You may have to share St Ives with many other people, but even in high season this famous Cornish town is charming and you can soon escape the crowds by following this pleasant walk along the western shore. The route starts at the very heart of St Ives, alongside a great open sweep of sandy harbour that seems to trap all the light ever needed by the myriad of artists who have been inspired by this enchanting place for well over a century.
The walk takes you along the bustling harbourside and past St Ives’ excellent local museum, where good old-fashioned curatorship has resulted in an Aladdin’s Cave of fascinating artefacts. It’s certainly worth a visit. Beyond here you pass above the attractive little Porthgwidden Beach and up and over the town’s conspicuous headland known as The Island. On top of The Island are a National Coastwatch Institution lookout and the little Chapel of St Nicholas. The chapel dates from the 16th century, when it served as a seaman’s chapel and an early form of lighthouse. In later years revenue men on the watch for smugglers used it as a lookout.
Below here to the west is the magnificent Porthmeor Beach, one of Cornwall’s premier surfing beaches. It is also ideal for sunbathing, and for swimming, provided you pay heed to safety flags and lifeguards. Above the beach stands the excellent Tate St Ives Gallery.
Beyond all this, the crowds thin out dramatically and within minutes you are on the open coast heading west. On this coastal footpath and the inland field paths that follow, you tread in the footsteps of smugglers and revenue men, Victorian coastguards and godfearing Cornish folk who mixed hard work and piety with a little bit of plunder when God saw fit to wreck plump ships on their savage shore.
The second part of the walk leads you inland along broad tracks between the high granite walls, known as ‘hedges’ in Cornwall. Soon you feel as if you’ve lost the sea, but the way leads along field paths and across a sequence of granite stiles back towards busy St Ives, to the great surf at Porthmeor and to the Tate St Ives Gallery.
Walk along the harbourfront towards Smeaton’s Pier. Just before the pier entrance, turn left, signposted to St Ives Museum. Where the road bends left, keep straight on into Wheal Dream. Turn right past St Ives Museum, then follow a walkway to Porthgwidden Beach.
Cross the car park above the beach and climb to the National Coastwatch Institution lookout. Go down steps behind the building at the back of the lookout, and then follow a footway to Porthmeor Beach. Go along the beach. Part way along the beach, steps lead up to the road and the Tate St Ives Gallery. At the beach end, go up to the car park. (Dogs are banned by day on Porthmeor Beach, between Easter and September. To avoid the beach, go inland and walk along the road, past the Tate St Ives Gallery, to the car park.)
Go up steps beside the public toilets, then turn right along a surfaced track. Continue to the rocky headlands of Carrick Du and Clodgy Point, keeping left at a junction just past a kissing gate.
Walk uphill and follow the path round to the right. Continue along a very rocky path. In about 0.5 miles (800m) go left at a junction by a big boulder streaked with yellow and green lichen.
At a T-junction with a track just past a National Trust sign, ‘Hellesveor Cliff’, turn left off the coast path and follow a track inland. Reach a bend by two field gates, with stone stiles to either side.
Cross the left-hand stile and follow a well-defined path between blackthorn bushes. Go over a high stile and keep to the left edges of small fields. Go through a field gap and in a few paces turn left at a signpost. Follow a path between bushes and go through a metal gate.
Go over a stile and through a gate into a field, then bear round left to cross another stile and walk down steps. Continue between high hedges to a stile onto a surfaced lane. Turn right (Burthallan Lane). Turn left at a junction with a road. Follow the road downhill and round left, at Barnoon Cemetery, and then down a steep hill. Keep round right to the Tate St Ives Gallery. Follow the road back to the harbourfront.
Coastal path can be rocky; field paths may be very wet; several stiles
Urban streets, a very scenic section of coast and small inland fields
Strict control through field areas; see note on dog ban at Point 2
OS Explorer 102 Land’s End
The Island car park, St Ives or other car parks
Smeaton’s Pier, Porthgwidden Beach and Porthmeor Beach car park
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.