St Ives and past Cornish nobility

The Duchy of Cornwall is an aggregation of estates vested in the eldest son of the sovereign or, in the absence of a son, lying dormant in the crown. Apart from the interregnum during the commonwealth after the execution of Charles I, the Duchy has existed since 1337 when it was created by Edward III for his eldest son Edward, ‘the Black Prince’. According to a translation of the Great Charter of that year, the king’s son was ‘Duke of Cornwall and heir to the Kingdom of England’.

Before this date there were Earls of Cornwall, the first being Robert of Mortain, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, and after the king, at that time the largest landowner in England. Early in the twelfth century Reginald, one of the illegitimate sons of Henry I, assumed the title of earl, but after Stephen ascended the throne in 1135 he brought an army into Cornwall and awarded the title to Count Alan of Brittany. When Henry II came to the throne in 1154 he confirmed Reginald as earl. Others who were made earl in subsequent years included Richard of Cornwall, also called King of the Romans, brother of Henry III; Henry’s son Edmund; Edward II’s notorious ‘favourite’, Piers Gaveston; and after his murder, Edward’s second son, John of Eltham. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made two cruises around the coast of the West Country and visited Mount Edgcumbe together in the 1840s. Tremayne Quay near Helford was built for a visit by the queen, but unfortunately she did not come because it was raining.

Queen Victoria’s eldest son the Prince of Wales (and of course Duke of Cornwall), later King Edward VII, was present at the consecration ceremony for Truro Cathedral (see here) in November 1887.

According to the twelfth-century historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) in about 1135–8, King Arthur, a hero of the late fifth and early sixth century, was said to have been conceived at Tintagel. Uther Pendragon, a fifth-century King of Britain, went to war against Gorlois, King of Cornwall, to capture his wife Igraine with whom he had fallen in love. Merlin the wizard changed Uther’s appearance so that he resembled Gorlois and enabled him to enter Tintagel, where he slept with Igraine – and Arthur was born as a result.

However, despite claims made elsewhere to the contrary, Monmouth does not suggest that Arthur was born in the town or had any further connection with the area. Mark of Cornwall, also early sixth century, was mentioned in Arthurian legend as the uncle of Tristan and husband of Iseult, who had an adulterous affair with Tristan. He was a contemporary of Salomon, another Cornish warrior prince. Salomon of Cornwall was a contemporary figure of whom nothing else appears to be known.

Some of these figures, who may or may not be purely legendary, were probably only rulers over very small localised areas of the county. Ricatus, who ruled in the tenth century, is one whose name is known only from inscriptions on surviving carved stone memorial crosses. Dungarth, also known variously as Donyarth, Dumnorth, Dumgarth, or Doniert, was said to have been drowned in 875 in the River Fowey, and is commemorated on an inscription on King Doniert’s Stone, a ninth-century cross shaft which stands in St Cleer parish. Cadoc, or Condor, was said by the fifteenth-century historian William of Worcester to be a survivor of the Cornish royal line and descendant of Dungarth at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, and appointed 1st Earl of Cornwall by William the Conqueror. In turn he was believed to have been an ancestor of Thomas Flamank, the Bodmin lawyer executed in 1497 (see here). Teudar, who may have been a contemporary of King Arthur, was a notorious heathen said to be responsible for the martyrdom of St Gwinear and possibly other Christians who were later sanctified.

Sir Piers Edgcumbe of Cotehele (1477–1539) acquired the Mount Edgcumbe estate through marriage in the early sixteenth century. One of his descendants, Richard Edgcumbe (1680–1758), Paymaster-General of Ireland and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was created Baron Edgcumbe in 1742. On his death the title passed to his eldest son, another Richard (1716–61), Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, and in turn to his younger brother George (1720–95), an Admiral and former Treasurer of the Household. In 1781 George was created Viscount Mount Edgcumbe and Valletort, and in 1789 1st Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. The 8th Earl, Robert Charles Edgcumbe (1939–), succeeded in 1982, and the heir apparent to the earldom uses the courtesy title of Viscount Valletort.

There have been two baronetcies created for members of the St Aubyn family. The St Aubyn Baronetcy, of Clowance, was created in 1671 for John St Aubyn (1645–87). All five baronets were named John, all became members of parliament, and the title became extinct on the death of the 5th Baronet in 1839. The St Aubyn Baronetcy, of St Michael’s Mount, was created in 1866 for Edward St Aubyn (1799–1872), the illegitimate son of Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet of Clowance (1758–1839), on whose death the baronetcy of Clowance had become extinct. Sir Edward’s son John, who succeeded him on his death, was created 1st Baron St Levan in 1887. The 4th Baron, John Francis Arthur St Aubyn (1919–), succeeded in 1978.

Earl of Godolphin was a title created in 1706 for Sidney Godolphin, 1st Baron Godolphin (1645–1712), Lord High Treasurer who was also created Viscount Rialton. He had been created baron in 1684. On his death the titles passed to his only child Francis (1688–1766). Francis married Henrietta, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough, but their only son, William Godolphin, predeceased his parents and died without issue in 1731.

The 2nd Earl was created Baron Godolphin of Helston in 1735, with remainder, in default of male issue of his own, to the male issue of his deceased uncle Henry Godolphin, Dean of St Paul’s. On his death the Godolphin earldom, the Rialton viscounty, and the Godolphin barony of 1684 became extinct; but the Godolphin barony of 1735 passed to his cousin Francis (1707–85), becoming extinct on his death. There was a third creation, as Baron Godolphin, of Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire in 1832, which became extinct in 1964. The ancestral seat of the family in Cornwall was Godolphin House, near Helston.

