Saint Ives Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Saint Ives

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    Wallis' Cottage

    by Sjalen Written Apr 9, 2010

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    This tip is for those of you who are into art, since Alfred Wallis (1855-1942) was a famous painter who worked in St Ives. He moved here early on to work as a fisherman and only when he retired in the 1920s did he start to paint to pass the time after losing his wife. Having no formal art education, he just did what came out of him and to me, it is quite naive (as if I would have painted it myself) and with dull colours, but to some, this is actually a benefit since he could allow himself this artistic freedom without his brain being cluttered with what it "should" look like. In particular fellow artist Ben Nicholson but also Hepworth and others pushed for the other artists in St Ives to discover Wallis which they did but not the public who were used to other stuff. He died quite poor in Penzance, but these days he has become widely appreciated and his works now hang not only in the local branch of the Tate but also in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (one of the works there is painted on a cardboard box). You can only see the cottage from the outside unless you rent it to stay in during your visit but then you need to book it earlier than you would a table at the El Bulli restaurant in Barcelona I think! Inside there are apparently prints of his paintings and other things reminding visitors about Wallis. He is buried in Barnoon cemetary on the hill just beyond the Tate Gallery where he has a very special grave that is shown on the website below.

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    Paint courses

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 9, 2010

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    What could be funnier than painting a bit yourself if the art aspect is your main reason for visiting St Ives? This is just one of several art schools but it may be the most famous one. Courses run for most of the year and can be anything from once a week class to a full week intensive or just a day course focusing on something special. The cottage is their centre but you will of course find yourself wandering around town looking for things to paint.

    If you have creative children in your company on a rainy day, you might want to try St Ives Ceramica instead: http://www.stivesceramica.co.uk/

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    Geevor Tin Mine - A World Heritage

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 9, 2010

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    Mining by the Atlantic Ocean - entrance view
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    Not in St Ives but in Pendeen on the way to St Just and Land's End, this is still very much a "must see" and easily done even by bus (those to Land's End stop here but there is also the detour via Penzance in low season). Cornwall is well known for its tin mining and traces of it are everywhere in the landscape so it would be a shame to miss all this local history just because you want to surf all day. These days Cornish mining even has World Heritage status.
    Geevor opened in 1909 after merging with other mines around it, and was one of the biggest employers on the whole Penwith peninsula until it finally closed in 1991 when the international tin price had fallen too much for politicians to want to save it. Luckily, it was possible to open the mine to visitors instead a few years later and it has since become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area. We decided to spend one of the rainy days here and were not disappointed. The bus that took us here also offered a return ticket including entrance to the mine and off we went.

    To start with, there is a general mining exhibition in the entrance building but we were eager to see the underground part first whilst there were only a few visitors. We therefore skimmed this and went on to the Mill where you get to wander through a set course on your own along the machinery where minerals where shaken and sorted. At the end, you end up in the area where the underground tours start (and where kids can also do some mineral panning) and you don a hard hat and protective coat before entering a 17th century mine shaft with a former miner as your guide. This part was smaller than I expected coming from a mining country myself, but it was fun to walk through what was older than things I've come across at home in Sweden. If you are claustrophobic you might want to consider it twice but don't worry in general, I'm a big lass and I could climb through it all though low and narrow. Afterwards, it was fascinating to see how swallows had made the mine their home and the guide pointed out nests and we got to see ancient parents flying in and out of it with food before we returned uphill to the rest of the mine. In future, it is hoped that more modern sections of the mine will be opened to the public (there are sections going underneath the Atlantic nearby and all sorts) but so far a lack of funds have stopped the security and comfort work needed for this to happen. Let's see if a bit of Lottery money and regional development aid can do it eventually.

