Hell's Mouth to Godrevy

The route follows the high cliffs from Hell's Mouth to Navax Head, passing some north-facing coves with very steep paths. The route crosses the heathland reserve of The Knavocks before reaching Mutton Cove. The path continues around Godrevy Head with excellent views of the lighthouse. The path passes some small coves before turning inland up the Red River Valley, following a small lane to the Gwealavellan cross and returns to Hell's Mouth along footpaths through the wooded valley below Carlean.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102,104 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.0 miles/8.1 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: the lay-by at Hell's Mouth
  • Parking: Hell's Mouth lay-by. Follow the B3301 to Hell's Mouth café. The roadside parking is just next to it, up hill towards Godrevy. Satnav: TR275EG
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Seal colony at Mutton Cove
  • Rugged coastline and iconic lighthouse
  • Sandy beach at Godrevy
  • Wildlife in the Red River valley

Directions

  1. Cross the road to the waymark on the coast overlooking Hell's Mouth. Turn left onto the coast path and follow it until it ends at a waymark where it joins another path.

    The cliffs above Hell's Mouth are one of the highest points in the area at just under 300 feet. The cove, cliffs and two isolated stacks out to sea are breeding grounds for guillemots and razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes. The caves were once used by smugglers.

    There is a blowhole in the caves on the east side of the beach which makes a boom as compressed air escapes, towards high tide. There is also a good view of the blowhole towards the end of Navax Head which, when the tide is high and there is a sufficient swell, produces a large horizontal jet of spray.

  2. At the waymark, turn right and follow the path between the granite gateposts until it ends at two metal gates.

    Fishing Cove is a north-facing sandy beach on Navax Head, separated by a thin, rocky promontory from Castle Giver Cove. To avoid any surprises when spotting seals with binoculars, it’s worth noting that Fishing Cove is a naturist beach. There is a steep path down to the beach which is reported as challenging. The name "Castle Giver" is from the Cornish words Castel Gaver ("castle of the goats"), perhaps referring to the precipitous nature of the cliff paths here.

  3. Cross the stile between the two gates and follow the right hedge to reach a stile.

    Grey Seals are one of the rarest seal species in the world and the biggest land breeding mammal in the UK. Roughly half of the world population of grey seals is found in Britain, a large proportion of which are found in Cornwall. They are big animals with the larger males often over 10ft long; the females are somewhat smaller at around 6ft and usually lighter colours than the males. The latin name for the grey seal translates to the somewhat unflattering "hooked-nosed sea pig" and the alternative common name of horsehead seal isn't much better.

  4. Cross the stile and follow the path a short distance to a wooden stile onto The Knavocks.

    The heathland on Navax Point is known as The Knavocks, which is thought to be from the Cornish word for Autumn dwelling Kynyavos. It is some of the best heathland in Cornwall for wildlife, providing a habitat for a range of butterflies and birds. The heath is maintained by the National Trust who graze it with ponies and the gorse is also cut back regularly to stop it overwhelming the other vegetation.

  5. Cross the stile and keep right along the coast path. Follow this to a junction of paths where the path on your left leads to a trig point.

    Gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent and rather than fresh coconut, it is reminiscent of desiccated coconut or the popular brand of surf wax, Mr Zoggs. However, not everyone experiences the smell in the same way: for some people it's very strong and for others it quite weak. Flower scents are volatile organic compounds which drift though the air and has evolved as an advertisement to pollinating insects that nectar is available. Squeezing the flowers releases these compounds onto the surface where they can evaporate and therefore intensifies the smell. Similarly the warming effect of sunlight helps the compounds to evaporate faster and so the smell is more intense on sunny days. Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads and to make a tea, beer or wine.

  6. At the junction, keep ahead to stay on the main path. Follow the path around the headland and across a grassy cliff to meet a fence and reach a gate in the corner of the hedges.

    Gorse flower wine can be made using 5 litres of gorse flowers stripped from the stems and simmering these in 5 litres of boiling water. Once the flowers are removed, 1.3kg of sugar should be dissolved in the hot water and allowed to cool to room temperature. Then add 500g of chopped raisins and juice and zest of 2 lemons and ferment with white wine yeast and yeast nutrient. Although flowers are present year-round, they are best picked in Spring (April and May) when they are most profuse and fragrant.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the coast path until you reach a wooden railing where the coast path has been diverted around the collapsing cliffs at Kynance Cove.

