Can there be a more ominous name for a craggy Cornish cove than Hell’s Mouth? . . .Well, perhaps Deadman’s Cove, which just happens to be the next beach north along the coast.
Indeed, it can be said that this is Cornwall at it’s most dramatic. The cliffs on this staggering stretch of coast, just past St Ives Bay and Godrevy lighthouse, simply tower above the crashing waves. As you stand on the heathery Hudder Down gazing into the abyss graceful white Fulmars dance on the rising currents of air. They call to their mates perching on impossible ledges in the sheer rockface.
At Hell’s Mouth the 300ft high cliffs take your breath away and despite the danger, you are drawn ever closer to the edge.
The expansive views pull your eyes away from what lies at your feet. A panorama opens up in all directions. This is a place of harsh, untamed beauty. But Hell’s Mouth’s darker side is undeniable. Murray writing in 1859 called it ‘a gloomy gap in the cliffs . . . as black as night.’
It’s unclear exactly how this cove came by its portentous name but perhaps another description by Folliot Stokes in 1910 goes someway to explaining it. He passed by Hell’s Mouth in 1910.
‘Here perpendicular cliffs enclose a semi-circular cove, the walls of which are so sheer that it is a somewhat gruesome place to look down into.’
A Tragic Stretch of Coast
All the descriptions I can find run along similar lines and, perhaps unsurprisingly, this cove has seen more than its fair share of lives lost. In Cornwall Hell’s Mouth has a tragic reputation.
One sad episode in the 1940s goes some way to illustrate this.
‘In the Autumn of a stormy year a woman fell from the cliff at Hell’s Mouth. It was impossible to lower men from the top to recover the corpse, for the sharp edges of the overhanging rocks might sever the ropes. It was remembered that half way down an outfall pipe (possibly an old mining adit) was cut through the rock. A party crawled through this, taking tackle with which the body was recovered from the pounding waves. Hell’s Mouth is well named.’
The Coasts of Cornwall: SH Burton, 1955
Rockfall Caught on Camera
In 2011 however Hell’s Mouth made the news for a very different reason. In the Autumn crack were appearing on the clifftop. And on the 23rd September 110,000 tons of earth and rock collapsed into the sea. Amazingly it was all caught on camera!
Visiting on a sunny August evening the scars of that rock fall and the terrible history of this place seemed a distant memory.
Beyond its dark reputation this is a beautifully wild place as well as a seemingly wicked one. Much of this coast is now cared for by the National Trust. Near to Hell’s Mouth itself you will find the lovely Hell’s Mouth Cafe where you can buy a perfect Cornish Cream Tea. I have already mentioned the birdlife but this is also a great places to spot seals. They just love the safety of the secluded coves along this coast.
Hell’s Mouth is a place with two very different faces.