    The Victory Shaft is perhaps the most visible thing on the site and seen from the road and here you can see the waiting room where miners would await their turn to go down the mine, perhaps with cup of tea. The rainy day certainly added to the atmosphere. When we had looked at it as well as rooms for rescue operations and first aid, tool repairs and such, we entered the most moving part which is The Dry. This is where workers signed in, got changed and washed, and what is so moving is that things have been left like they were, as if the workers are all just on a tea break. Lockers with stickers, coats on doors and the peculiar green soap in the spartan showers all add to a feeling of sadness that this was all left to die. You can write messages to the mining guides in a book here and many have done which shows how moving it all is. The walls are also full of boards with schedules for dynamite jobs down certain shafts and things and it brings it all home somehow...

    After this, we needed a bit of cheering up and went for the excellent Mineral museum that has been created next door and which has the story on what is actually mined in Cornwall but also elsewhere. You get to study all kinds of rocks with mineral and then come to rooms with information on society in general around the Cornish mines. What the tin was used for, what women and children did in the villages and for the mines...excellent stuff and it also had a hands on section for children and a film showing the mine in action. When we had exhausted ourselves, we meandered back to the entrance via the huge machinery running it all, and ended up outside in the very good souvenir shop and restaurant. We never tried the food since we had a bus back to catch, but it looked nice and the shop was full of useful things that you actually WANT to buy, including literature on Cornwall.

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    St Leonard's Chapel

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 8, 2010

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    At the beginning of Smeaton's Pier in the harbour is this delightfully peaceful and very tiny chapel. Smaller than St Nicholas, it looks very much the same in stone and with a bright and spartan interior. It is known from 1577 but has probably existed before then. With its location, it has of course always been a place of worship for fishermen before they set off, and in 1959 a rememberance plaque was put up here for all fishermen lost at sea. There is also a small information desk on fishing in St Ives for you to look at today.

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    St Ives Society of Artists

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 8, 2010

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    St Ives has been known to house a colony of artists for at least a century by now, attracted here in the first place by the special light. This group has grown, shrunk and grown again throughout the years, depending on the state of the World and driving forces leading it. Today it has around 60 members which are mainly local since that is a criterium. The marine painter Bradshaw first founded an art society in 1927 to show art which also the artists themselves considered valuable but which not always got the attraction it deserved. A lot of famous artists have since been chairing this society.
    The early 20th century Mariners church where the society is based today was never completed. During WWII it was used as a field hospital and after the war, the society got to move in and today has its centre here with a spring- , summer-, and autumn exhibitions. It is open Mondays to Saturdays from early March to early January and all week throughout summer. Several members of course also have their own galleries and studios scattered around town and open for visits and you can learn more about this here.

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    St Ives Parish Church

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 8, 2010

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    Also called Church of Saint Ia, the patron saint of St Ives who leant her name to the town, this is the main church. St Ia came from Ireland or Wales and you find a sculpture of her by the altar but the church is also dedicated to Saints Peter and Andrew. There has probably been a church here since around 600 AD but today's building is from 1410-34. The tower is its most striking feature to visitors and is made of local granite from the nearby village of Zennor which was taken here by boat. A Barbara Hepworth sculpture in the form of "Madonna and Child" can be seen in the church which is also well known for its nicely carved pews, its painted ceiling, and its 15th century baptismal font. Sunday is of course service day but there are also a lot of organised evening concerts and such here.

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    Seal Island and other boat trips

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 8, 2010

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    St Ives Pleasure Boat Association can take you on various boat trips around the coast wheather permitting. With the old lifeboat James Stevens you can go on an hour long guided tour, whilst they also offer fishing trips and longer trips to Godrevy Lighthouse (of Virginia Wolf fame) and Seal Island where apart from Atlantic grey seals you might also be lucky enough to spot dolphines along the way if the conditions are right (read: warm enough). Due to the tidal water differences in the harbour, you often have to walk out onto the sands to board the various boats if it is in the middle of the day, or walk down the narrow stairs from the pier at times so wear sensible shoes.
    Boat trips are announced on boards along the harbour front for specific details and bookings.

