Frenchman's Creek

Helford, Cornwall

Overview

Surrounded by rich woodland and tucked down the head of the Frenchman's Creek on the Helford River, this has to be the most romantic and secluded cottage in Cornwall. Named after the nearby creek, the enchanting nature of the area has inspired some well known literary works. 

  • Dogs AllowedDogs Allowed
  • CotCot
  • Fire or StoveFire or Stove
  • Open SpaceOpen Space
  • Parking AvailableParking Available
  • BathBath
  • RemoteRemote

Beds 1 Twin, 1 Double

Sleeps
4
4 nights from
£283 equivalent to £17.69 per person, per night

Inspiring Location

The inception of Frenchman's Creek is ambiguous, built in about 1840 for a farm worker or boatman. Once accompanied by two other cottages, Frenchman's Creek now lies privately nestled in the surrounding woodland. Over the years it has inspired many different authors. During the period between the two World Wars it was rented out as a retreat by Maria Pendragon and Clara Vyvyan who describes it in her work, The Helford River. The strong association between Frenchman's Creek and literary inspiration continued with Daphne Du Maurier's novel of the same name, Frenchman's Creek.

Enchanting Surroundings

Despite its private seclusion, Frenchman's Creek is by no means isolated. Reachable by boat at high tide and by the quarter mile path, in summer you will descend further into the magnificent greenness that surrounds this Landmark. It is the ideal place for those who love proximity to nature and worship the woods and the water. Its woodlands, comprising of old Oak trees, are reflected in the creek. It is close to the most southerly point of the British mainland, The Lizard, and Falmouth is a drive away. The beautiful Glendurgan Gardens and Trebah Gardens are a little further afield but are certainly worth a visit

‘If anything has happened in the outside world, we don’t know and we don’t care.’

‘It rained and steamed romantically and all the trees dripped water and lichens while the cottage glowed in its new yellow paint beside the Moorish palm tree.’

From the logbook

Floor Plan

Map & local info

This is a secluded woodland hideaway tucked in at the head of this famous creek on the Helford River which runs deep into the woods, giving brief glimpses of water between the trees.

To make the most of this spectacular area of Cornwall, you can hire boats along the Helford river. 

Glendurgan Gardens and Trebah Gardens are a 45 minute car journey away but well worth a visit. These gardens are just waiting to be explored and are perfect for children. The Seal sanctuary is also a great attraction for families.

Pendennis Castle, the Royal Cornwall Museum and the National Maritime Museum (Cornwall) are all around 20 miles from Frenchman’s Creek. Entry is free to all three of these places with a National Art Pass, which enables its members to enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic houses throughout the UK as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions.

The pass is presented by one of Landmark's partners, the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art, which has been supporting museums and galleries for over 110 years by helping them to buy and display great works of art for everyone to enjoy. Income raised through the National Art Pass goes straight back into their charitable programme. Find more about it at artfund.org/national-art-pass.

Take a look at our Pinterest map  for more ideas of things to see and do during your stay at Frenchman's Creek.

Please Note: The Landmark Trust does not take any responsibility and makes no warranties, representations or undertakings about the content of any website accessed by hypertext link. Links should not be taken as an endorsement of any kind. The Landmark Trust has no control over the availability of the linked pages.

Frenchman's Creek
Helford, Cornwall
Clear directions
FAQs

    What you need to know about this building

  • Does the property allow dogs?

    Yes
  • How is the property accessed?

    Via a track from the main road.  This track is steep and can be slippery, in which case our Housekeeper will advise you to leave your car at the top of track and walk to the property.
  • What is the nearest railway station and how far away is it?

    Falmouth – 15 miles
  • Is there car parking specifically for Landmark guests?

    There are two parking spaces adjacent to the property.
  • What type of heating does the property have?

    Heating is provided by an air source heat pump system. There is also a stove.
  • How can I get fuel for the open fire or stove?

    Unfortunately, there is no arrangement for the purchase and delivery of logs, however details of local sources will be provided with your order confirmation.
  • What are the kitchen facilities?

    The kitchen is fully equipped with all plates, cutlery, fridge etc.
    There is also an electric cooker.
  • What are the bathroom facilities?

    There is one bathroom with a bath.
  • Does this Landmark have steep, narrow or spiral stairs?

    No.
  • Is there a garden or outside space?

    There is a woodland garden (not enclosed).

    Booking and Payment

  • What happens if I can’t get to the Landmark due to bad weather?

