Walk - Carbis Bay to St Ives

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. From Carbis Bay turn left onto the South West Coast Path, towards St Ives. The path passes in front of the Carbis Bay Hotel and crosses the railway line to head uphill through the trees.

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. Trevail is regarded as being responsible for putting Cornwall on the tourist map at the end of the nineteenth century. As well as this hotel, he designed other iconic buildings in all the major coastal resorts around the county, including King Arthur's Castle at Tintagel, The Housel Bay Hotel on The Lizard, the Pendennis Hotel at Falmouth and the Atlantic and Headland in Newquay.

Lelant-born author Rosamunde Pilcher set many of her novels here, with the 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.

Before the coming of the railway the beach at Carbis Bay, known as Porth Reptor, was only used by fishermen. On the western side of the stream which tumbled through the Carbis Valley and divided the beach in two, Wheal Providence produced copper and tin, using five steam engines and employing as many as 450 men in the middle of the nineteenth century; but it was not until the coming of the railway that the settlement of Carbis Bay was established. Great Western coined the name for its new station, and as steam trains brought tourists to the valley so the cluster of farm buildings and mineworkers' cottages spread to include guest houses and lodges. The road up from the beach was a steep sandy track and luggage was carried up from the station on a donkey cart.

On the beach, visible at low tide, are the wrecks of three ships. All three went down in the same storm on a night in November 1893 which came to be known as 'the Cintra Gale'. The 418-ton iron collier Cintra was broken up as she lay at anchor offshore, and seven of her crew of twelve were lost. Just 100 yards away the 345-ton Vulture was also breaking up, but her twelve-man crew was rescued by rocket apparatus. Just a stone's throw away the 287-ton steamer Bessie was also being dashed to pieces by the monster waves. Just around the point, the 16-man crew of the Rosedale was rescued as she, too, was driven ashore on Porthminster Beach; while ten miles north of Godrevy the massive Hampshire went down with the loss of all but one of her 22-man crew.

  1. Carry on along the Coast Path above the railway line, ignoring the footpath signed to St Michael's Way and Knill's Monument on the left and the next path on the left a little way beyond it. Keep on past the Baulking House and the entrance to Treloyhan Manor Hotel, as well as the next footpath on the left.

The Baulking House 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.

At one time there were 600 fishing boats operating in St Ives Bay. They would work in 'seines' of three boats, trawling their seine nets in areas marked out by tall poles around the bay, usually on a rota system. The nets would be brought to shore and emptied in the shallow water, before women and children processed them in pilchard 'palaces' (from the Cornish word 'plas' meaning 'place), squeezing the oil from them and packing them into barrels between layers of salt.

Housewives celebrated the arrival of the shoals with heavy cakes (named after the huer's cry of 'hevva hevva'). These were small cakes made with raisins (symbolising the fish) and scored with criss-cross lines, representing the nets.

  1. At Porthminster Point the path becomes a minor road. Cross the railway bridge on the right to head for Porthminster Beach via the point or carry straight on to cross on the next railway bridge to make your way directly to St Ives Station.

Work began on the railway from St Erth to St Ives in May 1874, and by September there were 250 labourers engaged in its construction. By December the embankment across Lelant Pool had been completed, thanks to a run of fine winter weather, and within the next 18 months a strong wall was built on the seaward side of the St Ives station and the iron girders placed across the Primrose Valley viaduct. By 1877 all four new stations were completed (St Ives, Carbis Bay, Lelant and Lelant Saltings), while the 'miserable shanty' at St Erth was replaced with a fine L-shaped stone building.

The broad-gauge railway began running in 1877, rapidly turning St Ives into a popular resort for tourists. A number of top artists, disaffected by the industrialisation of the countryside further north, were drawn here by the spectacular scenery, as well as the picturesque vistas presented by the rural and maritime lifestyles of the locals and the stunning quality of light in and around the town. Their migration to St Ives and the surrounding area made the town a key centre for artists and potters, and the vibrancy of its cultural life continues to draw large numbers of visitors throughout the summer.

Porthminster ('chapel cove') is named after a medieval chapel which stood here until the early fifteenth century, and there is a record of a French raid on the hamlet and its chapel during the reign of Henry VI. Around 1875, the construction work on the railway line unearthed a number of shallow graves in the sand at Porthminster, followed by the discovery of several stone-built cists, buried more deeply. Nearby was a primitive building, thought to be an oratory or chapel. There are a number of such sites around the Cornish coastline, dating from the fifth and sixth centuries, when a flood of Celtic missionaries or saints arrived here from Ireland, Wales and Brittany to help Cornish Christians counter the threat of Anglo-Saxon paganism after the Romans left the land. There is some debate about whether the Porthminster chapel was set up by St Ia or St Uny.

There are also the remains of an ancient field system at Porthminster Point which may date from medieval times but are possibly much older. The whole of West Penwith has been designated an Environmentally Sensitive Area for its prehistoric field systems, and flint tools have been found on the Point which date back to Neolithic (or New Stone Age) times.

  1. Take the First Great Western train back to Carbis Bay Station.

Nearby refreshments

In Carbis Bay and St Ives.

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