St Ives to Carbis Bay

The walk begins at the Trenwith car park in St Ives and climbs through the Steeple Woods nature reserve to "The Steeple" monument overlooking St Ives Bay. The route then descends from Trelyon Downs and follows the Carbis Valley to the beach where shipwrecks can be seen at low tide. The walk then follows the coast path from Carbis Bay to Porthminster Beach and onwards to St Ives, returning via St Ives harbour and church.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.2 miles/6.8 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, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Nature reserve including Steeple Woods and Trelyon Downs
  • Panoramic views from The Steeple
  • Golden sandy beaches at Carbis Bay and Porthminster
  • St Ives historic harbour and buildings
  • Myriad of art galleries in St Ives

Directions

  1. Make your way to the Leisure Centre at the top of the car park then turn left to follow the path along the top of the tarmac. Continue until you reach a pedestrian crossing in front of the houses at the far side of the car park, leading to a gap in the wall.

    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).

  2. Go through the gap and turn right. Keep following the path along the hedge and continue along the hedge onto a gravel path to reach a waymarked flight of steps.

    The metallic minerals associated with outcrops of granite tend to occur in bands which radiate out from the granite outcrop. A band of tin deposits usually occurs closest to the granite, then beyond this a band containing copper ore. A band of zinc and lead deposits is commonly found further away from the granite, with just iron at the furthest extreme. The reason for the banding is that the deposition of each mineral occurs within a specific temperature range. Granite starts as a molten blob of magma which cools very slowly and provides a source of heat. The temperature of water in the cracks in the neighbouring rock therefore decreases with increasing distance from the hot granite.

  3. Climb the steps and bear left, in the direction waymarked, across the field to a gap in the hedge.

    Deep in the earth's crust where there is lots of sulphur and little oxygen (hence the smelly sulphur compounds around volcanic vents), copper occurs as crystals of sulphide compounds. Nearer the surface, chemical reactions with air and water form brick-red oxide and blue-green carbonate compounds and also copper sulphate. The latter is the blue stuff from school science lessons which you may vaguely recall is soluble in water; thus it became concentrated at the water table. In the Ice Ages that followed, Cornwall was scoured by glaciers which bulldozed away many of these concentrated deposits. Early copper mining took place on the few remaining areas of these surface layers, but it was not until innovations in pumping technology that copper mining could be carried out on the deeper sulphide deposits and these account for the bulk of the ore mined. The most common ore (called chalcopyrite) is a copper-bearing version of "fool's gold"; when pure it looks like gold but where it meets air and water, patches of irridescent green, blue and purple form and so it was known as "peacock copper".

  4. Go through the gap and bear left slightly across the field to a field gate in front of a house.
  5. Go through the pedestrian gate to the left of the field gate and follow the track to a junction. Keep left at the junction and follow the track a short distance to a field gate where a path departs ahead.
  6. Follow the path ahead until it eventually emerges onto a track. Continue ahead on the track until it ends on a lane opposite the Bowling Club.

    Ivy leaves come in two types. Those on creeping stems are the "classic" ivy leaf with 3-5 triangular lobes. However, more mature ivy plants grow aerial shoots with a completely different (teardrop) leaf shape. These are the shoots that bear the flowers and fruits and are typically located in a sunny spot such as on an upright ivy bush or top of a rock face. The larger, multi-lobed leaves are able to catch more light in shady areas whereas the smaller, stouter leaves are more resistant to drying out.

  7. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until it ends at a junction.

    The game of bowls dates from mediaeval times and was first clearly documented in the 13th Century. From the 14th Century, it was banned along with several other sports for being a distraction from archery practice. However bans on bowling continued long after guns had replaced the longbow due to the disreputable nature of bowling alleys which were often attached to taverns. Until 1845, labourers, apprentices and servants were forbidden from playing bowls except at Christmas under the supervision of their masters!

  8. Cross the road to the small lane opposite and follow this, passing between the posts, until it ends at a gate.
  9. Pass the gate and continue ahead when you reach the junction, passing the school and nursery, until you reach a 20 MPH sign with a path leading off the right.
  10. Turn right down the path between the two buildings and follow it to a junction in the path at a "3" milestone.
  11. Keep right and follow the path until you pass a large granite gatepost laying in the path, pass through a gap in a wall and reach a large tree where the path forks.

    The woods were thought to have been managed as a mixture of woodland and pasture up until the 19th Century when the gaps were planted to form a continuous woodland. Many of the trees show evidence of being cut (either pollarding or coppicing) to provide a source of timber. The mine workings within the woods are the remains of tin and copper mines which date back to at least the 16th Century.

  12. At the tree, take the left-hand path and then stick to the main path leading uphill. Follow this, as it begins to bear left through a gap in one stone wall to a gap in another with two fenced-off areas ahead with a tree between them.

    The fenced-off areas are mineshafts so don't climb over the fences! Later, at the top of the path, you'll see some "danger mineshafts" signs which refer to these.

