatively get the train to 2 Penzance station and take Bus U4 (hourly, two-hourly on Sundays and public holidays) to Falmouth/Helston.
The main 5 Helston bus stops, including for National Express services to/from Plymouth (twice daily), are in Coinagehall Street.
Everything in town is reachable on foot, though there are lots of inclines and steps down to the Coronation Park boating lake (from the back of the Grylls monument). The Penrose Estate can be reached across the road at the far end of the boating lake, walking along the river. If you have a car, you can shorten the walking distance and visit the Penrose estate by driving to the hill-top Penrose Car Park on the road to the nearby pretty fishing village of Porthleven.
- 1 St Michael’s Church, TR13 8GT (north end of Church Street). Churchyard contains the grave of Henry Trengrouse and some pirates’ graves.
- 2 Grylls Monument, TR13 8EU (bottom of Coinagehall Street). Site of former Henliston Castle.
- 3 Coronation Park Boating Lake (take steps down from far side of Grylls Monument). Boats and cycles can be hired in summer; has a Lakeside Café.
- 4 Penrose Estate (car park at top of second hill on Porthleven Road; entrance from Helston at far end of Boating Lake over the road). Open dawn to dusk daily. Managed by the National Trust. No swimming or boating is allowed in the lake. Free entry to grounds and Loe Pool lake. There is a café in the grounds, 5 The Stables (open Sa Su 10AM-4PM in winter, daily in summer), and an interesting walled garden adjacent to the café.
- 6 Loe Pool (in the Penrose Estate). Open dawn to dusk daily. The largest natural fresh water lake in Cornwall, one of several lakes claimed to be the abode of the Lady of the Lake from the King Arthur legends. No swimming or boating is allowed in the lake. Free.
- 7 Loe Bar (follow signs in the Penrose Estate, or walk from Porthleven). A natural sand bar (composed of shingle) that blocks the mouth of the River Cober. Geologists believe it has its origins in the last ice age.
- 8 Gunwalloe Cove with its medieval church and seasonal lifeguarded beach (Church Cove).
- 9 Poldhu Cove (good for swimming and surfing on its lifeguarded sheltered beach), and 10 Mullion Cove, a small fishing cove.
- 11 Kynance Cove (take Bus 37 to The Lizard and get off at Lizard Green, 1 mile from Kynance). Turquoise sea, beautiful sandy beaches and caves when the tide is out.
- Poldark Tin Mine (see below)
- The Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek (see below)
- 12 Godolphin Estate. Historic house with medieval garden.
- 13 Trelowarren Estate. Historic Cornish Manor House and 1,000-acre grounds.
- The Helford River and Estuary.
Visit the 1 Helston (Folk) Museum (entrance near the cannon at the top of Church Street.). Open M-Sa 10AM-4PM, closed Flora Day - generally May 8. The cannon was retrieved from a shipwreck at Loe Bar.
Afterwards, continue on down Church Street then up to St Michael’s Church (see above) and visit the grave of Henry Trengrouse, inventor of the “Rocket” life-saving apparatus.
Return to Coinagehall Street and stop off for a pint of “Spingo” (local brew) at the Blue Anchor Inn (see below), and then down to the Grylls Monument. From the far end of the Monument, take the 2 steps down to the Old Cattle Market (over the main road at the bottom) and then on to the Boating Lake, where you can hire a rowing boat or paddle boat. Relax in the Lakeside Café.
- 4 Poldark Tin Mine, Wendron (take bus 37 or 82 from Helston and get off at Trenear). Usually open Tu Th Sa 11AM-1:30PM, but check times. It is the only complete tin mine in Cornwall that is open for underground tours.
- 5 Flambards Theme Park. A large commercial theme park with traditional rides, attractions and exhibitions.
- 6 Helston Railway, Trevarno Farm, Prospidnick, Helston TR13 0RY (Bus 45 to Camborne, alight at Crowntown and walk 30 min to Trevarno Farm). Mar-Oct: Th Su and Bank Holiday Mondays 10AM-3:30PM. Take a ride on the newly restored section of this historic branch line. The Helston branch line (of the main Paddington to Penzance line) closed to passengers in 1962, but parts have been restored as a tourist ride. An impressive six-arch viaduct still exists, though not currently in use.
- The South West Coast Path is perfect for exploring on foot, either starting in Porthleven or by walking to Loe Bar through Penrose, crossing the bar and continuing on to Gunwalloe Cove and beyond. Alternatively, given the sparsity of public transport, it may be better to take Bus 37 to the Lizard and walk up the coast back to Porthleven (13.4 mi (21.6 km)).
- 7 Cornish Seal Sanctuary (in nearby Gweek, take Bus 35 to Falmouth). Open daily 11AM-4PM. A Sealife Centre which focuses on rescuing, nurturing and releasing stranded seal pups. There are seal pools and exhibitions. Feeding time is popular.
There are seasonally lifeguarded beaches at:
- 8 Praa Sands (also known as Hendra) (take Bus U4 to Penzance).
- Poldhu Cove
- 9 Polurrian Cove (parking in Mullion Village).
There are non-lifeguarded beaches at:
- 10 Prussia Cove (take Bus U4 to Penzance, alight at Rosudgeon, walk 30mins).
- 11 Rinsey (take Bus U4 to Penzance, alight at Ashton, walk 20mins). Some years there is very little sand.
- Loe Bar (warning: swimming not permitted due to dangerous currents).
- Kynance Cove. Beach is covered at high tide.
- Flora Day. Celebrations and Furry Dance on or around 8 May each year, unless the 8th falls on a Sunday or Monday, in which case Flora Day is the Saturday before. The Furry Dance is a celebration of the passing of winter and the arrival of spring. There are several dances during the day and the Hal-an-Tow pageant in the morning. The midday dance is the best known: the men wear top hats and tails while the women dance in their finest frocks.
Traditional Cornish pasties (and vegetarian alternatives) can be bought from a couple of 1 Bakeries in Meneage Street at lunch time.
There are 2 Fish and Chips shops, and several restaurants.
- 1 The Blue Anchor Inn, 50 Coinagehall Street, Helston TR13 8EL, ☎ . A late medieval inn with regular live music and a brewery producing traditional ales, including the extra-strong "Spingo" local brew.
- The fishing village of Porthleven is 3 miles (5 km) from Helston, and a good place to buy souvenirs and savour fresh seafood. It has a working fishing harbour, restaurants and souvenir shops, and a lifeguarded beach in summer. Porthleven can be visited on foot from Helston by walking through Penrose (an hour’s scenic walk), or by taking Bus U4 in the direction of Penzance.
- The Lizard, most southerly point in mainland Britain, can be reached with Bus 37 from Helston.