St Ives circular walk

St Ives

A circular walk at St Ives along the granite coastline and white sandy beaches which have inspired so many artists, through some of the most famous parts of the town including the harbour, The Island and The Tate, and via the church and holy well of Celtic girl Ia who, according to legend, was the first to settle here.

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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.


  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 4.3 miles/7 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes in summer; waterproof boots in winter

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)


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

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Hain Line
  • The Lifeboat Inn
  • The Sloop Inn

Alternative walks

Adjoining walks


  1. Head to the bottom-left corner of the car park and cross at the zebra crossing signposted "Pedestrian access to town". Keep following the path downhill to where it joins another path. Turn right to continue downhill to emerge in a car park.
  2. Continue ahead through the car park to reach the road. Follow the road ahead until you reach Tregenna Terrace with steps on the left signposted "town centre" opposite this.

    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 then follow the path along the railings to the right 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.

    There are several reasons why seagulls should not be fed.

    One is that human foods are not nutritionally suitable for seagulls but seagulls are not smart enough to know these can damage their health.

    Another is that seagulls become dependent on humans and lose the skills to obtain food from natural sources.

    The reason most affecting us is that feeding seagulls makes them less scared of humans. Since seagulls do not have have the emotional wiring to empathise with humans, fear is the only thing preventing that interaction being aggressive. Seagulls are innately aggressive when it comes to food as their behaviour with other seagulls demonstrates. There are many examples of children being attacked (who then drop food, reinforcing the behaviour).

  4. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a junction.

    The herring gull is the gull most commonly encountered in Cornwall, with a grey back and red spot on their yellow beak. They live for around 12 years and are highly intelligent birds with strong communication and social learning skills. This has allowed them to evolve strategies to obtain food more easily by stealing it from humans, either when briefly left unattended or by swooping and grabbing from unsuspecting hands.

    Whilst their pasty and ice cream stealing antics in coastal resorts might give the impression there are lots around, the coastal herring gull population dropped by about 50% from 1970 to the mid 1980s and the decline has continued with another drop of around 50% up to 2020.

    Part of the decline in coastal herring gull populations can be explained by a migration of birds inland to urban areas. Birds have been driven inland in search of food and roosting sites due to declining fish populations and lack of undisturbed coastal nesting sites. In urban areas, streetlights allow gulls to forage by night and there is no longer much competition from red kites, which scavenged the rubbish tips in the Middle Ages.

    At the time of writing, a survey of the inland populations is being carried out to determine the relative size of these vs the coastal population and if these are stable. The first datasets from some of the devolved UK Nations suggest that is unlikely to explain the majority of the decline. Since the 1990s, 96% of the population in Northern Ireland died out predominantly from botulism. It's thought that birds seeking food on rubbish tips might be bringing this back to colonies.

    The herring gull is an example of a "ring species". In Europe, the lesser black-backed gull and herring gull are distinct species, yet as you circumnavigate the globe, the populations become more similar until they merge in the middle as a single species.

    Herring gulls are able to communicate nuances both by altering the frequency and timbre of their calls - conveying, for example, the relative severity of a threat in an alarm call. They also analyse and remember the personality of their neighbours, ignoring more skittish birds but taking action when a more trusted bird raises an alarm.

  5. Cross at the crossroads and continue ahead, down Street-an-pol to reach a crossroads.

    When you reach the crossroads after the Guildhall, the road to the right is called Skidden Hill.

    Skidden Hill got its name because carts regularly went out of control here. Spur stones were embedded into the road near the corners of buildings to deflect runaway carts. Some of the stones can still be seen protruding from the pavement.

  6. Cross over the crossroads to the lane ahead leading to St Ives Art Club and follow this to where a path departs to the left along the sea wall, immediately before the 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. The pilchard fishery in St Ives was the largest in Cornwall in its heyday during the mid 19th Century. The annual pilchard catch in St Ives frequently exceeded all of the rest of Cornwall combined. The largest recorded catch in St Ives was in 1847 when over 57 million pilchards were caught in a single day. At the end of the 19th Century, the pilchard shoals stopped coming inshore and the industry had died out by the early 1900s.

    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. Go down the steps on the right and follow the path around the beach to a flight of concrete steps leading up to the headland.

