St. Ives really is a Cornish gem surrounded by crystal clear waters and beautiful golden sandy beaches all within walking distance from the town. There are 6 named beaches and some class a 7th at low tide. Not everyone is aware of them all, some people even think St. Ives is just a harbour and a few cobbled roads! There is a LOT more to our wonderful town, from hidden gardens, back lanes and cut-throughs, idyllic streets around most corners, a wealth of community history, amazing businesses, we’ll get to those another time but for now let’s start with the beaches…
Approaching St. Ives from Carbis Bay, the first beach you get to is;
A great family beach with almost half a mile of clean, white shell-like sand, shallow clear waters and great views of St. Ives Harbour and across the bay to Hayle, Gwithian and Godrevy. By train it comes into view as you approach the station which overlooks the beach. It has a very nice cafe/restaurant which provides great views no matter what the weather; we really like going to it in the winter months and watching the storms and waves on the empty beach. During the warmer months it also has a beach shop, beach cafe and green space right behind to relax on. Toilets are nearby and you can get into town along some of the more level streets through the picturesque Warren area. If you come from Tregenna Castle it is easy to find as opposite their bottom gate is Primrose Hill which takes you straight down (it’s a steep climb back up again though).
Porthminster means ‘church cove’ in Cornish, although no trace of the church is left and the position is also unknown. After the construction of the railway branch line in 1877, GWR purchased Tregenna Castle, it was the start of St Ives being seen as a holiday destination and tourism numbers grew, with Porthminster Beach being the main beach for holiday makers, with rows of beach changing huts, boat trips, regular regattas and competitions.
Virginia Woolf’s family summer home used to look down onto Porthminster and the view from there over the bay to Godrevy Lighthouse inspired her to write the book ‘To the Lighthouse’. The house that inspired such a great writer is still there but is now obscured from being seen from the beach due to new buildings. During the family’s time in St. Ives her mother, Juila Steven, would spend a lot of time helping sick townsfolk and she has a section of the Edward Hain hospital named after her. Her family summered here until her mother’s death in 1895 and St. Ives started to become too touristy for her father to want to return.
If you are up early the sun rises opposite Porthminster and is a great start to the day. At sunset you get a reverse sunset and often the colours over the bay and reflecting in the ocean can be as good if not better than a direct sunset from Porthmeor, with pinks, lilacs and metallic colours.
Because of its position tucked away from the Atlantic, the sea is often calmer and wind not so brisk. It is easy to kayak or SUP from Porthminster over to the harbour or when the tide is low you can just walk. Some events also use Porthminster throughout the year including St. Ives Food Festival in May, Bonfire Night fireworks in November and the Boxing Day swim in December.
The next beach along is;
2 Lambeth (Pedn Olva Beach)
Lambeth Beach is actually called Pedn Olva Beach, but after the song ‘The Lambeth Walk’ got popular locals gave the area a new nickname which has stuck. Pedn Olva translates as ‘lookout on the headland’. This beach disappears at high tide, and joins up with the Harbour Beach at low tide. When stormy, huge waves crash over the walk and to great heights over the buildings and St Ives Art Club. (The Malakoff, a garden area high above on The Terrace provides the safest vantage point to watch from).
When the sea is out it can be difficult to get to the sand as you need to navigate down steps and over rocks from the walkway. There is an outlet pipe from the Stennack stream which runs past the Leach Pottery and here is the best place to go treasure-hunting for fragments of pottery and sea glass. On the steps leading down by St. Ives Art Club you can still see some grooves in the steps which were made from large chains being used to save the shipwrecked boat HMS Wave (there is a commemorative plaque on the wall). Thanks to the community coming together, emptying the boat (and looking after the passengers) then successfully getting it away from the rocks, the ship was saved, repaired and returned to service. Do the Lambeth Walk and see the parish church of St. Eia on your left and West Pier and the Lifeboat House on your right.
3 Harbour Beach
Harbour Beach is situated, you guessed it, in the harbour! Often mistakenly thought of as St. Ives main and only beach area. Enclosed by the two piers and the Wharf, it is smaller than Porthminster or Porthmeor but it does have the bonus of being well sheltered from the wind. Most of the harbour is tidal and during high tides only small areas of sand are left at either end. Being tucked into the corner by the arches is very pleasant during dry days in the winter months, relaxing and watching the moored boats bobbing about. It is a working harbour so please be aware of this if you are planning to go into the sea. During the summer months tour boats, self drive boats and other water-based activities can be found at points around the harbour. Seal sightings are also very common, but remember they are wild animals and getting close to or feeding them is not a good idea.
