Walk - Godrevy Island & The Knavocks

3.3 miles (5.3 km)

Gwithian National Trust car park - TR27 5ED Gwithian NT car park

Moderate - A good level path for much of the way, with some short sections of ascent and descent.

A high-cliff walk from Gwithian car park, above the lighthouse featured in Virginia Woolf's classic novel and on around The Knavocks. There are spectacular views right around St Ives Bay, with its long sandy beaches backed by the Towans (dunes), and in summer the cliffs are fringed with wildflowers and rowdy with nesting seabirds. Look out for seals at Navax Point, where as many as 70 are sometimes spotted hauled out together on the rocks below.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. From the National Trust car park at Gwithian pick up the South West Coast Path, by the entrance, and follow it along above the sea towards Godrevy Island and lighthouse.

Archaeological excavations on the beach at Porth Godrevy turned up a prehistoric flint-working site, thought to date from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) period, between 6000 and 12000 years ago. Further Stone Age flints have been found elsewhere in the Towans.

On a rock platform above the beach, the remains of a fish cellar are from more recent history. Built of slate and sandstone above the tidal limit, with a cobbled floor, the hut was used to process fish. Sockets were set into the walls for the wooden beams used to press the oil from the fish, which were packed into hogsheads (casks) between layers of salt. A document dated 1656 refers to 'Godrevy Cellar', so it dates from before that time.

  1. Ignoring the path to the right at the end of the beach, follow the Coast Path around Godrevy Head.

Partly covered with grass, Godrevy Island is home to gulls, oystercatchers and pipits. Like the mainland, in spring it is bright with wildflowers, including primroses and thrift.

Trinity House built Godrevy Lighthouse in 1859, after the British & Irish Steam Packet Company ship the SS Nile ran aground on The Stones in 1854 and was wrecked, with the loss of all those aboard. Constructed at a cost of over £7000, the white octagonal tower was 26m high and the keepers' cottages were built alongside it. The two keepers together maintained a bright white light and a red light which still today flashes  every 10 seconds and can be seen for 8 nautical miles. This marked the position of The Stones, a dangerous reef that had claimed many ships. The lighthouse was automated in 1939 and converted to solar power in 1995.

In 2005 a review proposed closure, but following campaigning, this decision was overturned, and the light continues to provide a warning to mariners. In 2012 the light was moved from the lighthouse tower to a new steel structure on the adjacent rock. 

Although Virginia Woolf's novel 'To the Lighthouse' was set in the Hebrides, the lighthouse is said to be based on the one at Godrevy.

The Stephen family visited St Ives regularly at the end of the nineteenth century, when daughter Virginia was a child. She described the town as 'a scramble, a pyramid of whitewashed granite houses, crusting the slope made in the hollow under the island. It was built for shelter - built for a few fishermen when Cornwall was a county more remote from England than Spain is now.'

In 'To the Lighthouse', she tells how her character, Mrs Ramsay, watched the beam of the lighthouse across her bedroom floor 'with fascination, hpnotised, as if it were stroking with silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain, whose bursting would flood her with delight.'

Mrs Ramsay said of the Towans: 'as far as the eye could see, fading and falling in soft low pleats, the green sand dunes with the wild flowing grasses on them, which always seemed to be running away into some country, uninhabited of men.'

  1. Again ignoring the path to the right, leading back to 2, carry on through the National Trust land at The Knavocks, with an optional detour around the headland.
  2. At the fork below the trig point the Coast Path passes to the left of it. Take the left-hand path and follow it along above the cliffs until the two paths meet beyond.
  3. Turn right on the other path to head back over the Knavocks, rejoining the Coast Path on the far side of the headland at 4. Turn left and retrace your steps to 3. Either carry on around Godrevy Head again or take the shortcut to the left. Follow the Coast Path back above Godrevy Cove to return to the National Trust car park.
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