    If the weather is bad, please contact our booking office who will be able to tell you whether the Landmark is accessible. If the housekeeper can safely get to the building to prepare it then we consider that it is open and available for guests. However if we cannot undertake a changeover then we will do our utmost to transfer your stay to another Landmark, depending on what we have available. It may not be of a similar size or in the same part of the country as your original booking. If the building is accessible but the customer cannot travel due to poor weather in his/her local area then please be aware that Landmark will not provide a refund. However the customer may be able to claim on his/her own travel insurance. We recommend that all guests take out travel insurance when they first secure a booking.
  • How can I pay?

    We accept Maestro (if issued in the UK), Visa, MasterCard, direct transfer and sterling cheques drawn on a UK bank. Cheques should be made payable to the Landmark Trust except for Lundy stays and boat/helicopter tickets which should be payable to The Lundy Company Ltd. All payments must be in sterling.
  • How do I create an account?

    If you have not used the Landmark online booking facility before and you wish to register in advance, you can set up an on-line account by following the instructions below:

    Go to the Landmark home page and click on Gift shop (located at the top of the home page in red).

    Select a gift (e.g. Landmark Handbook or Anniversary Mug) and complete the ‘Amount required’ box. There is no need to complete the purchase but this step is necessary in order to bring up the registration page.

    Click ‘Next Step’ at the bottom of the page.

    This will bring you to the ‘Your details’ page.

    Please complete all the fields (name, address, contact details and create an account). Click on the green ‘Create Account’ button once you have finished.

    At the top of the page headed ‘Your details’ there will be a grey box saying ‘Signed in’ and underneath this it will say ‘you are currently signed in as ….

    Here you will also have the option to ‘Sign out’. Please do so and that is your registration completed.

    Please return to the Landmark home page.

    To check your registration or update your account details at any time please ‘Sign in’ using the icon in the top right-hand corner of the home page.

    If you experience any problems in registering or setting up your on-line account please contact webmaster@landmarktrust.org.uk.
  • How do I pick up the key?

    There are various arrangements for picking up keys. To arrange to get into the Landmark, please contact the housekeeper at least two days before your stay
  • Can I pay a deposit?

    If your stay starts more than three months from the date you make the booking, you are required to pay a deposit of one third of the cost of your stay (or £100 per booking, if greater) at the time of booking. Camping on Lundy must be paid for in full at the time of booking.
  • How can I cancel or change my booking?

    If you wish to cancel or change your booking, please contact our Booking Office on 01628 825925
  • Do you accept payment in other currencies?

    At the moment we only accept payment in sterling.
  • What if I arrive late?

    Please let the housekeeper know if you are going to arrive late and s/he will leave a key for you in a suitable place.
  • How far in advance do I need to book?

    It depends. Some of our most popular Landmarks are booked up a long time in advance, but many can be booked at short notice. We will always have Landmarks free for the coming weekend so it’s always worth checking our availability list.
  • Do you have to be a member to book a Landmark?

    No, Landmarks are available to be booked for anyone.
  • Do I need a Handbook to be able to book?

    No, all the information you need can be found on our website, although we’d like you to buy one anyway as it will be a pleasure to own!

    Staying at a Landmark

  • Are Landmarks accessible for people with disabilities or limited mobility?

    Some of our Landmarks are suitable for people with disabilities or limited mobility. However, many Landmarks have steep or narrow staircases, uneven floors and thresholds, changes of level, low ceilings or beams, as well as indistinct colours on steps and in corridors. We recommend that you call Booking Enquiries on 01628 825925 if you would like to find out the suitability of a particular Landmark for anyone with a specific disability.
  • Are Landmarks only available as self-catering accommodation?

    Yes, Landmarks are only available as self-catering accommodation. We do not offer bed and breakfast.
  • Do you provide catering?

    Landmark does not provide catering, but we can recommend Greycoat Lumleys who can arrange for expert and well-trained staff to cater for one evening or for your entire holiday. Their cooks and chefs are able to work with you to meet your specific requirements
  • Do you allow dogs?

    You may bring up to two dogs to properties where dogs are allowed (please see specific property details for exemptions however dogs are not permitted on Lundy except assistance dogs). They must be kept off the furniture and under proper control.
  • Can I bring a pet?

    Apart from two dogs (see above) no other pets are permitted.
  • Am I insured if I break something?

