Lelant Saltings to Carbis Bay

The route follows St Michael's Way from Lelant past St Uny's church to the dunes. At low tide it's possible to walk across Porth Kidney Sands (or the dunes at high tide) to reach Carrack Gladden. The route continues along St Michael's Way to Carbis Bay. From Carbis Bay, the route crosses the railway and then follows footpaths parallel to the railway back to the West Cornwall Golf Course. Footpaths and small lanes complete the circular route.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.8 miles/7.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Lelant Saltings car park
  • Parking: Lelant Saltings. From the A30 roundabout, take the A3074 towards St Ives then at the mini-roundabout after the garden centre, follow signs for St Ives Park and Ride. Satnav: TR276HB
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots in winter, trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Pretty churchyard at Lelant with wildflowers in Spring
  • Walk along a mile of golden sandy beach at low tide
  • Panoramic views of St Ives Bay
  • Impressive variety and size of seashells on Carbis Bay
  • Birdlife in the Hayle SSSI including Ospreys

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. With the station platform behind you, go through the gate ahead, between a pair of signs marked "Important Notice". Follow the track towards the building until you reach a footpath on your left, signposted to St Ives.

    Until Victorian times, St Ives was just a small fishing port. The town was transformed, and in fact mostly built, after the railway from St Erth was completed in 1877, connecting the white sandy beaches of St Ives to a wealthy population of Victorian holidaymakers. The tiny line, winding along the cliffs and bays, somehow managed to survive the closures by Beeching in the 1960s. It has now become a tourist attraction in its own right. During gales, the section along the dunes can become covered in sand and needs to be excavated before the service can resume.

  2. Turn left down the path and follow it until it ends on a lane.

    Lelant was a seaport in the Middle Ages, but the trade was lost to St Ives when the estuary silted up. The first recorded spelling of Lelant was Lananta in a document dating from around 1170. The Cornish word Lan within a place name usually refers to a church, in this case of St Anta to whom Carbis Bay church is dedicated but nothing is known. Curiously, Lelant's parish church is instead dedicated to St Uny.

  3. Turn right onto the lane and follow it for about a mile until it ends at a triangular island.

    Just before it passes the old station house, the route passes a gate marked "Anne's Wood" on the left.

    The wood was given to the Woodland Trust in memory of Anne Rostron, hence the name, and stands on the site of a 19th Century clay works. The clay was used to make firebricks for lining the furnaces in South Wales. The woodland consists of mature Beech, Sycamore, Oak and Ash interspersed with Holly and young trees. Beneath the dense canopy are shade-loving flora including ferns and ivy.

  4. Follow the right side of the fork ahead and turn right onto the lane. Follow it a short distance to the corner by the church.

    The mortuary chapel was built in the cemetery for the Nonconformist Christians - the dying wish of a local Methodist, who put up the money for it but this turned out to be insufficient and had to be topped up by another benefactor. It was completed in 1879 and was enlarged in 1909.

    In Spring 1877 the Cornish Telegraph reported that one of the ancient celtic crosses was vandalised: painted with the word "Popery" and the crucifixion figure smeared with paint. It was thought this was done by St Ives fishermen who came to Lelant to paint their boats on the beach near the railway station. The cross was moved into the churchyard for safety in 1878, just before the Methodist chapel was also built there.

  5. Bear right off the lane to the church sign and a coast path signpost. Follow the path between the two walls past the church until you reach a golf club sign at a junction of paths with a waymark.

    The current church building in Lelant is thought to mostly date from the 15th century, incorporating a few earlier Norman features. The earliest records of the church are from the twelfth century, though it is likely that there was a church in Lelant dedicated to St Anta before this one which is dedicated to St Uny. Exactly where a previous building would have been located is uncertain, possibly on the current site which is the highest point in the area, though there are tales of a chapel buried by the encroaching sand dunes. As well as ecclesiastical duties, the church at Lelant was also used for the storage of contraband spirits.

  6. At the junction, continue ahead on the path to reach a waymark.

    A Site of Special Scientific Interest extends from pools of the Hayle Estuary to Carrack Gladden, including the beach and dunes of Porth Kidney Sands. Hayle is Britain’s most southwesterly estuary and due to the mild maritime climate, it never freezes. Up to 18,000 birds have been seen here in the winter. During the spring and autumn, its far westerly location makes it a very important site for migratory birds to stop and rest. Ospreys have been seen here in a number of years.