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    St Ives Museum

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 8, 2010

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    An interesting town museum given the size of this small town - it has had its fair share of adventure and that's whats shown here in the form of exhibitions on tin mining, flash floods and not least wrecked ships and huge oil spills. Naturally, there are a lot of ships models and such in this old boathouse but there is also room for St Ives during WWII, old style clothes and St Ives social life throughout times, a mineral collection and some old automatic models on mining where 20p will show you things in action. There is a bit on the railways in western Cornwall and on craftmanship in town. Since it is all run by volunteers and in an old boathouse, the house has not been adapted to wheelchair users and you need to climb stairs to get in (see photo). There are also no toilet facilities for visitors and the museum is small but with a lot of information so you may want to notice this (nearest public ones are by the pier). On the other hand, it costs next to nothing to get in and children can buy various themed leaflets with questions to look for answers to so it is a good place to keep them busy for a rainy hour too.

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    Porthgwidden Beach

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 8, 2010

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    Porthgwidden is a rather small beach and can get crowded but because it is a bit "tucked away" you still don't feel too cramped since many end up on the other beaches. Don't come here by car in high season though since the car park quickly gets full and even needs its own wardens. Up by the car park is a shop selling beach toys and things and then you pass a toilet block and continue down the hill to the beach itself, passing the beach café which, like so many other beach cafés here, has an upstairs section with nice views and a beach section serving swimmers and onlookers with anything from wine to ice cream. This is also where you find a range of beach huts needed to be booked in advance.
    Porthgwidden is too small to have life guards but there is a cordoned off area with buoys at either end and inside this is where it is safe not least for children. Outside it there are cliffs with strong undercurrents and quite lively traffic in and out of the harbour at times too. A small but scenic beach which can also be reached by a nice walkway from behind the harbour pier and town museum as long as you are able to manage stairs.

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    Porthminster Beach

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 8, 2010

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    Porthminster is perhaps the most famous beach in St Ives since it is the one featuring in most tourist brochures and also the one closest to the railway station. In fact, it is so close that you see it the minute St Ives appears in front of you on the train. A lot calmer waves here than at Porthmeor means that surfing here is only done by small children on body boards and not particularly fast. Most families just picnic, swim and play games here and the cheerful beach is perhaps the one looking mostly like you imagine a holiday beach to look. There is also often entertainment for children in high season, as well as boat rental. A shop selling beach games and toys can also assist you with pumping up inflatable things and they rent out parasols. At the town end you will find a café selling snacks and ice cream whilst further on there is a famous restaurant where booking is a must if you want to secure a table (see tip). If you don't manage to book, this also has a fast food option at beach level downstairs with fish & chips, pasties and the like. Behind the beach is an adventure golf course and as already said, all this is just a couple of minutes stroll from the train. At Porthminster it is also possible to start/end a scenic hike through the green hills along the railway line to or from Hayle.

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    Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

    by Sjalen Written Apr 7, 2010

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    Sculpture garden
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    If Tate was a disappointment, Hepworth's house took us by complete surprise and I can honestly say that I had what can best be described as an almost religious experience in the tranquil gardens. We came first thing in the morning on a rainy day and were on our own for the first half hour and got a good feeling for what was Yorkshire born sculptress Hepworth's own home once she got to buy it after some years as an artist in St Ives. The garden is surrounded by thick stone walls and you can only hear the seagulls in the distance. The rest is just peace and quiet apart from neighbouring birds in trees and you can visit her old greenhouse and sit in an old chair and just soak up the atmosphere which is just what I did once I had seen the house itself which has a biographic exhibition on Hepworth downstairs and an indoor gallery with wooden sculptures and similar in what was her living room studio upstairs. Then I strolled around the garden to look at her huge sculptures as well as her guest house left just as it was when she lived here. The most moving thing was otherwise the workshop, also in the garden, where her coats and tools hung neatly and slabs of stone stood on the floor. Simple and marvellous. Our daughter happily modelled things with clay you could buy for children in an activity pack and she got so inspired she continued this when we got home. If this was not already a world class museum, I would give my right arm to be able to buy the wonderful house and garden as it speaks to you in a way few places do.
    Visit it the same day as Tate Gallery if you intend to see both, as then you get a discount.

