Holiday haven and artists’ retreats on a wide, sandy bay.
The dune-backed beaches of St Ives Bay attract holidaymaking crowds, but the coast between the town and Cape Cornwall provides a striking contrast. Granite cliffs are topped with a patchwork of small, stone walled fields overlooked by steep slopes clad and Pendeen Watch may cars be driven close to the sea, and Potheras Cove the only place suitable for swimming.
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Cape Cornwall – A much quitter spot that the well-publicised Land’s End, Cape Cornwall misses by only 1,000 yards the distinction of being the most westerly point in mainland England. The headland – the only in England or Wales bearing the name of ‘Cape’ – is crowned with a tall chimney, standing in isolation, which marls the site of the 19th century Cape Cornwall tin mine. Its long-abandoned workings extend north-westwards towards the sea. From the modest summit there are good views of Land’s End and the Longship’s lighthouse.
Cape Cornwall is reached by a narrow twisting lane from St Just, England’s westernmost town and a centre of the tin mining industry during the Victorian era. From the car park at the end of the road a path leads down to Priest’s Cove, a sheltered in let with a small stretch of sand.
On the clifftops north of Cape Cornwall, more derelict engine houses, heaps of shale and closed-down mine shafts mark the site of what used to be one of Cornwall’s busiest mining communities. The mine on Botallack Head, which ceased working in 1895, was very close to the shore, and miners deep underground could hear the pebbles being scraped along above their heads as the tide ebbed and flowed.
Geevor Tin Mine – Opened in 1977, the Tin Mining Museum opened in Trewellard vividly illustrates the history of the hazardous industry that played such a major role in Cornwall’s life during the 19th century. The museum is on the site of Geevor Tin Mine.
Founded in 1911, the company’s interests include the ill-fated Levant mine whose main shaft was more than 2000ft deep (610m). In 1919 the ‘man-engine’ broke and claimed 31 lives. The device was essentially a rod, powered by a steam engine, which rose and fell 12 ft with every stroke. A miner on his way to work stepped on to one of the rods many platforms, went down to the end of the stroke, stepped off and on to another platform in the shaft, and repeated the process until he reached the appropriate level. It took 30 minutes to descend the 130 platforms of Levant mine’s deepest shaft, from which levels went our more than a mile beneath the Atlantic.
Pendeen Watch – Ore deposits stain the sea a rich, dark red as it batters the rocky headland from which a lighthouse has guided ships since 1900. From the lighthouse a cliff path leads down to a tiny cove where a sand beach is exposed at low tide.
About half a mile east, reached by a path, lies Porteras Cove, a larger but still beautiful and secluded bay with a sandy, shingle backed beach. Walkers who follow the clifftop path for 6 miles can enjoy some of England’s finest coastal scenery.
Zennor – This tiny village, built of granite, stands 300 ft above the sea in a landscape of wild beauty, and is watched over by the church of St Senara, dating from the 12th century.
The church’s best-known feature is a Mermaid Chair, whose medieval carving depicts a mermaid with a mirror in one hand and a comb in the other. She is said to have been enchanted by the singing of a chorister, Mathew Trewhella, who eventually followed her down to the sea at Pendour Cove beneath the spectacular cliffs of Zennor Head. The couple were never seen again, but legend tells that their sweet singing is sometimes heard at night.
St Ives – A sculpture called ‘Dual Form’, presented to St Ives by Dame Barbara Hepworth, stands outside the Guildhall and symbolises the town’s reputation as a haven for artists. Visitors flood in during the holiday season, but the oldest parts of St Ives – between the harbour and Porthmeor Beach – retain its old-world character. It is a compact and enchanting maze of narrow streets, and even narrower lanes, paved with granite and squeezed between picturesque buildings.
Porthmeor Beach is ideal for surfing, while Portgwidden and Porthminster are sheltered by St Ives Head. The harbour also dries out to form a sandy beach at low-tide and is protected by a stone pier built in 1770. It was the work of John Smeaton, the civil engineer who had pioneered bold new techniques when he designed the third Eddystone lighthouse in 1759. John’s Smeaton’s harbour helped St Ives become Cornwall’s largest pilchard port in the 19th century, when fish were exported as far afield as Italy.
St Leonard’s, a tiny building at the landward end of the pier, dates from the Middle Ages and was a chapel for fishermen. It stands on the site where St Ia, after whom St Ives in named, is said to have arrived by coracle from Ireland, in the 6th century. The building now houses a wall-to-wall photograph of the harbour in the days of sail, together with models of fishing boats.
Carbis Bay – Steep slopes, sprinkled with houses and hotels, plunge down to the sheltered, sandy beach at Carbis Bay. The rocks near by are popular with fishermen, who catch pollack, plaice and mackerel. At low tide there are walks along the shore to Porth Kindney Sands and on to the old church at Lelant.
Lelant – Drivers wishing to the narrow streets of St Ives can take advantage of a special park and ride ticket from Lelan Saltings railway station. Lelant itself is a pretty village that prospered as a port until sands started choking the River Hayle’s estuary in the 15th century.
The 15th century church, dedicated to St Uny, stands on the edge of the dunes in a graveyard notable for four lichen covered Celtic crosses. A path crosses the dunes to Porth Kidney Sands.
Hayle – Copper, tin and a foundry established by John Harvey in 1779 made Hayle the busiest port on Cornwall’s western coast for more than 100 years. By the 1830’s it had a packet steamer service to Bristol and was linked to the mines of Cambourne and Redruth by a railway. A notable cargo, shipped out by the foundry in 1844, was an immense steam-engine built to drain the Haarlem Lake in the Netherlands; the cylinder weighed 25 tons.
The foundry’s closure in 1904 started Hayle’s decline as a port. Its harbour, built at the estuary an area called the Saltings is a breeding ground for a variety of birds, including kingfishers, cormorants, terns and herons.
The Towans – Low cliffs and a huge expanse of turf-topped dunes – towan is Cornish for ‘sand dune’ – overlook 3 miles of sands which sweep up the coast from the Hayle estuary towards Godrevy Point.
Gwithian Towans – Reached by road, or on foot from Gwithian village, this part of the 3 mile beach which runs south-westwards from Godrevy Point. Dunes sprinkled holiday homes lead to low unstable cliffs battered by the sea at high tide. North of Strap Rocks, patches of sea ae stained by the Red River, which bears waste from old tin mines.
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