The next morning, we headed South West along the coast towards the charming little fishing town of St Ives, and although the rain beat us to it, it didn’t stop us exploring…
Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Porthminster Beach, Tourist Info, St La’s Parish Church, St Ives Guildhall, Lifeboat Station, Smeaton’s Pier, St Ives Bay etc
We parked up by the towns train station, which sits atop the rocks directly next to “Porthminster Beach”, one of a number of beaches which surrounds the peninsula St Ives in sat in the middle of.
Although the weather had put off most of the prospective beach goers for the day, we could still gaze out across the golden sand, and watch the turquoise waves wash up upon its shores. On a nicer day a paddle would have been in order, but alas not today, so we moved on towards the town centre.
St Ives is built in multiple layers, so between the station and the town centre, we found ourselves a great vantage point to look out across the town below.
It afforded a great view of the main town beach, the harbour, and of “Smeaton’s Pier”, the large stone pier that juts out into the war to protect the boats in the harbour from the crashing waves coming in from the Atlantic, but more on that later!
St Ives is a typical Cornish town, with narrow, winding streets which hide a plethora of charming cottages, old stone houses and idyllic shops which have been here for decades. The path we were following gradually sloped downwards, until we reached sea level.
From the East side of the Bay, we got a nice close up view of Smeaton’s Pier, which is located at the West end, directly across from us.
It was the brainchild of John Smeaton (1724 – 1792, Engineer from Leeds) who also famously designed the Eddystone Lighthouse in the 1750’s. The Pier took just 3 years to complete, with construction comprising of vast amounts of rubble encased within the stone wall. It opened in 1770, with a total length of 360ft. This is actually 300 ft shorter than it is today, as it was later extended in the 1890’s as the town grew, and more and more boats began to fill the space behind it.
A small lookout Tower can be seen on the end of the Pier, which amongst other things would have helped boats navigate their way around the Pier into the harbour at night. Presumably it was moved when the Pier was extended, as it is shown as being part of the original build in the 18th century.
Before we took a stroll along the seafront itself, we headed further inland, towards the towns Guildhall, which also contains the Tourist Information Centre. Completed in 1938, it features a large Council Chamber with wooden panelling which is used for town meetings, which sits alongside the “Mayor’s Parlour”, both on the first floor where the holder of St Ives highest civic office would have resided.
The Tourist Info Centre occupies the ground floor, and the whole building is available for weddings, where you can tie the knot in the Council Chamber.
One of the other major buildings in the town is the Parish Church of St La, which is only separated from the waves by the towns sea wall.
The Church is named after Saint La, an Irish Saint who arrived in Cornwall here at what would become St Ives. A Church in her honour was then later built about her tomb, and formed the basis for a new town. St Ives was another name for Saint La, hence the name of the town.
The current building dates back to 1434, when it was completed as a Chapel of Ease for the Parish of Lelant, which at that time covered St Ives. It allowed the locals to come and prey here instead of travelling into Lelant itself. As the town grew larger, it was eventually split off to form its own Parish, and the Church’s importance grew. It’s an impressive building, with a Tower that stands over 80 ft tall!
Leaving the centre, we finally arrived on the slightly damp… windswept promenade. We joined it outside the towns Lifeboat Station, which has had a presence here since 1840 when a new Lifeboat called “Hope” arrived.
There have been a number of different Lifeboat houses, completed in the 1840’s, 1867, and most recently, the present version in 1994, pictured above. The Lifeboat crew of St Ives has been involved in numerous rescues, with one of the most notable being the sinking of the “SS Alba”, a large ship registered in Panama which crashed into the rocks near the town. Before the ship sank, all of the crew were rescued by the RNLI, but due to the Lifeboat subsequently overturning on the way back to the Harbour, both crews had to be pulled from the waves, with the majority surviving the disaster.
Gazing out into the choppy waters of the bay, we spotted what was, at the time of our visit, the current Lifeboat, called “The Princess Royal”. I believe it was replaced by the end of 2015 with a new boat called “Nora Stachura”.
You can see the lookout tower on Smeaton’s Pier just behind it, although I am unsure if it is still in use.
Various other boats, mostly fishing vessels also inhabit the bay, safe from the harsh waves on the other side of Smeaton’s Pier.
I imagine in better weather there would also be one other inhabitant of the Bay, in the form of the small, red/yellow self hire boats you can see at the front of the picture above. Unsurprisingly they were all vacant on this particular morning!
You can find out more about hiring your own boat in St Ives on their official website here.
It’s a stunning view though here on the promenade, and the area of the town shown on the far side of the bay is full of Listed Buildings with a plethora of history behind them. Although you can’t tell from here, St Ives forms its own peninsula, jutting out into the Atlantic.
Looking slightly closer to our current position however, there are a few buildings of interest at this end of the Promenade (note the Church Tower in the background).
The main one I found some info for was the “Lifeboat Inn”, the building that the Church Tower is just peaking above. As far as I can make out, the Listing covers two separate structures which are now both part of the Inn.
The first is the light blue building just behind the large black truck in the centre of the picture, which I think is the original component piece, from 1587. The Listing shows that it was once known as “Lanham’s Showroom”, referencing a local artist called James Lanham who lived here in St Ives.
The second is the main Inn building in front of the Church, dated to the 19th century, which presumably bought out the building next door and expanded. Either way they compliment each other really well.
St Ives is a stunning little town, and our exploration wasn’t hampered by the wet weather, as there was so much to see around us. The harbour is very picturesque, and it was another great start to a day of sightseeing around Cornwall. Transport wise it is well placed, located at the end of the “St Ives Bay Line” which connects to the GWR (Great Western Railway) which heads both West to Penzance, and South towards London via Devon, Bristol etc. The line is notable as it was the final line in the UK to be built using the original Broad Gauge designed by Brunel, to a gauge of 7 ft 1/4 inches. It was of course later replaced by Standard Gauge, at 4 ft 8 1/2 inches.
We soon moved on, towards the small village of Mousehole, a few miles west of Penzance…