  7. At the waymark, continue ahead on the path under the railway line and down some steps until the path splits.

    Within the sand dunes stretching from the golf course towards Porthkidney beach, there have been a number of finds of human remains. When remains of a building was also discovered in the dunes, this led to speculation that it might be a lost chapel of St Anta. The building is now once again lost in the sands so this cannot be investigated further. It is now thought more likely the building was a remnant of the mediaeval port town of Lelant. This was originally situated downriver from its current location but was abandoned due to encroaching sands. The human remains are thought to date from different periods, with some very likely being prehistoric.

  8. Here you have a choice. If the tide is in, take the left-hand path and follow the path alongside the railway to a waymark beside a railway bridge and follow the directions as normal. If the tide is out, you can walk along the beach to rejoin the walk at direction 11. To do so, continue down the steps to reach the beach then turn left and follow the shoreline towards the house at the end of the point. The remains of a flight of steps run down the left side of the rock outcrop, which you'll need to clamber up to reach the waymark at the top of the path.

    Porthkidney Sands stretch for approximately a mile from the mouth of the River Hayle in Lelant to Hawk's Point in Carbis Bay. At low tide, the beach can also stretch almost a mile out to sea. Due to the very flat beach, the tide comes in very fast indeed. If you are attempting to walk across the beach to the point and the tide starts to race in, then head straight to the dunes. Paths lead from the dunes to the coast path which runs alongside the railway line and you can continue this way to the point. Note that the dunes are sometimes used by naturists.

  9. At the bridge, continue ahead to keep the railway on your left and follow the path for about a mile until you finally climb a steep tarmac path with a railing and reach a pedestrian crossing over the railway opposite the sign for "The Haven".

    St Michael's Way is a 12.5 mile prehistoric route from Lelant crossing the peninsula to Marazion. This avoided the need to negotiate the submerged rocks and strong currents at Land’s End. Later, St Michael's Way was used as part of a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain. It is believed that this route was a key factor in Cornwall's rapid conversion into a Christian faith.

  10. At the crossing, don't cross but continue a short distance further along the path to a waymark where the path splits. Take the path on the right and follow this to another waymark where a path leads up from the beach.

    Along the path that leads from the beach up to the waymark is a platform on the rock outcrop opposite a mine adit. There are several other mine adits around Carbis Bay.

    An adit is a roughly horizontal tunnel going into a mine. In Cornwall these were important for drainage as many of the ore-bearing veins are close to vertical, through which water can easily seep. Drainage adits were sloped slightly upwards to meet the main shaft, so water trickling into the main shaft from above could be diverted out of the adit. Below the adit, steam engines were needed to pump the water up to the level of the adit where it could then drain away.

  11. From the waymark, continue along the coast to reach a path leading up from Carbis Bay where the path passes between some wooden railings.

    The beach faces northeast and is very sheltered by Porthminster Point on which the large trees act as a windbreak. The beach sometimes referred to as Barrepta Cove or Porth Reptor which are remnants of the original Cornish name for the beach, the exact meaning of which has been lost. This was documented as Parrupter around 1499 and Porthreptor in 1580. Porth rep tor can be translated as "beach beside the hill". However in Cornish, as well as "hill" or "high land", torr can also mean "gash" (which has similar roots to "torn" in English) which could apply to the long, thin Carbis Valley.

    The name "Carbis" is from Carbis Farm which was recorded as "Carbons" in 1391. In Cornish karr means "cart" and pons means "bridge" so this is thought to mean "causeway" but no trace of any structure remains to which this could be attributed. When the St Ives railway was built, a station was created at the bottom of the Carbis Valley which the railway called "Carbis Bay" and this eventually became used as the name for the beach.

  12. From the junction with the Carbis Bay beach path, continue along the coast path towards St Ives until it emerges onto a lane.

    At low tide, a shipwreck can sometimes be seen on the eastern side of Carbis Bay. This is the remains of the SS Vulture a steam-powered British cargo ship that was driven ashore in the storm of 1893 that became known as the Cintra Gale. That night, three other ships were also wrecked in St Ives Bay including the Cintra - a collier which was driven ashore beside the SS Vulture. The 12 man crew of the SS Vulture were all rescued using rocket apparatus, but the 12 crew on the Cintra fared less well - only 7 survived. Even less fortunate was the Hampshire, which sank 10 miles north of Godrevy when a spare crankshaft broke loose and punctured the hull; only one of the 22 crew survived.