    For the two months each year where a dog ban is in place on Porthgwidden beach, the path around the top of the beach can be bypassed by walking through the car park and following the tarmacked path leading from the other end of the car park onto the island, rejoining the route either at the coastguard lookout or at the chapel on top of the island.

    Porthgwidden is from the Cornish for "white cove". As the white beach huts weren't around in early mediaeval times when the Cornish language was used to name places, the name is likely to be a reference to the colour of the sand. Whilst the sand here isn't a different colour from any other beaches at St Ives, it's possible that the sheltered cove allowed sand to accumulate at the back where it had more opportunity to dry out in the sun.

  12. Climb the concrete steps and turn right onto the path around the headland. Follow the path to some iron railings then turn left to follow these uphill to a path leading to 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 away from the lookout to the corner of the small building surrounded by benches, 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. Pass the chapel and join the path passing a large rock and leading down towards the beach. Follow this 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 follow it towards the buildings. In front of the buildings, bear right down the steps to 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. On the beach, turn left through a small passageway to reach a lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a junction.

    Porthmeor already means "big cove" in Cornish and so the "beach" in "Porthmeor beach" is redundant. Further along the route you'll come across another name ending in veor, which also means "large". This swapping of an initial letter between two forms (m and v in this case) is a feature of Celtic languages and crops up very frequently in Cornish place names.

  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 wooden gateway.

    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 gateway and continue a couple of paces to a rocky area where the path forks. Take the left path at the fork and follow this to where it passes through a wall and several paths lead ahead.

    Because bluebells spread very slowly, they're considered to be an indicator of ancient woodland sites. In areas where trees are not very old, the fact there are bluebells around can indicate that there has been a wood on a site for a very long time. Even if there are no trees there at all, bluebells tell us that there was woodland there some time in the past. The bluebells along the coast are a relic of the gnarled oak woodland that used to grow here before it was cleared for grazing. There is still a patch of the ancient oak woodland left along the coast at Dizzard.

    Jackdaws are able to recognise eye gestures from humans (e.g. if someone looks at where a food item is hidden). It has been suggested that jackdaws may use this with other birds too and this may be the reason that they have a striking blue eye colour that is easily seen from a distance.

  20. Go through the gap and bear right slightly, keeping the rock outcrops on your right, then bear left slightly to the brow of the hill. From here, bear left slightly to follow the main path to a gap in a low wall and continue a short distance further to a gap in a second low wall.

    On the far side of the bay to your right is Godrevy Lighthouse.

    The Stones Reef off Godrevy Point has always been a shipping hazard and a lighthouse had been considered for a long time, but nothing was done until in 1854, the SS Nile was wrecked with the loss of all on board. The lighthouse was finished in 1859 and is a 26m tall octagonal tower, located on the largest rock of the reef. The lighthouse inspired Virginia Woolfe's novel "To the Lighthouse", despite her setting the novel in The Hebrides. In 2012, the light was decommissioned and replaced with an LED light on a platform facing the sea. The tower is still maintained as a daytime navigation aid.

    More about Godrevy Lighthouse and Virginia Woolfe in Cornwall

  21. Go through the gap in the wall and keep right to join a path made from large rocks. When this ends, continue on the path to climb around the headland to an area strewn with boulders, in the middle of which is 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 on the left which initially looks triangular in profile as you approach it along the coast path.

    Research by the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust has found that the majority of seals in Cornwall are tourists, stopping over on their way to somewhere else. Very few seals spend the whole year in one place and some of those visiting Cornwall have been identified in Wales and others in France.

  22. Turn left beside the large rock, onto the rocky path uphill. Follow the path to reach a metal gate near the top.

    Early purple orchids can also sometimes be seen on the coast here amongst the bluebells. Again these are more typically found in woodland.

    The early purple orchid has a Latin name meaning "virile" which is in keeping with the word "orchid" coming from the Greek word for testicle (on account of the shape of the tuber).

    This particular species is the con-man of the plant kingdom, with brilliant purple flowers resembling those of other nectar-rich orchids. When the insects arrive and push through the pollen to investigate the promising flowers, they discover that the flowers contain no nectar.

    Jackdaws can be distinguished from other members of the crow family by their short black beaks and grey necks. They are smaller than all the other black birds in the crow family and are only slightly larger than jays.

