Walk - St Ives Station - Lelant

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. From St Ives Station take the path heading down to Porthminster Beach, turning right to pick up the South West Coast Path and follow it above the beach to the National Trust land at Porthminster Point.

Porthminster ('chapel cove') is named after a medieval chapel which stood here until the early fifteenth century, revealed around 1875, when the construction work on the railway line unearthed a number of shallow graves in the sand (see the Carbis Bay Walk). There is some debate about whether the Porthminster chapel was set up by St Ia (see the Town Trail walk) or by St Uny (see below).

  1. From Porthminster Point cross the railway line on the footbridge, and head up the steep path, turning left at the top. Passing the black-and-white Baulking House, carry on up the tarmac path towards Carbis Bay.

The Baulking House, or 'huer's hut', is thought to date from early in the nineteenth century. A huer was a lookout, stationed at a key location above the water to keep a watch for shoals of pilchards arriving in the bay. When he spotted a shoal he would 'raise a hue and cry' and use hand signals to direct the fishing boats to the spot.

  1. As Carbis Bay beach comes into sight, cross the railway bridge to head down the path towards the beach, bearing left before you get there to go behind the car park and onwards up Beach Road.

Carbis Bay Hotel was built in 1894 by the Cornish architect, Silvanus Trevail, in response to the boom in seaside holidays following the arrival of the railway. On the beach below, visible at low tide, are the wrecks of three ships, all grounded the year before, during an overnight storm in November which came to be known as 'the Cintra Gale'.

Lelant-born author Rosamunde Pilcher set many of her novels in the area, with Carbis Bay Hotel itself featuring in 'The Shell seekers' and 'Winter Solstice' as 'The Sands Hotel'. Originally writing for Mills and Boon under the pseudonym 'Jane Fraser', Pilcher's first novel in her own name, 'A Secret to Tell', was published in 1955, and a further 20 novels followed between 1965 and 2004. Several of her books have been filmed, using various locations around Cornwall, and a mini series was made of the novel 'Coming Home', with some of it being filmed in Lelant. She was awarded the OBE in 2002 for services to literature.

  1. Pick up the Coast Path again to the left at the top of the hill and go down the steps to follow the footpath around Carrack Gladden.

The 60-metre cliffs around the headland at Carrack Gladden are of metamorphosed Devonian slate, and the acidic soil above them supports a range of vegetation, including grassland and scrub, and the nationally scarce maritime heathland, a habitat of gorse and bracken srrounded by ling and bell heather, giving a brilliant vista of purples and yellows during the summer and autumn. A number of rare plants grow here, including soft-leaved sedge, ivy broomrape and the delicate, vividly green maidenhair fern. The whole area has been recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest as a result of the biodiversity of its species, known as the Hayle Estuary and Carrack Gladden SSSI (see the Lelant Saltings Walk).

  1. The path approaches the railway line above Porth Kidney Sands. Carry on along the Coast Path above the beach and stay with it as it winds through the dunes.

The long stretch of golden sand at Porth Kidney can be reached around the point from Carbis Bay at low tide, but be aware that the tide comes in very quickly, and strong currents make the water unsuitable for bathing near the estuary. It is backed by a large area of dunes, dune grassland and dune scrub, again exhibiting a wide range of unusual wildflowers, thanks to its sand being rich in lime from crushed seashells, with traveller's joy and wild privet ranging through the widespread marram grass. Other particularly important plants include mountain St John's wort and the Hebridean orchid with its lavishly speckled pink flowers.

On the far side of the railway line is St Michael's Way, a 12½-mile coast-to-coast walking route, which starts in Lelant. This was a prehistoric route allowing sea travellers to avoid the treacherous currents around Land's End by crossing the peninsula overland instead. Later it was used by pilgrims on the network of routes leading across Europe to one of the world's most important Christian places of pilgrimage, the Cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain. It is the only British footpath to be designated a European Cultural Route in modern times, and it ends at St Michael's Mount by Marazion.

  1. Towards the end of the dunes cross the railway on the footbridge and follow the path up through the golf course to St Uny's Church. Stay on the marked path and watch out for golf balls.

The area's SSSI designation also recognises its importance as a feeding and roosting habitat for a wide variety of birds. The Hayle Estuary is Britain's most south-westerly estuary adjacent to the important bird migration routes traversing the peninsula, and its mild climate provides feeding grounds for flocks of wildfowl and wading birds when other estuaries are frozen.

The West Cornwall Golf Club is the oldest golf club in the Duchy and was established in 1889. It has spectacular views across the water to Godrevy Lighthouse and a prevailing wind which gives players a range of challenges. It is especially known for the warm welcome it gives to visiting players and it has a restaurant with full facilities.

The earliest written reference to St Uny's church was in 1170, when it was mentioned as 'The Church of Saint Euni' by Thomas Becket, Archibishop of Canterbury. Built of granite, it replaced an earlier wooden structure and was extended during the fourteenth century, when the present nave and south aisle were added. Like many other churches in Cornwall it displays a letter from King Charles thanking the parishioners for their staunch support during the English Civil War. There is also a fine east window depicting Cornish sea birds as well as Cornish saints.

There is much debate about the Celtic saints who arrived here during their rush from Ireland, Wales and Brittany to support their fellow Christians in Cornwall, beleaguered by incursions of the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The patron saint of Saint Ives, St Ia, is said to have established a hermitage locally which later became the Parish Church of St Ia in St Ives; but some commentators believe that it was St Uny who brought the religion to the district. There again, Lelant is named after Saint Anta, whose name is given to the Church at Carbis Bay, and it is said that she had a chapel on the rocks at the entrance to the estuary.

Look out for several medieval crosses in the churchyard. There are many of these throughout Cornwall, and they were widely used in the Middle Ages to mark the way to holy places, although sometimes they were simple waymarkers at the junctions of ancient paths or even simply boundary markers. They usually appeared in the form of the Celtic ‘wheeled’ cross, thought to have been a way of incorporating the pagan sun motif into the Christian cross, and they were used by the Celtic missionaries to attract pagan sun worshipers to the new religion.

  1. Carry on along the path through the churchyard, bearing left at the gate to follow the road downhill towards the railway, passing the old station house in its Great Western livery of cream and brown to turn into the station beyond.

Nearby refreshments

In St Ives, Carbis Bay and Lelant.

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