    We do not carry insurance for breakages. However we appreciate that accidents do sometimes happen. If you have a breakage during your stay, please let the housekeeper know and if appropriate we reserve the right to invoice you accordingly.
  • Are Landmarks suitable for children?

    Yes, most of our Landmarks are perfect for children, with gardens to play in and secret places to discover. Our furniture is surprisingly robust and we positively encourage families to stay. However, some of our buildings may not be suitable for small children; for example, some of them have steep or uneven spiral staircases. We recommend that you call the Booking Enquiries team if you would like to find out the suitability of any of our Landmarks for young children.
  • Can I get married in a Landmark?

    Unfortunately, most of our Landmarks are not licensed for weddings. However, you may get married on Lundy.
  • Can I hold a big party in a Landmark?

    All our larger Landmarks are perfect for gatherings of family or friends. You may invite an additional two guests to visit you during your stay, however they must not stay overnight. This is very important because our fire regulations specifically note the maximum number of people in any one building. In addition our properties are prepared, furnished and equipped for the number of people specified and greater numbers cause damage and excessive wear and tear to vulnerable buildings. Should this condition be ignored we shall make a retrospective charge per person per day (whether or not they stay overnight) for each guest over the permitted limit, the charge being pro-rated on the total cost of your booking.
  • Are there televisions in the buildings?

    We deliberately do not provide televisions and find that most people appreciate this.
  • Why are your access tracks sometimes difficult?

    One of the challenges of restoring unloved buildings is gaining access to them. We frequently have to negotiate rights with our neighbours and share tracks with them. In many cases tracks do not belong to us and we have no right to maintain them. Wherever possible we work with our neighbours to provide you with a good quality surface, but where this is a problem then you will be warned at the time of booking.
  • Will there be sockets for my electrical appliances?

    Yes, we have standard electricity sockets for UK appliances. If you are coming from outside the UK, you will need to bring your own adaptor plug(s). If you are visiting one of our European properties we have standard European electricity sockets. If you are visting from the UK, you will need to bring your own adapter plug (s).

    Facilities

  • Are the kitchens and bathrooms restored to a modern standard?

    Sometimes our kitchens and bathrooms have to be imaginatively fitted into the available space in buildings where before there were none, but they are all planned and equipped to a high and modern standard.
  • Is linen provided?

    Yes, Landmarks are fully equipped with sheets and towels. All the beds are fully made up for your arrival.
  • Are the kitchens fully equipped?

    Yes, our kitchens are well equipped with cookers and fridges. There are freezers and dishwashers (in larger buildings) and, where space allows, microwaves as well as a wide and standard range of utensils. A full equipment list is available at time of booking.
  • Do you provide logs for the open fire/stove?

    Logs are provided at many of our Landmarks for an additional cost.
  • Will there be a mobile signal in the Landmark I book?

    Mobile coverage varies. Some Landmarks have an excellent signal, but others have none at all. If you are concerned, you can check with the housekeeper before your arrival.
  • Is there Wi-Fi in your buildings?

    No. At the moment, we have decided not to implement Wi-Fi in our buildings following a consultation with our customers. Many said that they would find it useful, but many also felt that it would somehow damage the experience of staying in a Landmark. As the responses were so split, and as we have so many other initiatives requiring funding, we have decided to put this on hold for the time being.
  • What should I bring with me? Are there toilet rolls, soap, shampoo, milk, teabags, coffee, hairdryer?

    A welcome tray with tea and sugar awaits your arrival and you will find a pint of milk in the fridge. We also provide toilet rolls and a bar of soap per basin, but no other toiletries. We do not provide hairdryers.
History

Frenchman's Pill

Frenchman's Creek Cottage was probably built in the very early 19th century. It once formed part of a tiny settlement at the head of the creek, known as Frenchman's Pill - Pill being the local word for a creek. Two cottages, one on either side of the stream, are shown on the first edition of the 1" Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1805. They appear much more clearly on the Tithe Apportionment Map of 1840 because it is to a much larger scale. In this 1840 map our cottage is shown as consisting of a house and garden and belongs to Kestle Wartha, the farm at the top of the hill.

No occupier is listed, which indicates that it was in the direct tenancy of the farm, perhaps housing a farm servant as part of his wages.

