Circular walk from Deadman's Cove to Red River Valley

Deadman's Cove to Red River Valley

The valley at Hell's Mouth is marshy all year round. Wellies are strongly recommended. Alternatively it's possible to combine the Red River Valley walk with the Hells Mouth to Godrevy walk into a roughly 9 mile walk that bypasses this (and then walking boots should be ok).

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.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102,104
  • Distance: 4.7 miles/7.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Wellies essential - mud in valley at Hell's Mouth is deeper than a walking boot

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.

    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 use the stones to cross the marshes to reach a pedestrian gate (tread carefully as the mud either side of the stones can be quite deep).

    In marshes, micro-organisms thrive in the wet mud and use up the supply of oxygen. To survive being partially buried in mud with low oxygen levels, many marsh plants have therefore evolved snorkels: air channels in the stem which allow oxygen to reach the base of the plant. This is why the leaves of reeds feel spongy.

  6. Go through the gate and keep tight to the hedge (where the ground seems to be firmest) to make your way across the marshy area into the field. Follow the left hedge all the way up the field to reach a gateway in the top hedge.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.


    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).


    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  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 association of good luck with four-leafed clover was first recorded in Victorian times (1860s-1870s) so may be a relatively recent invention. Perhaps something that occupied children for hours was seen as good luck in Victorian times!

  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 but can be out as early as May. 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 common but poisonous "yellow stainer" looks very similar to a field mushroom, but if the flesh is cut or bruised, a yellow liquid starts to seep out. This normally takes a few minutes to be apparent so it might not be until you get them home that you notice yellow patches where the caps have rubbed against something. A small minority of people have been reported as suffering no obvious ill effects from (presumably accidentally) eating yellow stainers but for the vast majority of people they cause stomach upsets which can be severe including cramps, voting and diarrhoea.

    During Victorian times and earlier, small amounts of land in Cornwall were measured by the goad - a unit of nine feet in length, derived from the name of the staff used to drive oxen.

    An English acre was less generous (at 43,560 square feet) than a Cornish acre (51,840 square feet). Although both were defined as 160 smaller land units, the English equivalent to the Cornish goad was a perch but this was 5.5 yards (16.5 ft) rather than the two-goad length used in Cornwall of 6 yards (18 ft). It is thought that the reason the perch ended up as a non-round number of feet is that it was originally measured from 20 averaged-sized human feet in Saxon times when nutrition wasn't great.

  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.

    When the acidic solution containing dissolved metals from mines (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 bird life. 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.

    The stream running through the Tehidy Country Park was heavily canalised and widely diverted during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This was to feed a series of "streamworks" to extract alluvial tin. In Oak Wood, the various banks and river channels are thought to be the remains of a large stream-working operation.

  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.

    Cornwall has at least 8 different words for "valley".

    • nans - valley
    • golans - small valley
    • haunans - deep valley with steep sides
    • keynans - ravine
    • glyn - large deep valley
    • deveren - river valley
    • tenow - valley floor
    • coom - valley of a tributary or small stream (from Old English)
  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.

    The trees along the path are a mixture of broadleaf species including ash, elder and blackthorn and there are some particularly gnarled hawthorns towards the top.

    In Mediaeval times, bringing hawthorn blossom into the house was thought to bring death and it was described as smelling like the Great Plague. The explanation for this is thought to be that the hawthorn blossom contains trimethylamine which is one of the first chemicals formed when animal tissue decays. Young leaves of the plant can be used in salads as the chemical is not present in the leaves so these taste nutty rather than of death.

  19. Go through both gates and continue along the path to another similar sequence of 2 gates.

    Grasshoppers are thought to be the oldest living group of chewing herbivorous insects. They date back to the early Triassic around 250 million years ago before the dinosaurs.

    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.

    The edges of fields are typically less productive areas (e.g. due to the shade from hedges) so for purely economic reasons a margin was sometimes left around the main crop. However, field margins have been found to play such a crucial role for protecting soil and water and enhancing biodiversity on farms that there are now legislative requirements for farmers to maintain uncropped field margins.

    More than 150 plants are characteristic of arable land but due to agricultural intensification, these and the insects and birds which depend on them have declined. The field margins are areas where these biologically important weeds can thrive.

    When fields are ploughed and tilled, rainwater can wash the loose soil out of the fields. The vegetation on margins acts as a barrier and strains out many of the particles of soil from the rainwater.

    When fertilisers are applied to the crops in the field, the margin helps to reduce the amount drifting over the hedges when it is applied. The plants around the margin then act as a sponge, helping to hoover up nutrients that wash off the crop.

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

    The structure sticking up on the skyline to the right 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.

  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 species 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 the earliest one to start flowering - normally in June. Bell heather is usually interspersed with ling or common heather which has much smaller flowers which are usually paler and pinker and come out at the start of July. 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 more elaborate flowers which are mostly pale with a dark purple crown at the front.

    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.

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