  23. Go through the gate and walk a few more paces uphill to granite waymark at a junction. Turn left in the direction of Hellesveor and follow the track through the gate. Then continue on the track to reach a waymark at a junction of paths and tracks.

    Hellesveor was originally the larger (veor being the Cornish word for "large") of two tenements that Helles 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 re-branding).

  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.

    At the top of the hill ahead is Knill's Steeple.

    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.

  26. Go through the gap into the next field and follow the path along the right hedge ignoring any other paths until you to reach a fork in the path beside a gap in the right hedge just before the telegraph pole. Then bear left at the fork on the path across the field to reach a path departing the field on the left of the largest tree.

    A survey of over 5 million clover leaves found that the frequency of four-leaf clovers is about one in 5,000 (twice as common as originally thought).

    The world record for collecting four leaf clovers in one hour was set at 166 (in 1998). One very determined collector managed to amass 170,000 four-leafed clovers in a lifetime.

  27. Join the path to the left of the tree and follow the path between two walls until it ends on a track.

    Thistle flowers are rich in nectar and provide an important food source for bees and butterflies. The common thistle was ranked in the top 10 nectar producing plants in two different UK plant surveys. The seeds also provide an important food source for small birds such as goldfinches. The plants themselves are eaten by the caterpillars of the Painted Lady butterfly.

    Ivy is a creeping vine which is well-known for being able to climb up almost anything. With good support, an ivy plant can climb as high as 90ft. A plant can live over 400 years and on mature plants, stems can reach a diameter of over 10cm.

  28. Turn right onto the track and follow it a short distance to a junction.

    Rooks can often be heard in the tall trees surrounding the churchyard.

    Experiments have shown that rooks are able to use tools to solve problems, choosing tools with optimal sizes and shapes to solve a problem. They are also able to adapt tools e.g. bending a wire to make a hook to retrieve food.

  29. Turn left and follow the path, keeping right along the wall to pass the church and reach a stone archway into the churchyard.

    During late winter or early spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    The plants get their name due to their triangular flower stems. As the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and have a small bulb. In fact, in New Zealand they are known as "onion weed". They are also known as "snowbell" due to their white bluebell-like flowers.

    Green alkanet is a member of the forget-me-not family and has small but striking blue 5 petal flowers with white centres. The plants are often around 2ft tall by the time they are flowering, making them one of the taller plants around in April and they also have hairy leaves that can cause skin irritation in some people.

    Green alkanet is native to the western part of the Mediterranean region and prefers sunny spots. It was introduced to the UK around the start of the 18th Century and fairly quickly escaped into the wild where it has become naturalised. As a garden weed, its brittle tap roots make it tricky to eradicate.

    The name "alkanet" derives from the old Arabic word for Henna. The "green" in the name is to distinguish it from dyer's alkanet (hence the Henna), to which it is related but minus the dye. The scientific name for green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) is based on the Greek for "five tongues" (a reference to the flowers) and Latin for "evergreen" (as the plant often over-winters as a rosette of leaves).

    This area was formerly the mediaeval settlement of Hellesvean. A corn grinding stone from the Dark Ages was found in one of the fields here before the estates were built. Also when some work was being done on one of the gardens in 1929, the remains of an ancient building was uncovered with fragments of pottery from the Viking period. The experts at the time dismissed the Viking era for the pottery but more recent analysis has found it to be correct (around 850-1050).

  30. Go through the gate into the church car park and pass the church on your right to reach the front of the church. Then bear left to 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.

    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. There are reports that 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.

  32. Turn right over the crossing and bear left along the pavement to reach the second roundabout. Turn right along the road signposted to the Leisure Centre to return to the car park.

    Uranium is unstable (aka "radioactive"). Occasionally one of the uranium atoms will fall apart and a particle (which we call radiation) gets flung out from its atomic nucleus. Having lost a bit of its atomic nucleus, what's left behind is often a different chemical element. This element is often also unstable and so has a tendency to fall apart in a similar way. The process repeats until a stable (non-radioactive) element is eventually reached. Uranium's decay chain includes radium (which was sought-after) and this subsequently decays into radon. The non-radioactive element at the end of the chain is lead.

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