  13. Turn left onto the lane and follow it across the railway bridge to a public footpath sign on the left.

    The life-saving rockets were invented at the beginning of the 19th century, by Cornishman Henry Trengrouse, and were also carried aboard larger vessels. They consisted of a solid fuel rocket on a wooden pole with a line attached, and a grapple on the top of the rocket to snag and hold fast onto the target ship or shore. Despite the rockets occasionally exploding, it is recorded that the apparatus saved thousands of lives in the last 2 decades of the 19th century.

  14. Turn left onto the path and follow it until the path forks near a footbridge crossing the railway.
  15. Keep right at the fork to keep the railway on your left. Follow the path until it ends at a junction of a track with a lane.

    Across the bay in the dunes towards the headland, nitroglycerine was once produced to make dynamite.

    The National Explosives Works was established in 1888, within the dunes of Upton Towans, to supply explosives to the local mines and the area became known as Dynamite Towans. The plant was used throughout the world wars to manufacture high explosives, 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, it would not cause a chain reaction, setting off the neighbouring buildings. This design paid off because one of the nitroglycerine plants did indeed explode which was reported to be audible as far as Dartmoor. An account from The Day newspaper on 5th January 1904 states:

    Four men were killed and several injured by an explosion today in the nitroglycerine department of the National Explosives Works...The whole district was enveloped in a cloud of black smoke and nearly every window in St Ives, three miles from the scene of the explosion, was shattered by its terrific force. Many windows were also smashed at Penzance.

    One of the windows in St Ives that was damaged by the explosion was the east window of St Ia Church.

  16. Turn right up the track and follow this to a junction of paths and tracks.
  17. At the junction, bear right to the garage where a private road marked with a public footpath sign departs. Turn left to follow the private road, past all the houses, until it ends at a public footpath sign.
  18. Follow the footpath ahead, passing over a footbridge and through a kissing gate to reach a waymark.
  19. Bear left at the waymark and follow the path until it eventually passes through a kissing gate and descends to a waymark at the edge of the golf course.
  20. Bear right at the waymark and follow the path uphill to a gravel path. Then continue ahead between the lines of wooden posts until the path ends at a fence along a track.

    Golf developed in The Netherlands during the Middle Ages and was introduced into Scotland towards the end of this period where it evolved to its present form. The word golf is thought to be a Scots alteration of Dutch colf meaning "club". Golf is first documented in Scotland in a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, prohibiting the playing of the games of gowf and futball as these were a distraction from archery practice.

  21. Go through the pedestrian gate on the right and turn left onto the track. Follow this until it ends in a T-junction onto a lane.
  22. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until you reach a public footpath sign on your right, opposite the first of the golf club buildings.
  23. Cross the stile next to the gate and follow the left hedge to a stone stile in the far hedge.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you can't avoid it: 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.
  24. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge of several fields, crossing similar stone stiles, until you reach a final stile which emerges into a lay-by next to a barn.
  25. Cross the stile and turn right into the lay-by. Follow it to the road, and carefully cross the road to the track opposite, leading into a yard.
  26. As you enter the yard, keep left and follow the leftmost track, along the line of the hedge, until it ends at a large iron post.
  27. At the post, bear right down the path and follow this along the hedge and over a stile. Continue along the path until it eventually emerges onto a road.
  28. Cross the road and turn right. Follow the pavement until you reach a path on the left between a telegraph pole and a palm tree, directly opposite the Abbey Hill sign.

    The hill is named after the house called The Abbey which was built in the 16th century. Its name arose because it was used as a rest and retreat house by the Benedictine monks of St Michael’s Mount. The small room upstairs was known as "the confessional" as it was thought to be designed as a priest's hiding chamber. There is said to be a secret passage from the beach, running under the village to the house, used for smuggling which in the St Ives area was not always entirely incompatible with religion.

  29. Turn left down the path and follow it until it emerges on a residential lane.
  30. Follow the lane ahead and round a bend to the right until it ends in a T-junction.
  31. Turn right and follow the lane over the bridge to the path leading into the car park, opposite Tregenna.
  32. Turn left onto the path and follow it back into the football field and bear right to reach the car park.

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 contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, 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.

A free way to not kill penguins: discarded ink cartridges float in rainwater, can wash into rivers, be broken up by the sea into reflective shards eaten by dopey fish, and build up in the stomachs of seabbirds, causing them to starve to death. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.
If you found this page useful, please could you
our page on Facebook?