  13. Climb over the roots of the tree between the two fences then follow the path uphill. Where the path opens out, keep the large trees on your left and fallen tree on your right. Head to the right of the largest tree and follow the path uphill until emerges via some steps onto a lane.
  14. Bear left across the lane to the signposted path and follow it to the monument.
  15. After a look at the monument, double back to the waymark and follow it downhill towards the sea until you reach a fork. Keep right at the fork and continue downhill, sticking to the main path, until it splits around a grassy triangle to form a Y-shaped junction with a path crossing the common.

    John Knill was a charismatic Collector of Customs at St Ives from 1762–1782 and mayor in 1767. During his Customs role, it is thought that he might have engaged in a little smuggling himself as there are reports of him fitting out a privateer for the purpose. He built his own memorial: the 50 foot high triangular granite obelisk, known locally as "The Steeple". He also devised a quinquennial celebration which consists of a dinner for the Mayor, Vicar and Customs Officer and guests in the George and Dragon Inn. This is followed by a procession from the market house to the monument, lead by a fiddler with ten young girls (who had to be the daughters of either fishermen, tinners, or seamen) dressed in white, and two widows. The mayor, vicar, customs officer, girls, widows and fiddler then dance around the monument whilst spectators sing the hundredth psalm. The first was carried out in 1801, which Knill attended. In his will, he left money for the upkeep of "The Steeple" and for the celebration to take place every 5 years after his death on St James' Day, 25 July. The delightfully eccentric ceremony has been carried out every 5 years for over 200 years, though the changing industries in St Ives have required the constraints on trades of the young girls' fathers to be relaxed, and the Customs Officer now has to commute from Penzance.

  16. At the junction, bear right onto the path and follow it to emerge from the trees. Continue to reach a fork in the path just after the path passes between 2 bushes. Keep right here and follow the path a little further until it forks for a second time.

    The common name "foxglove" dates back many hundreds of years but the origin is unknown. The "gloves" almost certainly refers to the shape of the flowers, and the latin name Digitalis (fingerlike) is along similar lines. The curious part is the "fox" and many different suggestions have been made as to where it came from. It is likely that it is a corruption of another word; possibly "folks" which was once used to mean "fairies".

    Foxgloves are reliant on bumblebees for pollination and bumblebees are much more active when the weather is good. As an insurance policy against bad weather, foxgloves have evolved to stagger their flowering over several weeks, starting with the flowers at the base of the stalk and working up to the top, where the higher flowers protrude over other vegetation that has grown up in that time.

  17. Turn left at the fork and keep right along the path downhill until it ends in another Y-shaped junction with a path along the bottom of the Downs.

    Bracken releases toxins into the soil which inhibit the growth of other plants, and the shade created by its large leaves and its thick leaf litter also makes it hard for other plants to compete. It is both poisonous and carcinogenic to many grazing animals which therefore avoid it if at all possible. All these things make it quite difficult to control, particularly in steep areas where mechanised cutting or ploughing is difficult. Treading by livestock can reduce bracken's competitive advantage, particularly during winter when frost can attack the plants.

  18. When you reach the path along the bottom of the Downs, turn right and follow it to a waymark.

    The bramble is a member of the rose family, and the roots are perennial but its shoots last just two years. In the first year, the shoots grow vigorously (up to 8cm in one day!) and can root to form daughter plants. In the second year, the shoots mature and send out side-shoots with flowers. The flowers are able to produce seeds without being fertilised (the flower is able to use its own pollen) as well as though pollen being transferred by insects from other plants. The word "bramble" comes from bræmaz - a word of Germanic origin meaning "prickly".

  19. Continue ahead from the waymark to reach a junction of paths at another waymark with the path ahead leading through the bushes.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles. Blackberries are closely related to raspberries and technically neither is a berry but an aggregate of many individual tiny fruits, each containing a tiny stone like a miniature cherry. Blackberries are high in vitamin C, K and antioxidants. The seeds, despite being a bit crunchy, contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and further enhance blackberries' "superfood" status.

    According to folklore, you should not pick blackberries after Michealmas Day (11th October) as this is when the devil claims them. The basis for this is thought to be the potentially toxic moulds which can develop on the blackberries in the cooler, wetter weather.

  20. Keep ahead on the path through the bushes and follow this until it emerges onto a lane.

    Due to their spectacular flowers, Rhododendrons have been popular ornamental plants for over two centuries and the species that we now call the Common Rhododendron was introduced in 1763. The plants thrive in the UK climate and were once native but were wiped out by the last Ice Age.

    Rhododendrons are so successful in Britain that they have become an invasive species, crowding out other flora in the Atlantic oak woodlands. They are able to spread very quickly both through suckering along the ground and by abundant seed production. Conservation organisations now classify the Rhododendron explosion as a severe problem and various strategies have been explored to attempt to stop the spread. So far, the most effective method seems to be injecting herbicide into individual plants which is both more precise and effective than blanket cutting or spraying.

  21. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until it ends at a T-junction.

    There were a number of old mines in this area including Wheal Comfort, Wheal Speed, Wheal Hazard, East and West Wheal Crack, Wheal Mary and Wheal Rose. By 1815 these had been aggregated into United Mines. In 1821 a dam burst and water poured into one of the shafts, drowning one of the miners below.

