Deadman's Cove to Red River Valley

A circular walk along a coast of shipwrecks and smugglers from Deadman's Cove to Hell's Mouth, past the collapse of the North Cliffs that went viral on YouTube, and returning through the nature reserve along the Red River Valley.

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The walk starts on the North Cliffs at Deadman's Cove and follows the coast path to a second cove of the same name before reaching Hell's Mouth. The route turns inland through a river valley and along a farm lane to the Gwealavellan cross. The walk then descends into the Red River valley at Menadarva and follows the bridleway through the nature reserve to Coombe, completing the circular route via a footpath.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102,104
  • Distance: 4.7 miles/7.6 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: North Cliffs car park
  • Parking: North Cliffs car park at Deadman's Cove TR140JG. On the B3301, the car park is the first one on the coast in the direction of Godrevy from the Tehidy Country Park signs
  • Recommended footwear: Waterproof boots (marshy in valley behind Hell's Mouth); wellies in winter (fields can get very muddy)

OS maps for this walk

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  • Rugged coastline along the North Cliffs
  • Red River Valley nature reserve


  1. Facing the sea, take the path from the left side of the parking area. Follow the path past two more small parking areas to pass alongside the road then reach a third, with a North Cliffs National Trust sign.

    There is a footpath down to the beach but it is steep in places and the bottom section has been covered in scree by a cliff fall.

    At the bottom of North Cliffs between Portreath and Godrevy Point are a pair of beaches to which narrow, steep paths run from the clifftop. Due to their north-facing aspect, the beaches are often in the shadow of the cliffs. The one with a sandy shoreline is known as Greenbank Cove and the neighbouring beach where the surf breaks onto rocks is known by the somewhat swashbuckling name of Deadman's Cove.

  2. Follow the path around the parking area to a path leaving from the other side. Follow the path along the coast until you reach Hell's Mouth (where there is a café), then cross the road to the public footpath sign next to the café.

    The car park overlooks a narrow sandy inlet known as Derrick Cove. At low tide, it's possible to walk along the beach to this from Deadman's Cove.

    As you continue along the path, the cove with a reasonably large island is also known as Deadman's Cove. The prevailing wind would drive bodies from ships wrecked on the Stones Reef into the shore here, and this may be the origin of the names.

    The footpath diversion at Hudder Cove (just before you reach Hell's Mouth) is the site of the spectacular cliff collapse that was captured in a video posted on YouTube in 2011. The cliff has further cracks and is liable to collapse again in the near future.

  3. From the public footpath sign, follow the path between the hedge and café to reach a track.

    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.

  4. Turn right and follow the track to a fork beside a metal gate and continue downhill to where it ends in a wooden gate in front of a building.

    In the 1780s, Britain was in financial crisis after losing the American War of Independence. High levels of duty were imposed on luxury goods in order to recoup the national debt and this included the curing salt vital to the pilchard industry which was taxed at around 4000%! Consequently many Cornish fishermen that were previously legally employed by the trade were driven into illegal smuggling. Towards the end of the 18th Century, nearly half a million gallons of brandy and more than a quarter of a million pounds of tea were being smuggled into Cornwall each year. This continued until the 1840s, when Britain adopted a free-trade policy that slashed import duties. Within ten years, large-scale smuggling was just a memory.

  5. Turn left down the waymarked path and follow the boards over the marshes to reach a pedestrian gate.
  6. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge all the way up the field to reach a gateway in the top hedge.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. 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.
  7. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge to reach a gate onto a lane.

    The view to the right is over the Towans to St Ives in the distance.

    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 managed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust. The dunes and grassland provide a habitat for plants including the pyramidal orchid and a rich butterfly population which includes one of the largest UK populations of the silver-studded blue. Other wildlife includes skylarks, adders and even glow worms.

  8. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane to the entrance to Carlean Farm and a couple more paces to a stone stile on the right with 3 wooden poles on top.

    The area of the dunes to the left, just before the holiday park, is Upton Towans - the site of the National Explosives Works.

    The National Explosives Works was established in 1888, within the dunes of Upton Towans, to supply explosives such as dynamite to the local mines and the area became known as Dynamite Towans. By 1890 the plant was producing three tons of dynamite every day and employed 1800 people. The works was also used throughout the First World War to manufacture explosives such as cordite for ammunition. Production stopped in 1919 and the site was then used for storing explosives before 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, the blast would be deflected upwards so it would not cause a chain reaction, setting off the neighbouring buildings.

  9. Cross the stile and follow along the wall on the left to reach a stile and pedestrian gate in the bottom hedge of the field.

    The structure sticking up on the skyline to the left is the Basset monument on the top of Carn Brea.

    The 90ft high Celtic cross on the top of Carn Brea was erected as a monument to Francis Basset and is inscribed "The County of Cornwall to the memory of Francis Lord de Dunstanville and Basset A.D. 1836."

    Basset gained the title of Baron for defending Plymouth from the combined fleet of the French and Spanish in 1779, and calming a miners' food riot in 1785. Towards the end of his life, he was part of the group who petitioned the House of Lords against slavery in 1828.

