In the days before modern transport, the scenic road from St Ives to St Just, along the north coast of the Land's End peninsula, was no more than a rough track used for carrying heavier loads by cart and wagon, horse or donkey. Even before this track evolved people travelled more easily on foot along the coastal belt below the hills, through land that still retains evidence of ancient fields, first carved out by Bronze and Iron Age farmers. Until the early 20th century the field paths, with their sturdy punctuation marks of granite stiles, were used by local people to visit each other and to travel to church and to the market at St Ives.
Patrolling the coast
The coastal paths on the outer edge of this wonderful mosaic of ancient fields barely existed in earlier times. They were useful only to individual farms directly inland and were often mere links between paths down to isolated coves. As commerce and foreign wars increased, the coastline of southwest England especially came under much closer scrutiny by the authorities. When 19th-century smuggling was at its height, government 'revenue men' patrolled as best they could the wilder reaches of the coast to foil the 'freetraders'. In later years the coastguard service also patrolled the coast on foot until there were few sections that were not passable, by footpath at least. Linking these paths to create a continuous route for the walker was the final stage in the evolution of today's coastal footpath.
This walk starts from the middle of the harbourfront of St Ives and heads west along the glorious coastline, once watched so assiduously by coastguards and excisemen. This is a very remote and wild part of the west Cornwall coast, a landscape of exquisite colours in spring and summer and where the steep and vegetated cliffs are not breached until the narrow Treveal Valley breaks through to the sea at River Cove. Here the route turns inland and plunges instantly into a lush, green countryside that seems, at times, far removed from the sea. Field paths lead unswervingly back towards St Ives, with a sequence of granite stiles reminding you of a very different world when this journey was an everyday event for Cornish folk.
Starting at the library, walk north, past a Co-op supermarket and bear right. Pass left in front of the parish church and continue ahead on a narrow shopping street full of small independent shops and eateries. Follow this to the harbourfront and continue on The Wharf towards Smeaton's Pier. Just before the pier entrance, turn left, signed to 'St Ives Museum'. Where the road bends, 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 lookout. Go down steps behind the building at the back of the lookout, then follow a footway to Porthmeor Beach. Go along the beach. At the beach end, go up to the car park. (The Tate St Ives Gallery is just down the road to the left.)
Go up steps beside the New Saints Boardriders Clubhouse, then turn right along a surfaced track past putting and bowling greens. Continue to the rocky headlands of Carrick Du and then Clodgy Point.
From Clodgy Point walk uphill and follow the path round to the right. Continue along a boggy and very rocky path. In about 0.5 miles (800m) take the left path uphill at a junction by a large lichen-covered boulder.
At a T-junction with a track just past a National Trust sign for 'Hellesveor Cliff', turn right and follow the coast path for 1.5 miles (2.4km). Just after a gate and stream, keep straight ahead.
Keep right along the coast path at a junction just past a shed and a ruin to your left. Cross Carn Naun Point. Continue past a trig point and descend to River Cove. Cross a granite footbridge to a gate and turn right at a T-junction. Climb to where the path levels off at a junction and follow the inland path, signposted 'River Cove & Field Path'.
At a junction with a track, go left through a kissing gate, then follow signs past Trevail Mill. Go through another kissing gate and climb steadily.
Cross a track and follow the hedged-in path, signposted 'Bridleway'. In about 40yds (36m) go left over a stile into a field. Follow field-edges ahead over intervening stiles.
Keep alongside the right-hand hedge in the field with a granite upright. Cross a stile. Keep to the field edge between the hedge and an electrified fence. Go over a stile beside the second of two field gates. Follow the hedge and continue to Trevalgan Farm. Cross a large stone stile to go between buildings and in 50yds (46m), turn left at a gate and follow the copious handmade signs to cross a stile. Continue to Trowan Farm.
At Trowan Farm, pass a granite post by a handmade 'Footpath' sign; continue between houses, then go through a field gateway straight ahead. Follow field paths over several stiles to a crossroad of paths.
Cross a lane, then a stile and follow a path between hedges then the left-edges of small fields. Pass a field gap on the left and turn left, as signed, just before another gap. Go through a gate and cross two stiles to pass between high hedges to a surfaced lane.
Turn right (Burthallan Lane) to a T-junction with the main road. Turn left and follow the road downhill to Porthmeor Beach and return through the town to the start.
Coastal path, can be quite rocky. Field paths, many stiles
Very scenic coast and small inland fields
Dogs on lead through grazed areas; no dogs on beaches Easter Day to 1 October
AA Walker's Map 10 Land's End & The Lizard
The Island car park, St Ives
Dove Street near start of walk, Smeaton's Pier, Porthgwidden Beach and Porthmeor Beach
There are no refreshment points on the route once you leave St Ives, but the town has numerous pubs, restaurants and takeaways.
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.