    Kynance Cove on Godrevy Head is a small, inaccessible, rocky beach which is north facing so barely gets any sunshine, and thus much disappointment would arise from packing a bucket and spade, expecting to visit the picture-postcard sandy cove by the same name. The name in this case is thought to come from Porth Kynyavos, meaning "cove of the autumn dwelling" whereas the somewhat more famous south-facing beach on the Lizard is thought to be from keynans meaning "ravine".

  8. Bear left through the gap in the wall, then turn right to keep the wall on your right and follow it until you reach another opening.

    In Nov 1854 the steamship "Nile" was on its way from Liverpool to Penzance. On the approach to Cornwall, a storm blew up. As the vessel began to turn along the coastline of Penwith in preparation to round Land's End, it hit the outer edge of the Stones Reef. The ship floated free from the reef but was holed and sank in deep water. One lifeboat was launched but there were no survivors either amongst the crew or passengers. The empty lifeboat was found on the shore.

  9. Go through the opening to the coast and continue along the coast path until you reach the wooden railings with warnings not to disturb the seals at Mutton Cove.

    There is a large grey seal colony in Mutton Cove and from the cliff top, the seals can be seen swimming in the sea or on the beach during breeding season. Up to 80 seals have been observed on the beach at one time. Although there is a path down to the beach, it is strongly recommended that you do not descend to the beach as this will drive away the seals; even the presence of noisy onlookers on the coast path has been found to disturb them.

  10. Follow the main path ahead which bends left around the headland and as the path descends towards the beach, stay on the main path to reach a stile crossing over a wall.

    The Stones Reef off Godrevy Point has always been a shipping hazard and a lighthouse had been considered for a long time, but nothing was done until in 1854, the SS Nile was wrecked with the loss of all on board. The lighthouse was finished in 1859 and is a 26m tall octagonal tower, located on the largest rock of the reef. The lighthouse inspired Virginia Woolfe's novel "To the Lighthouse", despite her setting the novel in the Hebrides. In 2012, the light was decommissioned and replaced with an LED light on a platform facing the sea. The tower is still maintained as a daytime navigation aid.

  11. Cross the stile and follow the second path from the right (i.e. straight ahead) to reach the mound.

    On 30th January 1649, the Prince of Wales did not have a good day! His father (Charles I) was decapitated and on the same day a ship named The Garland carrying many of his possessions, including his entire wardrobe and that of his mother, was wrecked on the Stones Reef. There were only three survivors from the wreck - a man, a boy, and a dog. A few of the garments washed ashore, but the majority of the cargo was lost and divers still search the reef in the hope of finding treasure.

  12. At the mound, bear right onto the surfaced path and follow it a short distance to reach a waymark.

    Dunes (called towans in Cornish) form when dry sand from the beach is blown by the wind, and initially lodges against an obstruction, eventually forming a ridge. More sand can then accumulate against the ridge and vegetation such as marram grass can then take hold, preventing the resulting sand hill from washing or blowing away. Erosion of the vegetation by foot traffic can cause the dunes to disintegrate, so areas are sometimes fenced off to allow the all-important weeds to recover. Most of the major dunes on the North Cornish coastline are thought to have formed more than 5,000 years ago when sea levels finally stopped rising after the glacial ice from the last Ice Age had finished melting.

  13. At the waymark, turn left and follow the path along the low wall to reach a lane.

    Much of the Towans dune system is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest), noted for both its geological and biological interest, and includes a nature reserve owned by Cornwall Wildlife Trust. The dunes and grassland provide a habitat for plants including the pyramidal orchid, a rich butterfly population which includes the silver-studded blue butterfly, skylarks, adders and even glow worms. On the cliffs, there is a small pond which is home to newts and toads.

  14. Join the lane and walk a short distance until a path leads off to the right.

    The National Explosives Works was established in 1888, within the dunes of Upton Towans, to supply explosives to the local mines and the area became known as Dynamite Towans. The plant was used throughout the world wars to manufacture high explosives, finally closing in the 1960s.