  10. Cross the stile and go through the gate, then keep right to stay in the right-hand field. Follow along the hedge on the left to reach a metal gate in the corner with the fence.
  11. Go through the gate in the corner and head towards the protruding hedge on the left. Follow the grassy track along the hedge to where it ends in a gate.

    Field Mushrooms are very closely related to the familiar supermarket button mushrooms and are the most commonly-eaten wild mushroom in Britain. They usually appear in grazed fields between July and November. As there are a few species of white mushroom that all look quite similar, care needs to be taken to avoid eating poisonous species. In particular, the poisonous "yellow stainer" looks very similar to a field mushroom, but smells of chemicals rather than of mushrooms and if the flesh is cut, a yellow liquid seeps out.

  12. Go through the gate and pass the stables on your left. As you reach the cottages, bear right down the track and follow it to a lane.

    The settlement of Menadarva dates back to mediaeval times when there was a chapel here, dedicated to St Derwa. The Norman font from the chapel was rescued and is now in the church of All Saints in Tuckingmill. The name of the settlement is from the Cornish Merther Derwa, meaning "grave of St Derwa".

  13. Turn left on the lane and follow it a short distance to reach a public bridleway sign on the right at a river crossing (stepping stones).

    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.

  14. Turn right and cross the river. Follow the bridleway to a waymark opposite a bridge.

    Metal sulphide ores within mines react with air and water to form sulphuric acid and dissolved metals. When this acidic solution (known as Acidic Mine Drainage) meets other water, it is diluted and the reduced acidity causes dissolved iron to precipitate out as orange or yellow hydroxides, colouring the water and sticking to anything in the watercourse. In the case of copper mines, copper stays dissolved in the water and at higher levels this can be toxic to wildlife, particularly fish.

    Where there is a large amount of water coming from a mine which is not rendered harmless by natural dilution, reed beds have been found to be very effective in treating the acidic water. Plants and bacteria in the reed bed convert the dissolved metals into insoluble compounds that are trapped within the reed bed. There are even suggestions that the metals may be commercially recoverable after they have been concentrated in the reed bed over a period of time.

  15. Continue ahead on the bridleway, ignoring any waymarked paths joining from the sides. Follow the bridleway until it ends at a bridge onto a lane.

    Towards the end of the 19th Century, dotted all the way along the river here were settling tanks fed by a complex series of sluices to recover the fine granules of tin washed down from the mines upriver.

    The Red River Local Nature Reserve is on the site of what was once an industrial wasteland resulting from acid mine drainage and tin streaming. Helped by some schemes such as the reed bed at Dulcoath to filter the water draining from the mine adits, the area is now in the process of naturally regenerating. The result so far is a partially wooded valley with heath and some lakes and ponds along the route which were created by the streamworks, including Bell Lake which was originally a mill pond to drive waterwheels and power the equipment to process the ore. The lakes have a healthy amphibian population and otters have also been seen in the reserve as well as foxes, badgers, woodpeckers and a range of other birdlife. This is supported by an insect population including an array of butterflies.

  16. Turn left onto the lane and follow it a short distance to a junction.

    During May, the verges along the lane are covered in bluebells

    During periods of cold weather, spring flowers, such as bluebells, have already started the process of growth by preparing leaves and flowers in underground bulbs during summer and autumn. They are then able to grow in the cold of winter, or early spring, by using these resources stored in their bulb. Once they have flowered, the leaves die off and the cycle begins again.

    Other species (such as cow parsley or dandelions) require warm weather before they are able to germinate and grow. With the warmer springs induced by climate change, bluebells lose their 'early start' advantage, and can be out-competed.

  17. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane uphill to reach a public footpath sign on the right with a pedestrian gate, just past the entrance to Coombe Park on the left.
  18. Turn right through the gate marked with the public footpath sign and follow the path uphill until you reach a sequence of 2 gates.
  19. Go through both gates and continue along the path to another similar sequence of 2 gates.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles.

    Blackberries are high in vitamin C, K and antioxidants. The seeds, despite being a bit crunchy, contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and further enhance blackberries' "superfood" status.

  20. Again go through the gates and follow the path until it ends at a low stone stile onto the road.

    A wave power test facility is located in a dedicated area of ocean more-or-less directly out from Godrevy Head. Undersea power cables run from the offshore site back to a substation hub in Hayle allowing tens of megawatts of power to be sold to the national grid from the test devices. Shipping lanes from Lands End into Bristol Channel have been moved further offshore to make room for the wave energy pilot and consequently most large vessels are now seen close to the horizon along the north Cornish coast.

  21. Carefully cross the road to the track opposite (marked with a National Trust North Cliffs sign) and follow it to complete the circular route.

    Several varieties of heather grow in Cornwall and are most easily recognised when they flower from July to September. The one with the most brightly coloured (purple) flowers is known as bell heather due to the bell-shaped flowers. This is usually interspersed with ling or common heather which has much smaller flowers which are usually paler and pinker. A third kind known as cross-leafed heath is less abundant but can be recognised by the pale pink bell-shaped flowers that grow only near the tips of the stems, resembling pink lollipops. A fourth species known as Cornish heath grows only on the Lizard and has elaborate flowers.

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, 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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