The cottage on the other side of the stream, on the other hand, while belonging to Withan Farm, is listed as a House and Orchard in the occupancy of John Thomas and his family, presumably under a separate tenancy. It was common in Cornwall for labourers or miners to be granted a lease, based on the longest of three named lives, of a piece of land on which they would then build their own tiny house, generally of cob and thatch. John Thomas's cottage may have been of this kind and it could be for this reason that it has vanished, while the more substantial one across the stream has survived.

The quality and solid character of this cottage is surprising if it was indeed the cottage of a farm labourer. Even in the 1860s agricultural writers were commenting on the poor housing of Cornish farm workers and accusing farmers of spending more on their farm buildings than on the houses of the families who worked for them. A cottage of this type, with its separate parlour and kitchen and its two bedrooms, is more the kind of house that was built, according to the writer A.K. Hamilton Jenkin in Cornish Homes and Customs (1934), by someone just above the rank of labourer, but below that of yeoman farmer. 'To this order belonged the mine "captain", the skipper of the little coasting vessel, or the foreman of one of the many small works and foundries which at that time (mid 19th century) flourished in the western part of the country.'

It would be easy to imagine such a person living at the head of Frenchman's Creek, perhaps owning his own small boat and bringing his catch to the fish cellars at its mouth - shown on the Tithe Map as belonging to James Tremayne. Unfortunately the ten-yearly census returns, which are available for 1841 - 1881, contradict this impression. In these our cottage does not appear at all. Under the parish of Manaccan, in which Kestle Wartha occurs, the household at the farm itself is listed and so are three households at Tregithew (including the Mill) just to the south of the creek. But nothing at Frenchman's Pill. Turning instead to the parish of St Martin, on the west side of the creek, you certainly find Frenchman's Pill as a separate entry, after Trevidor and Withan Farms. But the only householder listed in 1841 is John Thomas, who on the evidence of the Tithe Map lived in the cottage on the other side of the stream. In the next three returns, there is still only one household listed at Frenchman's Pill and always under St Martin, so this must always be the other cottage.

The first edition of the 25" Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1878, also puts Frenchman's Pill on the west bank, although both cottages are clearly marked. By this time another cottage further down the creek, shown in 1840, has disappeared, but there is still a landing place, known as Withan Quay.

It is unusual for any household to be missed by the census, but this does sometimes seem to happen when the house is that of a servant - there is a house on Trevidor Farm on the Tithe Map that does not feature in the Census for example. The farmers at Kestle Wartha are always listed as employing at least one labourer in addition to domestic servants and it must have been they who lived in the cottage on the creek. Unless of course it was lived in by a succession of mariners who, for reasons best known to themselves, chose to be absent with their families, when the returning officer called.

For the first half of the century Frenchman's Creek Cottage still belonged to Kestle Wartha and for most of that time was let as a labourer's cottage. The Edwardian lady who was sometimes seen there must have been one of their wives. Then, for two or three years before the Second World War, it was let to more exotic tenants. In her evocative and somewhat mannered book, The Helford River (1956) C.C. Vyvyan describes how she and her friend, Maria Pendragon, rented the whitewashed cottage at the head of the creek 'for picnics, day pleasures and lending to our friends.' They called it Cuckoo Cottage and furnished it with old stools and chintz and upholstered hip-baths. Her description of their expeditions there and of the refreshment it gave to its visitors, before they were all engulfed by war, should be read in full but one passage sums up the quality that it had for them:

'Sometimes Maria and I would meet there in the winter, she arriving by boat and I on foot, and we would sit over the fire talking at leisure about this world and many others. Or I would go down there alone, kindle a fire, settle myself in a hip-bath with a book or two beside me and enjoy complete solitude. Often, instead of reading, I would sit gazing out of the window at that wall of trees rising to the sky and feeling the quiet of that place as if it were soft music.'

After the War the cottage is said to have been let to a teacher, who kept a pig in the traditional fashion. Then in 1955 the cottage was sold to Mr and Mrs Hooper, who moved their belongings there by a combination of a coal lorry and an oyster boat. Their daughter, Susan, grew up on the creek and in 1983 the cottage was given to her. The National Trust by then owned much of the east bank and when it transpired that its owner was able to use it less and less frequently, so that it grew more and more derelict and vandalised, they suggested to the Landmark a joint scheme for its acquisition and use.

Accordingly it was acquired by the National Trust in 1987 and leased to Landmark shortly afterwards.

