St Ives

The route descends from the car park along Park Terrace with views over the rooftops of St Ives before reaching the sea beside the St Ives Art Club. The walk then circles the harbour to Smeaton's Pier and passes the St Ives Museum to reach the cove of Porth Gwidden. The route crosses the Island, via the chapel, to the long, sandy beach of Porth Meor where it passes the Tate and joins the coast path. After following the coast past Carrack Du, the return route to St Ives is via farm tracks and the church of St John.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.3 miles/7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Trenwith car park in St Ives
  • Parking: Trenwith car park in St Ives. Follow the B3306 to the double roundabout in St Ives and then follow signs to the Leisure Centre. The easiest way from the A30 roundabout at Lelant is via Mill Hill and Halsetown rather than through Carbis Bay. Satnav: TR262FH
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Spectacular views over St Ives, across the bay and along the coastline
  • Sandy beaches of Porth Gwidden, Porth Meor and around Carrick Du
  • St Ives historic harbour and buildings
  • Tate Art Gallery and a myriad of small galleries

Alternative walks in same location

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Head to the bottom-left corner of the car park and cross at the zebra crossing, go down the path, past the building on the right and head downhill to where it joins another path. Turn right and head downhill to a road.
  2. Turn right onto the road and pass the steps to the town. Follow the road until you reach Tregenna Terrace where a second signposted path departs to the town centre.

    The settlement of St Ives is first recorded in 1284 as "Juxta Sanctam yam Porthia". St Ives is named after Saint Ia who, according to legend, was an Irish princess who arrived in Cornwall in the 5th Century, was martyred, and buried in St Ives on the site of St Ia’s church.

  3. Go down the steps and bear right at the police station to reach a lane.

    Beyond the jurisdiction of the Police Station are St Ives' flying pasty thieves. The seagulls in the town are particularly adept at stealing unguarded food or even ice creams from the hands of children. During the breeding season, the birds are incredibly aggressive if they feel their young are being threatened. In 2013, a group of climbers from Newton Abbot were due to do a charity abseil down the church tower but as soon as they stepped out onto the roof, the angry birds dived on them and the event had to be relocated.

  4. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a junction.
  5. Cross at the crossroads and continue ahead, down Street-an-pol (signposted to the Tourist Information), to reach a crossroads.
  6. Continue ahead at the crossroads and follow the lane to St Ives Art Club.

    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.

  7. Turn left 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.

  8. Continue ahead and follow the road around the harbour until you reach the pier on the far side.

    The Sloop Inn, which lies on the wharf, is dated to "circa 1312", which makes it one of the oldest inns in Cornwall. The building is likely to have been rebuilt a number of times over the centuries and the current structure is thought to date from the 17th-18th century. It is described by Lonely Planet as "a classic old fishermen's boozer, complete with low ceilings, tankards behind the bar and a comprehensive selection of Cornish ales."

  9. Turn left in the direction signposted towards St Ives Museum and keep right along Wheal Dream to reach the museum and a small flight of steps opposite.

    Smeaton's Pier was constructed towards the end of the 18th Century and was originally about half the current length, ending with the lighthouse. In the 1860s this was extended by adding a wooden pier (which was even longer than the current one) but this had collapsed within 20 years. The remains of the wooden supports can still be seen at the lowest point of the tide. Finally the stone pier was extended at the end of the 19th Century and the three arches were added so that sand could flush out from the harbour to prevent it silting up.

    The chapel on Smeaton's Pier dates from mediaeval times. It is dedicated to St Leonard and fishermen would pray here before going to sea. The friar was paid a percentage of the catch.

  10. Bear right down the steps and follow the path around a car park to reach a small flight of steps to the beach.

    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).

  11. Turn right down the steps and either follow the path around the beach or cross the beach to a set of concrete steps opposite.
  12. Climb the concrete steps and turn right onto the path towards the coastguard lookout. Follow the path to a junction just before the coastguard lookout.