Speaking of wild animals, the harbour area also has a high concentration of greedy gulls; eat inside if you can, and please don’t feed the seagulls as this is what has led them to bad habits of stealing. Gulls can live up to 30 years and teach their bad habits to their young, so if you like them please respect them and help them get back to eating more natural foods. There is a now infamous gull with its very own ‘ASBO’ tag after a study was done monitoring the gulls to see if there were certain ones that attacked more. The catchily-named W195 was deemed the worst and still has its ankle tag from the study.
Our personal three favourite views of the harbour are from Moomaids ice cream parlour, the cosy window seats in The Rum and Crab Shack and inside The Hub (best view from their balcony when upstairs is open). There is some covered seating outside of Moomaids to keep your ice cream safe and the larger sundaes are amazing!
The harbour sands and sea used to go right up to the buildings before the Wharf road was built. For a long time the pilchard-fishing industry was huge in St Ives and the working harbour was busy and smelly with fish being sold on the beach. There are a couple of replica Victorian fishing boats which have been masterfully built by St Ives Jumbo Association, and they can be seen along with gig boats (for racing competitions). There is a raft race and a regatta, as well as Lifeboat Day, all during the summer. At New Year fireworks are let off from Smeatons Pier, attracting lots of people in fancy dress. St Ives in December has a lantern parade through the town and along the front.
3½ Back Water Beach
Possibly controversial, this beach is often not counted as it requires a low tide to be revealed but it is just on the other side of Smeaton’s Pier with a slipway leading down to the sand. One of St. Ives only covered outdoor eating areas overlooks it: the shelter behind Smeaton’s Pier where you can see a large tiled art piece by the Leach Pottery. On the beach there is a walkway from which you can go crabbing, sometimes see a seal or two bobbing about, and look at the other side of the arches and harbour wall.
During low tides you can also explore the remains of the ‘New Pier’ which was constructed before the Smeaton’s Pier extension. As New Pier was made from wood it didn’t last very long. More info can be found in this video – A Flawed Slice of St Ives – New Pier
4 Bamaluz Beach
Bamaluz beach is a year-round dog-friendly beach tucked away between a harbour wall and what is known as ‘New Pier’ or the doomed wooden pier on one side and rocks on the other. As there are dogs on it all year round, often running around free, it might not be suitable for humans who are shy around animals. Accessed by quite steep steps near the St. Ives Museum. The beach is mainly tidal and has some good rocks to clamber over. At some times of year the high tide can completely cover the beach, whilst at low tide a beautiful expanse of sand is revealed that you can walk all the way to Porthminster from.
Porthgwidden is a beautiful little enclosed beach with views to Godrevy lighthouse snuggled on one side by the island. It is very family friendly with a great little cafe – Porthgwidden Cafe – public toilets and often slightly calmer waters up to the warning bouy’s due to it being walled by rocky outcrops.
Some of the rocks are good to climb, great golden sand and good shelter from the wind it is very easy to spend a day relaxing here. It also has steps up to the island if you want to explore a bit more and walk up to the chapel with its stunning views back over the bay and the town. Also from the island you get views of and a path to our next beach Porthmeor.
Interesting fact about Porthgwidden, it use to be used as the town rubbish dump!!!
Porthmeor, St. Ives biggest beach, a little more wild and has views of the sunset. Often referred to as the surfing beach as due to its more exposed location it enjoys better surf than the others and is home to St. Ives Surf School. There are public toilet facilities, Porthmeor cafe and West beach bakery during the summer it is a great place to relax and enjoy some proper beach time. If you are lucky you may even spot dolphins playing with the surfers! It’s a long beach with rocks at ether end to (carefully) clamber on during low tide.
Overlooked by the Tate and St. Ives cemetery with foot paths from the left of the beach that quickly take you away from built up area of St. Ives and into coast lined Cornish countryside very quickly. The first rocky outcrop is Man’s Head which has Prehistoric artefacts found there, it is quite easy to see why our ancestors might of made a home there with exquisite views back towards the Island. If you keep going you get to Clodgy Point and can continue much further to Zennor and beyond.