Cornwall’s cold war nuclear bunker by the sea keeps its chilling secrets 12 feet underground
Thousands enjoy hiking the South West Coast Path on the Roseland Peninsula every year, but how many are aware that just yards from the cliff top near Nare Head stands a perfectly preserved reminder of a chilling time in history recent from Great Britain?
Many passers-by are confused by green metallic objects sticking out of the ground near Carne Beach. However, this is the Veryan bunker – one of the few remaining Cold War outposts of its time.
The underground bunker, accessed by a 12ft ladder, was built in 1963, the year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a nuclear attack on British soil was a very real prospect.
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The bunker, which was occupied by the Royal Observatory Corps, was considered so important that it gave its name to a range of similar posts across the UK. There were originally 1,600 Veryan bunkers with only around 80 surviving today. Of these, only about eight are fully preserved, equipped and open to the public.
The original at Nare Head is on National Trust land and is open to the public on certain dates each year. It is hoped that people will have a better chance of experiencing the cramped conditions, just like when the bunker closed in the 1980s, later this year.
It’s a bit of a hike to find the Veryan Bunker and it’s advisable to keep dogs on a leash (and kids for that matter) as the route gets very close to the edge of the cliff. Park at the National Trust car park in beautiful and hidden Kiberick Cove and cross the field opposite, joining the coastal path to Nare Head and Carne Beach.
Next to the Cold War bunker is an original World War II bunker. What now appears to be a grassy mound was a bunker manned around the clock during the war to track, identify and report all sightings of enemy aircraft.
After the war ended, the observatory corps was briefly suspended, but two years later was reformed due to the perceived threat of Russian intruders attacking our shores. In 1953 it was given a new role of detecting and reporting nuclear attacks as part of Britain’s Warning and Watch Organization, which led to operations based underground.
In 1963, the underground station was built to observe nuclear explosions and monitor radioactive fallout.
The bunker has two rooms – a toilet/storage area and the main monitoring room where three engineers could live for up to three weeks, shielded from radiation by a factor of 1,000.
Conditions were very basic with nothing more than food and bedding. There was no electricity or running water – a secondary well acted as a fan. Those stationed in the bunker would have measured radiation at surface level and used equipment to determine the location of the bomb explosion.
To see the bunker now in a place of such natural beauty is a disturbing reminder of a time when the British people sincerely believed there might be a nuclear attack.
If you decide to take a look at the bunkers, please follow the campaign rules, close all doors behind you, and be kind to the sheep whose fields you will be sharing.