Lelant to St Ives

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 and follows the coast path to Porthminster Beach and onwards to St Ives harbour. A journey on the train makes the route circular.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.4 miles/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
  • Birdlife in the Hayle SSSI including Ospreys
  • Panoramic views of St Ives Bay
  • Impressive variety and size of seashells on Carbis Bay
  • Golden sandy beaches at Carbis Bay and Porthminster
  • St Ives historic harbour and buildings
  • Myriad of art galleries in St Ives

Directions

Most of the time, the trains are sufficiently frequent that you can park at Lelant and get the train back from St Ives at the end of the walk. However, check the timetables and if you want to remove the time pressure then park at St Ives and get the train to Lelant at the start of the walk, then you can take your time.

  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 right onto the lane and follow it down to the car park.
  14. Head across the car park towards the entrance to the Carbis Bay Hotel car park. Then bear right through the hotel car park and follow the "Coastal Path" signs through the hotel garden to reach a footpath at the other side of the hotel. Follow the path, which climbs a number of steps, until you reach a footbridge over the railway.

    The Carbis Bay Hotel was built in 1894, not long after the railway was built to St Ives. The name "Carbis Bay" was invented by the railway for the name of its station in the Carbis Valley and eventually came to be used for the beach. The hotel was designed by the famous Cornish Architect Silvanus Trevail, and is located on the site of an old mine. Its guests have included Virginia Woolf, who stayed at the hotel in the spring of 1914. It is also the basis of the fictional "The Sands Hotel" in the novels of Rosamunde Pilcher.

  15. Cross the railway and follow the path until you reach a footpath signpost at a junction of paths with St Micheal's Way.
  16. Continue in the direction indicated for St Ives and follow the track which eventually becomes a lane. Continue past the Baulking House to the bottom of the hill where a small path leads ahead.

    St Ives was the most important fishing port on the North Coast. During the early 19th Century, visitors to St Ives commented on being overpowered by the smell of rotting fish emanating from the town. A number of pilchard cellars surrounded the harbour but by the 1920s these had either been demolished or converted for other uses (the St Ives museum was originally a pilchard curing cellar).

  17. Continue ahead down the path, keeping ahead when you reach a waymark. Continue from this to pass over a railway bridge and reach a bench where the main path bends and a small path leads ahead.

    Cornish pilchard fisheries existed in mediaeval times, and in this period, the fish were smoked to preserve them before export to Spain and Italy. From Tudor times until the early 20th Century, Cornwall's pilchard fisheries were of national importance, with the bulk of the catch being exported almost exclusively to Italian Catholics for religious fasting (Cornish pilchards were a staple ingredient of spaghetti alla puttanesca). The pilchards were salted and then pressed to extract the oil which was sold as somewhat aromatic lamp oil. The fish were then packed with more salt into hogshead barrels which could fit up to 3000 fish per barrel. Huers (cliff top lookouts) helped locate shoals of fish. The huer would shout 'Hevva!, Hevva!' (the Cornish word for "shoal") to alert the boats to the location of the pilchard shoals. The name "huer" is from the old French verb meaning "to shout".

  18. Turn right to stay on the main path and follow the path down the zig-zag to the café. Pass behind the café to reach a junction of tracks.
  19. Bear right onto the path running behind the Beach Shop (signposted "Takeaway" and "Beach Bar") and follow this along the top of the beach until you reach a ramp leading up from the beach beside the Beach Bar.

    Sandeels are small slender fish found shoaling around the beaches in Cornwall. If you put on a mask and snorkel, you're almost guaranteed to see some, often swimming around your feet.

    The name is confusing as sandeels are not eels, just long, thin fish (like barracuda, but a lot smaller!). The sand part is because they burrow into the sand if alarmed. There are two main types present in Cornwall: Lesser Sandeels are the small ones you're likely to see by the shore, Greater Sandeels are chunkier and about the length of your foot; they can sometimes be seen shoaling in deeper water, occasionally joining in with a shoal of Lesser Sandeels.

    Sandeels are a vital part of the food chain, supporting many sea birds including puffins and larger fish such as sea bass. Consequently they are a favourite bait for anglers, and in Cornwall a curved iron bar known as a vingler was traditionally used to snag buried sandeels.

    Sandeels eat zooplankton and are therefore snookered by Global Warming causing phytoplankton to bloom early resulting in the zooplankton being undernourished. Industrial fishing for sandeels for use in fertilizers (e.g. "fish, blood and bone") has also damaged the population.

  20. Turn left up the ramp and bear right at the top onto the lane. Follow the lane along the wall and along a row of small cottages until you reach Porthminster Gallery.

    During Victorian times, open air painting became popular and the scenery and mild climate of St Ives generated a reputation as the ideal place for marine painting (of the decorative rather than boat-keeping kind). Once the railway was completed in 1877, St Ives became more accessible. Around this time, the pilchard industry was in decline which resulted in many unoccupied net lofts, cellars and workshops. These became converted into artists studios, with the first recorded in 1885 which had been converted from a sail loft. In 1920, Bernard Leach arrived and went on to make St Ives internationally famous through his pottery. St Ives has continued to attract artists and is now considered to be one of the most important art centres in Britain. In 1993, the St Ives branch of the Tate Gallery opened (named after the sugar magnate Henry Tate of Tate and Lyle). Since 1978, there has been a St Ives September Festival which runs for 15 days during which many artists open their studios to the public.

  21. At Porthminster Gallery, bear right onto the path along the sea wall and follow it until it eventually emerges onto a road beside the lifeboat station.

    St Ives has had a lifeboat since 1840, though the original was a rowing boat launched from the harbour. In 1867, the RNLI relocated it to Porthgwidden beach and built a boathouse for it. This was not well thought out as launching through the surf proved near impossible and so it was quickly replaced by a building in Fore Street. In 1911, a new boathouse was built on the quay which was better suited to launching the lifeboat which had become motorised by this point. This was finally replaced with the station you see today which was built in 1993 to accommodate a larger modern boat.

  22. This is a good point to explore St Ives and/or stock up with pasties. The return route is to turn up Lifeboat Hill and take the first left to reach the church door.
  23. Follow the lane from the church door past the Golden Lion to the junction at Barclays Bank.

    The current church building dates from the early 13th century and the south aisle was added roughly a century later. The font is also thought to date to the 14th century and some of the carved bench ends are from the 15th century. In the churchyard is a late mediaeval lantern cross which is over 10ft high. The elevated churchyard is thought to have arisen due to the lack of space for burials resulting in a "multi-storey" approach being taken.

  24. Turn left to stay on the lane at Barclays Bank and follow it until you reach the bus/train station, just after The Regent Hotel.

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.

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