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    Tate St Ives

    by Sjalen Written Apr 7, 2010

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    Since the Tate Gallery spread out of London, St Ives got an annex 1993 on account of being one of England's really famous art towns with hundreds of people coming for art holidays in town apart from the more established artists already living here. The strange cinema-looking gallery is built on what was the former town gas works which were bombed during the war so the site became vacant in the modernisation which followed. It lies on a slope just above Porthmeor Beach. It has a café on the top floor with views over the lower parts of St Ives as well as the beach itself. We never tried it as there was a queue and waitresses looked stressed, but we had a wander out to its terrace for those great views. Sadly there were no lockers or anything so if you have a backpack, you have to lug it around with you, and the same goes for your coat.
    The gallery itself was rather disappointing to us apart from the wonderful Barbara Hepworth sculptures in the atrium. We came on a rainy day when everyone had the same idea (and it got tremendously hot) but even crowds aside, the exhibitions were too odd and uninspiring for us, with a few exceptions. I had expected at least something famous and quite a bit of local art and its history but there was only Alfred Wallis (buried in the cemetery next door) to represent the latter group and his naive paintings were not my kind of thing I'm sad to say. Katie Moran with her almost Chinese paintings were nice but some huge installations with projections and letters on white walls I just thought was pretentious. Still, these belonged to the temporary exhibition 2009 and you might be luckier and get to see inspiring things. As for us, we finished off in the museum shop which is just as fabulous as in other Tate galleries with fun note books and lots of art literature, cards, things on architecture, film...you name it. If you want to visit Tate, you can buy a combined ticket with the Barbara Hepworth Museum if you visit both in the same day which is perfectly possible.

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    Down(a)long

    by Sjalen Written Apr 7, 2010

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    Downalong is the old fishing part of St Ives that you logically find down by the harbour and it is a network of narrow streets with fishermans' cottages huddling their sides. Turn the wrong corner and you will feel the wind on a brisk day out on what is in fact the beginning of a small peninsula between the beaches. The cottages used to be full of locals but today many of them are sadly abandoned for most of the year and used as holiday homes either for the lucky (and rich!) owners or let to tourists. Those that are lived in all-year-round have often been turned into art galleries and studios and you will find that every little boat shed here seems used for someone to live in during high season. The surfing tourists seem particularly keen on renting here and that's understandable since you are close to the major surfing beach Porthmeor, and some flats even overlook the beach. Everywhere you go you see wetsuits hung out to dry. It's a shame that the locals cannot afford to live here anymore and the whole thing reminded me a lot of the situation in the Yorkshire Dales but a very pretty area it is nevertheless.

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    St Ives Harbour

    by Sjalen Updated Apr 7, 2010

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    Smeaton Pier stops the worst waves
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    The famous harbour is what made people settle here in the first place. Facing south but on the northern coast, the place has a constant shifting light and really is a photographer's delight any time of day with bobbing boats at high tide, which turn colourful when later stranded on the golden sands. When the tide is out, people gather on the sands to look for shells and other interesting things, walk the dog or just for a bit of beach cricket. Some also wonder off to the next beach if they've timed it right.

    The harbour is where you find the lifeboat house and boat trips that have their own tips, but also where those who do not want to actually be in or on the water still end up to visit one of the many restaurants, ice cream parlours and pubs along the seafront. Evenings are as lively as daytime since one of the few amusement arcades in town can also be found here (thankfully St Ives has not been spoiled by too many of them and this single one is just enough to make the children happy) and with the combination of harbour and restaurants, and people strolling between them all, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Greece.

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    Watch the seals

    by aukahkay Written Jul 15, 2009

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    Seal lying on the rock

    One of the activities you can do at St Ives is to take a boat ride out to Seal Island to see the sea lions and seals basking in the sun. There are regular departures from St Ives harbourfront every hour depending on the weather. When I went, it was 9 GBP for a 2-hour excursion to Seal Island on a motorised boat.

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