Walk - St Ives Town Trail

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. Coming out of St Ives Station car park, take the path along The Warren towards the town.

Porthminster is named after a medieval chapel ('minster') which stood here until the early fifteenth century. It was exposed by wind-blown sand around 1870, when two stone coffins were also discovered. In medieval times St Ives was known as 'Porthia' ('Ia's Cove'), after the fifth- or sixth- century Celtic saint Ia (or Eia), who was said to have washed up here on a leaf (which was actually thought to be a coracle). After her martyrdom, an oratory of her relics was built on the site of the town's parish church (see below), which was dedicated to her. There is also a well named after her, on the cliff overlooking Porthmeor.

  1. Continue along the Warren as it rounds Pedn-Olva and turns into first Pendola Walk and then Market Strand.

The hotel at Pedn-Olva ('lookout headland') is on the site of the engine house from a copper mine, (Wheal Providence), and at the foot of the cliff below there are the remains of a granite wall to protect the early nineteenth-century mine adit from the sea. According to local legend, smugglers once hid fifteen barrels of brandy in the shaft and they remain there to this day!

Although the bedrock of West Cornwall is granite, St Ives stands on a rock known as blue elvan, or greenstone, a hard igneous rock which is difficult to work with. For this reason, many of the buildings in the town are of granite.

  1. From the lifeboat station carry on along Wharf Road.

The first St Ives lifeboat, Hope, was operated by a local committee in 1840, and it was another 21 years before the RNLI took over at the helm and built a boathouse on Island Road. In 1867 a new one was built on Market Strand and rebuilt in 1911. The first motor lifeboat was introduced in 1938, and coincidentally the most tragic year of the lifeboat's history was to follow, as 2 lifeboats and 12 men were lost in separate rescues in heavy seas. A British Pathe News film was made of one of the tragedies. In 1994 a new boathouse and slipway were built for the Mersey class lifeboat and its launching tractor, as well as an inshore lifeboat, a workshop and crew facilities. The old lifeboat house was converted to the Alba restaurant, named after the vessel at the centre of the 1938 tragedy, in which 23 crew members were rescued before the lifeboat was capsized with the loss of 5 lives.

Before the construction of the slipway here the lifeboat was towed along The Wharf by carriage to be launched on the old slipway by the Sloop Inn. Until 1922, when the sea wall was built, the beach reached the doorsteps of the houses along The Wharf. As well as the Customs House, by the Lifeboat Inn, there were at least four public houses on The Wharf, and the Sloop Inn, the sole survivor of these, is said to date from 1312. Known as 'the artists' pub', where some of its patrons paid in kind, the walls were hung with paintings and also featured caricatures by Harry Rowntree, whose drawings are considered to have influenced the style of the children's comics that followed. Next door to the United Fisherman's Co-op, the Ship Aground dates from around 1650.

  1. At the slipway keep going around above the beach, following Back Lane and then The Wharf and Quay Street, to Smeaton's Pier and New Pier.

Designed by John Smeaton, architect of the Eddystone Lighthouse, Smeaton's Pier was built in 1767-70 at a cost of £10,000 and extended as far as where the old lighthouse stands today, although this was built in 1831. The pier was lengthened in 1890 when the Victoria Pier was added and the new lighthouse built. At the same time three arches were built at the landward end of Smeaton's Pier and were designed to prevent the harbour from silting up. However, the currents were so fierce that it swept away small boats as well as the sand, and the arches were partially blocked off.

In 1864-5 an additional pier was built to provide protection for Smeaton's Pier. Constructed primarily of timber, it was known as Wood Pier, but it barely survived 20 years before the heavy seas reduced it to its foundations, which can still be seen at low tide.

The medieval chapel on the approach to Smeaton's Pier was a fishermen's chapel, dedicated to St Leonard, and the friars were remunerated by means of a percentage of the catch.

  1. Carry on ahead past the museum.

Formerly the Seamen's Mission, St Ives Museum was founded in 1924 by the Old Cornwall Society and features local artefacts from as far back as the Stone Age and many displays illustrating the town's maritime history since then. As well as instruments from local lighthouses, there are also items from the celebrated Hain Steamship Company, established in St Ives in 1878.

  1. Passing above Porthgwidden Beach, follow the South West Coast Path around The Island.

The Cornish name for The Island is 'Pendinas', meaning 'fortified headland', and there are traces of a prehistoric castle on its summit. In the past it was an island, being connected to the mainland by a narrow sandy strand, now the street known as Down'long.

There are three Victorian gun emplacements on The Island, where 64-pounder guns were installed to defend St Ives, but these were decommissioned 8 years later.

  1. Detouring briefly to St Nicholas Chapel carry on around The Island, turning right on Porthmeor Road beyond.

The original St Nicholas Chapel was almost completely demolished in 1904 by the War Office, after using it as a store, and it was rebuilt in 1911 by Edward Hain to commemorate the coronation of King George V. The floor tiles were made by Bernard Leach, the first of a number of world-famous potters based in the town.

  1. Turn right onto Back Road East and then Back Road West.

To your right are the golden sands of Porthmeor Beach, a popular place for surfing. On the hillside ahead is Barnoon Cemetery, with St Ia's Well at its foot and sculptor Barbara Hepworth's gallery nearby. Closer to hand are the Tate St Ives and the Porthmeor Studios. Originally fishermen's net lofts, fish cellars and salt houses for curing the pilchards which for many centuries provided the town's main livelihood, four of the cellars in the Porthmeor Studios are still used by fishermen. The others are occupied by artists, a tradition which began at the end of the nineteenth century when the new London-Penzance railway brought a number of artists, drawn by the famous quality of light around Penwith. In Harry's Court, too, look out for the plaque on the cottage where primitive artist Alfred Wallis lived.

  1. Turn left at the top, following the sign that says 'Access to Fore Street only' along The Digey.
  2. Turn right on Fore Street, bearing left when it forks.

The town's busiest shopping thoroughfare, Fore Street is paved with granite setts and has alleyways down to The Wharf and steps uphill to Academy Place.

  1. At the end of Fore Street walk past the Market House to the Parish Church. From here continue along St Andrew's Street and then carry on up Skidden Hill to the main road at the top.

The Parish Church, dedicated to St Ia, was built of granite between 1410 and 1434. The tall lantern cross in the churchyard is also medieval.

At the top of Skidden Hill, there is a plaque on the wall in memory of St Ives portreeve John Payne, who was hanged in 1549 for his part in the Prayer Book Rebellion.

  1. Turn left on the main road, turning left again beyond to return to The Warren and the station.

Nearby refreshments

In St Ives

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