    A number of small enclosures were made in the dunes to house individual buildings interconnected with single-track railways. The arrangement was so that if one plant accidentally detonated, it would not cause a chain reaction, setting off the neighbouring buildings. This design paid off because one of the nitroglycerine plants did indeed explode which was reported to be audible as far as Dartmoor. An account from The Day newspaper on 5th January 1904 states:

    Four men were killed and several injured by an explosion today in the nitroglycerine department of the National Explosives Works...The whole district was enveloped in a cloud of black smoke and nearly every window in St Ives, three miles from the scene of the explosion, was shattered by its terrific force. Many windows were also smashed at Penzance.

    One of the windows in St Ives that was damaged by the explosion was the east window of St Ia Church.

  15. Bear right off the lane and follow the path parallel to it. Continue for some distance until you reach a black waymark just before the lifeguard hut.
  16. Bear right slightly to avoid the reeds, then left to continue following the path parallel to the road. Continue on it as far as you can go, until it ends at the Godrevy Beach Café car park.

    Godrevy is a Cornish word meaning "small farms" or "hamlets". The headland is thought to be more resistant to erosion than the surrounding rocks due to bands of sandstone and slate which are harder than the surrounding mudstones. Sightings of dolphins and porpoises are fairly frequent from the point and basking sharks and oceanic sunfish are also sometimes reported.

  17. Cross the car park to a path immediately on the left of the café.

    Despite its name, the glow worm is not a worm. In fact it's a beetle that looks a bit like an elongated woodlouse. During the day you're unlikely to notice one, but at night the last few segments of the female's abdomen glow like an incredibly bright yellow LED. The female (who can't fly) uses her light to attract males (who can fly). Once she has mated, the proverbial and literal light goes out on her relationship.

  18. Keep the café on your right to reach a path running parallel to the road. Follow the path alongside the road until you eventually reach a junction at a bridge.

    Mineral works have been carried out in the Red River catchment area for many centuries and the river water was used for separation processes and as a source of power to drive mills. Relics from this still exist in the form of modifications along the river's course including embankments, diversions and canal-like channels. Even with the advent of steam power during Victorian times, this was still one of the most industrialised areas of Cornwall. Until the late 20th century, the river water was coloured a distinctive red, stained by iron ore washing out of the slime pits and dressing floors into the tributary streams. Towards the end of the 19th Century it was estimated that £30,000 of tin was being lost from the mines into the river each year and ″squatters″ could earn a living by recovering this from the slimy river-bed.

  19. At the bridge, turn left onto the larger road and follow this carefully uphill until you pass a cottage called Sandcot on the left and reach a junction on the right.

    During the early 19th Century, a small chapel (also known as an Oratory) was discovered with the relics of St Gwithean (also known as Gocianus or Gothian) which according to some sources was thought to have been built in 490AD. It was recorded in 1925 that the "oratory ... is more perfect than the Oratory at Perran, having been less meddled with, though it is probably not so ancient". The oratory was allowed to be reclaimed by the shifting sands and now lies buried beneath the dunes. In 2000, a piece of stone wall was observed sticking out from the dunes and this was identified as the top of the buried oratory. It is located within a fenced-off area in the field near the bridge over the Red River.

  20. Turn right at the junction and follow the small lane for just over a mile until you pass a large wayside cross on your right and reach a public footpath sign on the left opposite two large barns.

    The mediaeval cross at Gwealavellan was found to be in use as a gatepost and was restored by Camborne Old Cornwall Society. It was one of thirteen marking the route from Gwithian to Camborne Church. The name of the farm - Gwealavellan - is from the Cornish words gwel a melyn meaning "view of the mill".

  21. Turn left through the metal gate and follow the right hedge to reach a gateway in the far hedge.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you can't avoid it: if cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  22. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to reach a small wooden gate in the corner of the field.
  23. Go through the gate and cross the two streams via stepping stones. Use the boards to cross the marshes and follow the path up the other side to reach a waymark on a track.
  24. At the waymark, turn right and follow the track until you reach another waymark.
  25. At the waymark, turn left and follow the path along the side of Hell's Mouth Café to complete the circular route.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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