    The Coastguard Lookout is situated on a rock outcrop known as Lamp Rock. The name dates back to the time when there was a tall pole with a lantern here to guide ships landing at Porthgwidden Cove, then the main landing point for St Ives. The Coastguard used the island, and even the Chapel for a while, as a lookout for catching smugglers. The current lookout was operated by HM Coastguard until 1994, when many lookouts were closed. Just five years later, it was re-opened by the National Coastwatch Institution and is now staffed entirely by volunteers.

  13. Turn left and follow the path to the corner of the building to your left, then continue ahead across the grass to the chapel on the top of the hill.

    The stone walls around the coastguard lookout are the remains of fortifications. There are parish records of the site being fortified as far back as 1638 and at one time there were up to 15 guns present. In the 17th Century, the granite walls were built, housing three large cannon positions to defend against a possible French invasion. The coastguard lookout is situated on the outermost of these circular areas. The cottage was originally the barracks and the chapel on the top of the island was re-purposed as a military store.

  14. From the chapel, follow the path down the line of rocks to reach the coast path at the bottom.

    There has been a chapel on the island at St Ives since mediaeval times and it is thought to date from the 15th Century. During the 18th Century, it was re-purposed as a lookout for Revenue officers. After this, the chapel fell into disuse and was used as a store by the War Office. Not realising its significance and deeming it surplus to requirements, in 1904, the War Office began demolishing it until they were stopped by angry locals. Following a public outcry, it was rebuilt in 1911.

  15. Turn left onto the coast path (the lower path) and keep right to descend some steps onto the beach.

    The "island" (which is technically an isthmus) was once known as Pendinas. This is the Cornish for "fortified headland" as there was once a promontory fort here.

  16. Turn left through a small passageway to reach a lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a junction.
  17. Turn right and follow the road along the sea front, passing the Tate Gallery and the churchyard to reach a path alongside the car park on the right, opposite St Ia's Holy Well (Venton Ia) on the left.

    The Holy Well of St Ia (Venton Ia in Cornish) is a spring located opposite Porthmeor Beach, below the churchyard. The spring has been incorporated into the stone walls that surround the cemetery and now consists of two recesses each containing a trough of water. The resulting frenzy of stonework has been described as not one of the prettiest holy wells in Cornwall, despite the effort that must have gone into it. A plaque states "The holy well of St Ia, until 1843, the main water supply to Downalong" (the name for this area of the town).

  18. Bear right onto the path and follow it around the coast until you reach a kissing gate.

    The St Ives Feast takes place on the Sunday and Monday nearest to the 3rd of February each year. It celebrates the founding of the town by St Ia and includes a procession to the holy well (Venton Ia) and a version of Cornish Hurling described as "much gentler than ... at St Columb Major".

  19. Go through the kissing gate and bear left on the waymarked path until it passes through a wall and several paths lead ahead.
  20. Go through the gap and bear right slightly, keeping the rock outcrops on your right, then bear left along the path to reach a waymark at the top of the hill. Continue ahead to reach a second waymark at a junction of paths.
  21. At the waymark, keep right along the coast path until you reach a rocky path climbing up to the cliff towards the stone wall along the ridge. At the point where the rocky path departs from the coast path is a large boulder which initially looks triangular in profile as you approach it along the coast path.
  22. Turn left beside the large rock, onto the rocky path uphill. Follow the path until you pass a National Trust sign and you reach a footpath signpost.
  23. At the footpath signpost, turn left in the direction of Hellesveor and follow the track, through a gate until you reach a waymark at a junction of paths and tracks.

    Hellesveor was originally the larger (veor being the Cornish word for "large") of two tenaments that Hellas was divided into during the Middle Ages, the other being Hellesvean (as you probably guessed, vean means "small"). The name Helles itself is likely to be from the Cornish words hen lys (sometimes written together as hellys) meaning "old court". The name Helston is from the same origin (with some subsequent Saxon rebranding).

  24. At the waymark, continue ahead to stay on the track and follow it past Pen Meneth until you reach three metal gates at a bend in the track.

