A rare catch on the riverside in Cornwall
this part of the West Country, 300 miles from London. It currently has eight bedrooms and a string of reception rooms, bathrooms and boat stores, but can be configured in different ways. The layout means one part can be used as a self-contained three-bedroom holiday let or as a guest wing, or even reintegrated into the main property to create a huge 4,000 sq ft family home.
Seventy years ago, things were different. This was a three-storey stone barn with a slate roof, an old limekiln and an adjoining store, until all three were turned into a home in the late Forties by the neighbouring Trelowarren Estate, which sold it on in 1951.
The property is light and spacious, but its finest points are outside. There is a substantial quay, with water frontage along much of the six acres of grounds, and views across the creek and the river towards rolling farmland hills as far as you can see. In short, it’s bliss.
There’s a hint of literary heritage as Frenchman’s Creek, the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s historical novel, is just along the Helford River. Yet Bishops Quay is more reminiscent of Swallows and Amazons: from one of the terraces it’s easy to imagine families playing in a timeless idyll. “It was rather like that. Our entertainment many days was children on the mudbanks, us spotting kingfishers and herons, then sailing up to the pub,” recalls Kate Kirby, who is selling up.
Since she moved in around 1970, the view has hardly changed at all – most of the surrounding area is protected – while the Helford has retained its legendary status as one of the country’s prettiest sailing havens.
She’s looked after the holiday let single-handedly for those decades, while her late husband, Ben, was fishing with a vengeance. In 1968 he bought a small trawler and went to sea, landing fish at the house before taking it to Newlyn, Cornwall’s main fishing port.
“At first I’d take fish to give to local people or to sell door-to-door, but there was too much, so it became a family business,” says Kirby, whose son continues the tradition to this day. There is a cold room and stores on the quay; the large fishing boat isn’t included in the sale but could be negotiated separately. Any buyer of Bishops Quay could take on the fishing busi- ness and the lifestyle that goes with it. But Jonathan Cunliffe, the estate agent selling the property, feels this charming house could now take on a 21stcentury use.
“This really is one of Cornwall’s finest properties,” he says. “People wait years for an opportunity to purchase something with this combination of location and facilities.
“The buyer now may be someone who’s sold a business or is retiring, but I can imagine all this space and the setting being perfect for something like a cookery school. You could catch the fish, cook it, and stay in boutique rooms overlooking the Helford,” he suggests.
Certainly, food is the new religion in Cornwall, with a record 33 entries in the 2019 Good Food Guide and a string of Michelin stars. Perhaps that will be Bishops Quay’s fate, although it is tempting to hope it is snapped up by a family who may follow on the Kirbys’ tradition.
And what about that remarkable story about how this house was acquired by the Kirbys? In the late Sixties, they worked in Helston and were asked by a well-heeled local with several nearby homes where they wanted to live. “On the river would be lovely, but too expensive,” Kirby said at the time. Her dream was to come true, as she was told that if she could pay for the individual’s new five-ring Aga, then a princely £3,500, Bishops Quay could be hers.
Unsurprisingly, they found the money and the deal was done. The 2018 price tag might be very different, but there’s no denying that, over the intervening near-half century, this slice of Cornwall has changed little. Let’s hope it stays the course. Bishops Quay is on the market at £3million through estate agent Jonathan Cunliffe
The view of the Helford river from one of the bedrooms at Bishops Quay, Cornwall Bishops Quay, with its six acres of grounds, is on the market for offers over £3m with Jonathan Cunliffe