  22. Continue ahead at the junction and turn right down Wheal Speed Road. Follow this, keeping right around the bend at the White House Close sign, until you reach a junction with Park Lowen on your left.

    Many Cornish mines have names starting with Wheal, and it is a common misconception that Wheal meant "mine". In fact, Wheal simply meant "workplace". The word for "mine" was bal and the women who worked on the surface were known as Bal Maids.

  23. Turn left down Park Lowen and follow it to the cul-de-sac at the end.

    The name is from the Cornish for "field", park, and "happy", lowen, but the exact intent of the meaning has been lost. It's certainly the case that the original happy field didn't include a 20th Century housing estate or even the Victorian mine waste tips that predated this. Most of the Celtic place names date back to the Dark Ages when Cornish was spoken even by the ruling classes which changed after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

  24. Bear right onto the path running between no 16 and the house on its right (14). Follow the path to emerge onto another residential road.

    The Cornish palm is neither originally from Cornwall nor a palm! It is from New Zealand where it is known as the cabbage tree, being neither related to or tasting anything like cabbage. The top of the stem where the leaves shoot from was harvested by the Maori, resulting in something resembling an artichoke. It is bitter so it was traditionally eaten with fatty meats such as eel to make it palatable. The largest specimen of the plant is thought to be around 500 years old and has a circumference of nine metres at the base! It was introduced to Britain after being collected on Captain Cook's first voyage to the Pacific on the Endeavour.

  25. Cross the road to the path opposite (between no 28 and 30) and follow this until it emerges beside the main road.

    Research suggest that Sycamore was common in Britain up to Roman times but then died out due to the warming climate apart from some mountainous regions such as in Scotland. During the Tudor period it is thought to have been reintroduced by landowners looking for a rapid-growing tree for their estates and was found to be salt-tolerant - essential in Cornwall. It has since spread widely as the seeds are extremely fertile and able to grow just about anywhere. In fact, in some areas it is regarded as an invasive weed. The timber was traditionally used for milk pails as it does not impart any flavour or colour. It is still used today for kitchenware and is recognisable by the light colour and fine grain.

  26. Carefully cross the road to the track opposite marked "Vehicular Access to Valley Crest only". Follow the track down the steep hill and the footpath leading from it beneath the trees. Continue until you reach a junction of paths beside a shed used for electricity equipment.
  27. At the shed, keep right to follow the path leading downhill until it emerges at a bend beside a row of cottages, opposite a small "To the beach" sign.
  28. When you reach the bend, turn right to follow the path down the hill. Continue past the houses and under the railway bridge to reach a car park.

    The six-oared elm boats known as Pilot Gigs were general-purpose work boats, but one of their uses was to transport the pilot to and from a ship, which resulted in the name. The first boat to meet a ship gained the business of transporting the captain (and thus being paid) and thus a "race" came into being, with different boats competing for business. Today, Gig Racing is of a recreational nature, but the boats are still built to the exact well-documented specification of the originals. Elm wood is highly resistant to water, so much so, that town water mains were made of elm before the widespread availability of iron.

  29. Turn left into the entrance of the Carbis Bay Hotel car park. Then bear right through the 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 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.

  30. Cross the railway and follow the path until you reach a footpath signpost at a junction of paths with St Micheal's Way.

    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.

  31. 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).

  32. 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.

    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.

  33. 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.
  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.
  38. From the church, pass the memorial and Golden Lion on your left and follow the lane to a junction.

    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.

  39. At the junction, keep right alongside the bank and then turn left down the cobbled Chapel Street and pass the Three Ferrets to emerge opposite the Kettle 'n' Wink and Western Hotel.

    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".

  40. Cross the road to the small lane between the Western Hotel and the Cinema, signposted to the Police Station. Follow this to a ramp departing to the right with a path alongside with railings. Follow the path past Royal Cottage to a flight of steps beside the police station. Climb all the way to the top to emerge on a road opposite a sign for Tregenna Terrace.

    During Victorian times, St Ives consisted of two quarters known as Upalong and Downalong, between which there was a fierce rivalry. Upalong, on the higher ground, was an area of farming and mining. Downalong, situated beside the harbour, was the realm of fishermen and sailors.

  41. When you reach the top of the steps, turn right onto the road and follow it until you reach a car park on the left with a path signposted to Trenwith car park
  42. Bear left up the path to the Trenwith car park and follow it until you reach a signpost for Leach Pottery.

    The residents of of Ives were collectively known by the pejorative of "Hake" or "Hakeies" which is said to be based on the irreligious practice of fishing for hake on Sundays when most other fishermen stayed ashore to go to church.

  43. Turn left up the small path beside the signpost to reach the pedestrian crossing to the car park.

    You'm laid out like a ling is a Cornish dialect term indicating the observed person, dog etc. is laid out at full stretch without a care. The ling is a long, thin member of the cod family found on offshore reefs and wrecks.

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 also very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is useful as some single women can just about manage one or two but not a dozen.

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