    Pen Meneth simply means "top of the hill" in Cornish, although the exact type of hill is selected from a range of options in the Cornish language.

    It may be an urban myth that Eskimos have a large number of words for "snow" but it's cast iron fact that there are at least this many words for "hill" in Cornish:

    • Meneth was often used to refer to Cornwall's higher peaks, or (outside of Cornwall) to mountains.
    • Tor was used for hills with rock outcrops protruding (and for the rock outcrops themselves)
    • Brea was used to refer to the most prominent hill in a district.
    • Ryn refers to a 'hill' in the sense of projecting ground, or a steep hill-side or slope.
    • Garth was used to refer to a long narrow hilltop.
    • Ambel refers to the side of a hill.
    • Mulvra refers to a round-topped hill.
    • Godolgh is a very small hill.
    • Bron means 'breast' as well as hill.
  25. Go through the pedestrian gate next to the gate on the left and follow the right hedge to a path in the corner of the field.
  26. Go through gap into the next field and follow the path along the fence. Continue around a bend to the left to reach a path on the left of the largest tree in the opposite hedge.
  27. Follow the path between two walls until it ends on a track.
  28. Turn right onto the track and follow it a short distance to a junction.
  29. Turn left and follow the path, keeping right along the wall to pass the church and reach an arched gateway into the churchyard.
  30. Go through the gate into the church car park and pass the church on your right to the reach the front of the church. Then follow the drive away from the church to reach the road.

    After his warm reception in North Cornwall, John Wesley and his followers found they were met with a somewhat more frosty reception in St Ives, also known as an angry mob. There were two reasons for this. The first was that it was believed Methodists sympathised with the Pope (and Catholicism was definitely out of favour in Cornwall). The second was simply a matter of geometry: in many of the North Cornish parishes, the church was located several miles away from the the village, up a massive hill, or often both! Wesley's form of religion, which could be carried out in the village, was made somewhat more attractive. In St Ives, where the church is alongside the harbour, the religious "playing field" was "level" (which is about the only thing in St Ives that could be described as such).

    Despite the inherent incompatibility of Methodism and dockside taverns, Methodism did eventually gain a significant following in the town and several chapels were built, three of which are still in service. The town had its own Teetotal Society and the Temperance movement is even commemorated in the name of Teetotal Street.

  31. Turn left at the road and follow the pavement until you reach a pedestrian crossing before a double roundabout.
  32. Turn right over the crossing and bear left along the pavement to reach the second roundabout. Turn right along the road signposted to St Ives Children's Centre to return to the car park.

    The large car park in St Ives was once the site of Wheal Trenwith which was mainly a copper mine, although a small amount of tin ore was also extracted. Amongst the copper ore was a black crusty ore that miners thought was copper oxide, but smelting it proved unsuccessful so it was discarded on the waste tips. It was identified as pitchblende (a Uranium ore, containing other radioactive decay products of Uranium-238) but it was seen of no value. An account from 1843 states:

    Pitch-blende occurs in great abundance among the copper ores of Wheal Trenwith, and was long carefully collected, and thought to be black copper ore. The low prices obtained for the ores with which it was mixed, and the inferiority of the metal they yielded, equally disappointed the miner and the copper-smelter; until a specimen of the copper was examined by Mr. Michell of Calenick, and found mixed with uranium in a metallic state. The ores were then inspected, and pitch-blende being discovered among them, its nature and prejudice to the copper ores were explained to the workmen, by whom it has been, of course, since rejected. Was there ever an instance in which an acquaintance with Mineralogy and Chemistry would have been more useful ?

    By 1907, the economic value of radium was well understood and waste tips were being worked for this valuable ore; small pockets were also extracted from the shallower areas of the mine. Between 1911-1917 there were 694 tonnes of uranium ore recovered, mainly from the waste tips. Apparently pieces of the pitchblende ore can still be found around the edges of the car park today. It is radioactive so handling pieces of the black rock is not advised (in particular, ingesting any would not be ideal as many of reactions in the nuclear decay chain generate alpha particles).

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

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