Restoration

The chimney was missing

The first discovery made when we started to examine the cottage was that it was much less solid than it appeared to be. The stone, front wall was sound and just needed some repointing, but the back and gable walls were very shaky indeed. The north gable, which is also built of stone, was bulging badly and had to be partly taken down and rebuilt, chimney-breast and all. The chimney itself was missing and instead, a metal flue had been fixed to the exterior of the wall. The new brick chimney had to be especially tall, to persuade the fire to draw in the sheltered valley bottom.

Two windows were inserted in this wall at the same time to give a view down the creek and this was the only alteration made to the appearance of the cottage.

The problem with the south gable, on the other hand, was that a large part of it is cob, or rammed earth, including the flue from the fireplace in the (present) kitchen. Much of this was crumbling away due to lack of maintenance and had to be carefully repaired using a vernacular mixture of lime plaster and masonry, or slate stitches. The flue was actually formed within the cob itself, the builders simply leaving a vent as they constructed the wall. This has now been reinforced, to stabilise the wall, with a new brick chimney on its top, a pair to that on the north gable.

Even worse problems were encountered with the back wall. Here there was the same mixture of rubble masonry and cob, also in need of repair. But it then turned out, when digging away the ground at the back to create a dry area, that the lower part of the wall did not exist at all; the house was simply built against and on top of the shale bedrock. In addition to this the whole house was moving gently down the hill, leaving the back wall behind it. To remedy this ties were inserted to secure the back wall to the gables and the corners rebuilt to stitch the whole building firmly together. When the trench was excavated the shale forming the lower part of the back wall was simply left freestanding but extensively reinforced. The trench itself was stabilised by building a retaining wall on its uphill side.

There was already a wing at the back, containing a bathroom, but it was built of a very wobbly single skin of breezeblocks and was planted directly on the bank behind, part of which was now dug away. The wing was entirely rebuilt, elegantly bridging the trench, with an outer stone skin as well as an inner blockwork one.

The roof had been renewed by the last owners using concrete tiles. These were not only unattractive but their weight was causing the roof to spread, pushing out the walls. To prevent this getting any worse, a ring beam was inserted running right round the building at eaves level. Then, when the roof structure had been repaired, new Delabole slates from North Cornwall were laid in diminishing courses, secured with lime mortar in the local manner known as 'scantle' roofing along with new clay ridge tiles. At the same time the gutters and downpipes were removed. In such a wooded place these would always be getting blocked and it is preferable just to let water drain away over the whole area of the roof.

The front door and the windows at the front of the cottage were all repaired and the new windows made to the same design. Inside all the joinery was repaired rather than renewed; partitions, stairs, and upper floor. Downstairs, there had formerly been a slate floor but this had been replaced with cement so a new floor of Trebarwith slate was laid throughout.

When rebuilding the north gable wall, the fireplace in what is now the sitting room (but which was once the kitchen) was also rebuilt reusing the oak lintel and granite quoins but with a slightly smaller opening, to leave room for the new window beside it. The back wall of the fireplace had vertical crazy paving applied to it, which it was not thought necessary to replace.

A more fundamental alteration than the insertion of a new window is perhaps the reversal of the traditional room plan, with its small, seldom-used parlour and its large, much lived-in kitchen. We wanted the larger room to remain the one in which our visitors would spend more time and judged that here this was more likely to be true of a sitting room than a kitchen.

A major part of the work at Frenchman's Creek consisted in the now invisible introduction of services. The existing water supply came from the stream, a makeshift arrangement that was no longer safe nor reliable. Mains water had therefore to be laid on and brought from the top of the hill. Electricity also had to come from the top of the hill, with cables laid underground and out of sight. Finally, for anybody to reach the cottage at all by car, the rough access track had to be improved but not excessively. The two wheel tracks of cement, mixed with coarse granite chippings to darken its colour, seemed the most acceptable solution.

Immediately round the cottage as little as possible was done to upset its extraordinary setting. A portable cabin, erected by the last owners, was taken down and a small amount of clearing and grass-planting was carried out to keep the undergrowth a little further away. A concrete path round the front and sides of the house was removed and granite paving laid instead, with french drains beneath. Finally the whole house was lime-washed so that it once again gleams through the trees, just as it did when Clara Vyvyan first saw it in the 1920s.

Availability & booking

Select a changeover day to start your booking...

What's a changeover day? and Why can't I select other dates?Explain MoreQuestion

A changeover day is a particular day of the week when holidays start and end at our properties. These tend to be on a Friday or a Monday but can sometimes vary. All stays run from one changeover day until another changeover day.