Originally called ‘Pendinas’, which means ‘fortified headland’, the Island in St Ives is not really an island at all, but a small, grassy peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. Once a promontory fort with a protective ditch and rampart, this jutting piece of land between the harbour and Porthmeor beach provides a useful stopping-off point for migratory birds, making it one of the best autumn sea-watching sites in Europe.
Rare and unusual species that have been sighted include Grey Phalarope, Black Tern, Sabine’s Gull, Balaeric Shearwater, Arctic Skua, Great Skua and Yelkouan Skua. Resident birds include Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Razorbill, Guillemot and the occasional Puffin. The rocks are home to Rock Pipits, Wheatears live in the short grass and Buzzards and Kestrels can often be seen wheeling overhead.
A coastguard lookout provides spectacular views across St Ives Bay to Godrevy lighthouse. Dolphins and Porpoises can sometimes be seen playing in the bay. The Chapel of St Nicholas, one of many in Cornwall dedicated to seafarers, dates back to the fifteenth century. The present building was restored in 1911 and features floor tiles depicting fishing scenes created by the famous St Ives potter, Bernard Leach. The tiny chapel, which also commands excellent views across the bay, was used by Preventative Men in the days of smuggling.
In the old days a fire, called a pharos, would be lit at night on The Island to warn ships of danger and guide them safely to the harbour. In spite of this disaster was commonplace, and the remains of one wreck, the SS Alba, are still visible at low tide.
The Island can be easily accessed via an obvious footpath. There is an all-day car park nearby.
Cornwall is home to a surprising variety of sharks. The most commonly sighted are Basking Sharks, which, despite their size and their classic Jaws-style dorsal fin, are completely harmless, feeding on plankton, a kind of algae that lives in sea water.
Not all Cornish sharks are harmless. The Blue Shark, Porbeagle, Thresher Shark and Mako (Maori for man-eating) Shark are all capable of inflicting injury on people, although as yet no shark attacks have ever been reported in the UK. This does not prevent sporadic media feeding-frenzies, in which St Ives often seems to be centre stage.
In 2007 the tabloids decided that a Great White Shark was hunting off the Cornish coast, following a prank by a local bouncer, who sent footage filmed off the coast of Cape Town to the local newspaper.
Media interest was further fuelled in 2009 when a twelve foot Thresher Shark was spotted by surfers and later washed up dead on the beach at Hayle.
The most recent uproar happened in 2011 when a sixty-year-old Mackerel fisherman claimed that a two-meter Oceanic Whitetip Shark ‘zig-zagged’ towards his boat and ‘circled it a few times’ before ‘slamming into it’. He reported the sighting to the harbourmaster at St Ives. Ten minutes later two other fishermen reported a similar experience, one of them claiming to be ‘100% certain’ that what he had seen was an Oceanic Whitetip.
Although the Shark Trust said that the chances of the animal actually being a Whitetip were extremely small – these sharks are usually found in deeper waters much further south – the media took up the story with relish, causing mass hysteria when a large Basking Shark was spotted in the harbour in the same week!
Lambeth Walk beach is a small (and oddly named!) beach situated between the harbour and Porthminster beach. It is barely a beach at all when the tide is in but opens up to join with the harbour beach at lower tides. The backdrop to the beach is the town Church of St Ia and to the northern end is the RNLI lifeboat station.
The beach got its name in the late 1930s when the hit song “The Lambeth Walk” became a dance craze around the World.
Lambeth Walk is a dog friendly beach with no restrictions throughout the year.
Clodgy Point beach is located just around the point (Man’s Head) from Porthmeor beach. It is a fairly rugged affair with a mix of boulders and rocks strewn across a sweeping bay that reaches over to Clodgy Point. It is possibly a little more sheltered than Porthmeor from the force of the sea but is barely accessible and only sandy at low tide. Access is from the coastpath towards the Clodgy Point end and is not recommended for all but the most agile.
On a low tide, with a medium sized swell and when Jupiter is aligned with Uranus there is a mythical surf break here. Foxholes as it is known is a rare point break that I have only ever seen working the once.
Clodgy Point is a dog friendly beach with pooches free to roam throughout the year on or off the lead.
Porthkidney Sands stretch from the mouth of the River Hayle in Lelant to Hawk’s Point in Carbis Bay. The beach is around a mile long and at low tide the sea goes out a long way leaving a vast expanse of usually almost deserted sand. The fact that one can barely discern the river mouth from beach level gives the impression the beach goes on practically to infinity! The beach is many visitor’s first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean as they round the corner on the St Ives branch train. The track runs along the length of the beach as it climbs up to Carbis Bay. The beach is overlooked by one of the areas top golf clubs too; the West Cornwall Golf Club.
At the Lelant end the beach is backed by gentle dunes and there are several access points from the coast path. As the beaches approaches Carbis Bay the dunes rise sharply to form a steep cliff from which the view along the coast is impressive. There is a path down from this end but it is a little more precarious and far from accessible to all. On the lowest of tides it is possible to walk around the point to Carbis Bay beach, or visa versa, to make an intersting detour from the coast path. A word of warning though, the tide moves fast here, so don’t get caught out.
The northern end of Porthkidney beach is a popular, but incredibly fickle, surf spot – Hawk’s Point. It needs a very big swell before it breaks here but can get good. Swimming is less advisable, particularly closer to the river mouth and on turning tides. Strong, unpredictable currents and a lack of any lifeguard cover make it potentially dangerous.
Porthkidney Sands are one of West Cornwall’s all year dog friendly beaches with no restrictions. Given the huge amount of space at low tide even the most energetic dogs should be satisfied.