Explore beyond the picture postcard town
Words and photographs by Rebecca Bentley
This is a coastal town that has inspired so many, from the likes of Virginia Woolf and Daphne du Maurier to countless artists who’ve been drawn to its ethereal light and iconic views over the centuries, culminating in the formation of the Art Colony that has included Barbara Hepworth and Bernard Leach among its members.
Today the Tate St Ives proudly overlooks Porthmeor Beach and the town’s quaint cobbled streets are lined with dozens of art galleries as well as quintessential bakeries and sweet shops, quirky boutiques and plenty of ice cream outlets. Although its busy fishing industry is a thing of the past, lots of seafood is served up in the many eateries dotted throughout the town with the Sea Food Café being a personal favourite.
This time of year the streets are notably quieter without tourists and it’s a great time to wander the town at leisure – although you’ll be hard-pressed to find an ice cream – and to venture further afield to the coastal path that stretches out either side of St Ives. Maybe it’s that special light or maybe it’s just the way the rugged coast crumbles down to golden sands and a sea of every imaginable blue, but there’s something truly special about this part of the coastal path.
Cornwall Today’s graphic designer Ed Andrews can often be found rambling around here in search of tranquility. He says: “I often take the coast path from Porthmeor Beach to Zennor, as there are plenty of places along it where you can escape the crowds and noise of summer. I know a couple of detours where you can have a sea view all to yourself if you don’t mind sharing it with gannets and the occasional seal.” He wasn’t giving them away, unsurprisingly.
This looped walk takes the coastal path to the west of the town starting off at the harbour front and can be done as a moderate one and a half hour walk about 3.5 miles long, or extended to a more challenging eight-mile walk. If you can tear yourself away from the beautiful harbour scene, head towards Smeaton’s Pier and turn left at the sign for St Ives Museum – though it might be worth taking in some of its beautiful views from the pier first.
Take the walkway down on the right from the Museum from where there are yet more views out to Godrevy Lighthouse – the inspiration behind Virginia Woolf’s classic To the Lighthouse – and the three-mile stretch of Hayle Beach. Below you’ll see Porthgwidden Beach and continue along the walkway, across the car park and up towards the National Coastwatch Lookout.
Head on to the little Chapel of St Nicholas perched on the summit. This one-roomed 16 century building was once used as a simple lighthouse and later as a lookout post for smugglers. From here you can see both east to the heart of the town and west to Porthmeor Beach that is an array of colours whether rain or shine, though they vary accordingly of course.
Clamber down towards the beach which you can walk across if the tide is low or take the road by Tate St Ives if you prefer. Towards the end of the road turn right past putting greens and head alongside the cliffs towards Carrick Du and Clodgy Point. The smell of three-cornered leek (a variety of wild garlic) fills the air here this time of year.
Continue on to Hellesveor Cliff that lies just before Hor Point and turn inland at the National Trust sign posts up the hill to do the shortened version of the walk. It can get quite muddy and slippery around this bit so good walking boots are advised. The hedged-in track is believed to be centuries old, providing access to grazing animals and furze that was used for fuel.
This route will lead on to a small road that takes you back into St Ives past cottages and fields. If you’re up for a challenge, however, continue on along the coastal path to Carn Naun Point and at River Cove climb to where the path levels off at a junction and follow the inland path signposted ‘Field Path’. At a junction with a track go left through a kissing gate and follow signs past Trevail Mill, taking another kissing gate from there.
This route leads on through fields and stiles past Trevalgan and Trowan Farms respectively and joins the same path that the shorter walk follows before coming to the hill overlooking St Ives. Head downhill towards the town to where you can head back in the direction of Porthmeor Beach or take a back street past rooftops and gardens that leads straight down to the high street – and quite conveniently to the front door of the Sea Food Café, a fine way to finish your walk.