Wednesday 3 July 2013

Excursions - On The Radar

A couple of weeks back, on the last Excursions, we brought you the news on two World War II pillboxes being uncovered due to a landslide at Downderry in South East Cornwall. Heavy weather has battered the region in the past year resulting in all sorts of damage and loss of life, and also landslides which in turn have uncovered previously thought demolished defensive structures which were part of the former Chain Home Radar Station at Downderry.

WWII Pillboxes exposed by landslips at Downderry, Cornwall

After studying the landslide up close and having a friend who is a specialist in landslips look over the photos, it was decided to see just how difficult it would be to reach them from the road, especially with the density of the trees and foliage that have grown over the past 60 years, literally untouched and left for nature to claim back this long forgotten site. Taking advantage of the hottest days of the year so far, I headed over with an old exploring friend, James who lives down the road from me. After battling the undergrowth, we finally made it to the pillboxes and a few surprises in store which left us feeling there could be more further round the clifftop, which is dotted with slips as it winds it's way round but even thicker foliage than the previous.

Inside the Eastern pillbox - notice only two loopholes

Found just outside the pillbox - part of original doors from the site

Inside the West pillbox

More than 60 years of nature now commanding the view from this loophole

Seaward facing loophole

 The first relic we came across was a section of original wooden door complete with handle and lock lying just at the stairwell leading into the Eastern Pillbox. This is the one we think will be the first to feel the force of gravity, with the base already creating a slight overhang. On entry it does feel like the structure is slightly sloping already, but what struck me most was there was only two loopholes (the windows basically). One pointing South and one West, which only covers the section until the coast winds meaning there may be another pillbox still hidden further East round the cliff. With the land so unstable, only time will tell!

Looking down through the loophole showing the full extent of the landslip

Looking toward the East pillbox

The Western facing pillbox was around fifteen feet away, again mostly obscured by dense trees and suprisingly some other form of concrete structure inbetween the two, obscured by part collapsed foliage and not viewable from the beach. Yet again this pillbox held another surprise with it only having a South facing loophole which left me a little baffled to say the least. Whilst I photographed the internal condition, James checked the middle section out and to his surprise found a hollow like cylinder. Upon closer inspection, James made enough clearing to see the bottom and hopped on in the left section, the right being almost enveloped with branches. A figure of eight like structure, with cylindrical sections joined together to form what I think is a machine gun post, and hope to confirm this on my next visit to the National Archives next month. If anybody else in the meantime can confirm it's use, please do get in touch.

The East facing pillbox - after battling through the dense trees

Nature really has reclaimed this once important defensive structure

No loopholes in either side walls of this pillbox

Looking out of the East pillbox toward Seaton and Looe

The seaward view from the East pillbox

The view down below

It's always difficult to get good photographs when in structures are covered in such dense vegetation but we managed to make gaps for a little light to come in rather than use flash to light the subjects. The earth frontage has been exposed also revealing some original features discarded from other demolished buildings around the site such as a white basin.

Back out looking at the Western pillbox - the lump of concrete in view on the left is the pits

This is the best wide angle shot I could capture due to the density but clearly shows the two cylindrical pits

A view looking into the concrete pits

 Not only did we manage to finally get to document these but also something, very different and intriguing to say the least, more on that at a later date after some thorough investigative research. Please note that this site is not advisable to approach like we have done, this is what we do as part of our surveys and the cliff faces imminent and further landslips, especially with British Summer also bringing some heavy rainfall. We take relevant precautions documenting sites such as this, as well as undertaking risk assessments beforehand. The conditions have been noted to the relevant authorities as this section of beach is often used by dog walkers and for picnics, therefore please do take care when walking this section too close to cliff and be aware of the falls, and please keep children from climbing on the slip to avoid any unnecessary accidents, better safe than sorry.


  1. Well done on getting it documented befro it goes for the long drop.

    1. Thanks Bill. It's always great find undocumented sites like this. It's been a good week for finding new stuff actually!

  2. Dam, I too some pics of them from the beach on Sunday... Had'nt hat time to mail you them.

    1. Need to get you round for a look at something else Jezz. Are you in Kernow next week?

  3. First came across these in January after the winter floods and storms. Didn't think to let you know as thought you were mostly interested in items around Plymouth. Like you, I managed to gain access for a good scout round and can confirm these are in a dangerous conditon and best avoided.


    1. Hi Rob, we travel all over the UK documenting sites as you will soon see when the new site launches. Glad you got to see them, nice to get them documented. If you come across any other stuff or want to display your finds at one of our events, please feel free to drop us an e-mail!