The days of ore

St Ives may have the most beautiful beaches in bygone days but it was hardly the coastal view that attracted visitors.

Although Cornwall is one of the most geographically isolated parts of Britain, paradoxically it appears to have enjoyed its fair share of visitors from across various parts of the ancient world. Visitors from Ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece and Rome have at various times trodden Cornish soil and interacted with the natives.

Cornwall’s popularity in those far-off days was hardly attributable to its spectacular scenery, stretches of golden sands or board-rideable surfs. Cornwall had something far more precious – tin and copper (in addition to other valuable ores) found near the Earth’s surface and running through its very bedrock. Such easily mined resources were pretty scarce in other parts of Europe.

What made these metals so special? Around 5,000 years ago the Sumerians discovered that a small amount of tin ore added to molten copper produced an incredible new alloy – bronze. Bronze was harder than tin or copper but was far easier to fashion (by means of casting) into useful things like weapons, armour, agricultural implements, household objects and jewellery. So ended the Stone Age, and with the Bronze Age came a growing international interest in Cornwall. The county’s metal resources began to be exploited around 4,000 years ago with the burgeoning demands of the civilisations of the Near East and Europe. Prosperity increased and early Bronze Age settlements sprang up around the county, some of whose remains still exist in places.

Two particularly beautiful archaeological artefacts – a fine gold cup and a bronze sword hilt – illustrate the connection between ancient Mediterranean cultures and Cornwall. A sensation was caused in 1837 when archaeologists excavating Rillaton Barrow (on eastern Bodmin Moor near Liskeard) unearthed a fabulous gold cup. The ancient burial with which it is associated, along with other grave goods, indicates that the object was owned by a person of very high ranking, probably a chieftain or royal family member. Having been cleaned and restored it served for a while in the ignominious role as a holder for King George V’s collar studs; thankfully the Rillaton Gold Cup can now be seen in the British Museum. It displays remarkably adept Aegean-style metalwork and is thought to have been made around 2,300 BC. Strangely enough, a local legend claimed that a mysterious gold cup lay deep within the barrow – could this possibly have been a memory passed down through a couple of hundred local generations? Another example of an Aegean import, probably Mycenaean, is the so-called Pelynt Dagger – actually an ornate bronze sword hilt – found in 1845 in Pelynt Barrow near Looe and now on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.

Bronze Age Cornish prosperity peaked at around 1,500 BC, followed by a social decline. The Celts had begun to populate parts of Europe and the British Isles, introducing new farming practices and communities that were more geared to martial matters. While it’s not known whether there was a violent clash of cultures between the ancient inhabitants of Cornwall and the Celts, it is certain that the seafaring Veneti, Celts of the Brittany peninsula, managed to seize control of the metal trade between Cornwall and the rest of Europe. Around 1,000 BC there was a sudden resurgence in metalcraft and more technologically sophisticated design.

But the magic and usefulness of bronze began to evaporate in the 8th century BC when the Iron Age arrived in Britain. Iron ore is smelted, cast into ingots and hammer-fashioned into implements by blacksmiths; with the addition of carbon it becomes steel, a material weighing about the same as bronze but far harder and more suited to weaponry and agriculture. With its acidic soil, Cornwall has few surviving iron implements from this era, and the patchy nature of human settlement in the county has made it difficult to identify sites linked with iron working. One of the few examples lies at Trevelgue Head Iron Age settlement on the cliffs above Newquay, where the remnants of an ancient foundry have been unearthed.

Cornwall continued to mine and export its metals, whose uses changed with technological advances, right up to modern times. With the closure of South Crofty near the village of Pool in 1998 came an end to four thousand years of Cornish metal mining – for the time being, at least, for the story of Cornwall’s metal wealth may not yet be finished.

A brief history of Cornwall

Cornwall emerges from the murk of prehistory courtesy of Classical writers such Strabo, who mentions a visit by the Roman official Publius Crassus who in the first century BC visited the Cassiterides (the Tin Isles), modern day Cornwall and Scilly, to organise tin trading with the Mediterranean. Diodorus, another such writer, thought the inhabitants of the peninsula of Belerion (Cornwall) remarkably sophisticated and civilised, the result of their extensive trading contacts with peoples from other lands.

Diodorus explained how the natives of Belerion extracted tin from the ground and then broke it up and smelted it, producing ingots which were taken to the off-shore island of Ictis. Ictis served as a trading post, the place where merchants from the Mediterranean and perhaps elsewhere would come to buy the tin they needed for their domestic markets. Many people think that Ictis is present-day St Michael’s Mount but others have suggested St George’s (or Looe) Island, further east along the south Cornish coast.

By this time Cornwall was Celtic-speaking, using a variant of a tongue which had emerged in continental Europe during the first millennium BC or thereabouts. Known to scholars as Brythonic or ‘British’, this variant was the forunner of modern Cornish as well as Welsh and Breton.

How, why and when Celtic became the language of Cornwall is a matter of some conjecture. The old idea that ancient times consisted of a series of mass invasions, with waves of newcomers arriving suddenly to expel or exterminate the existing populations is now open to doubt. Instead, historians now argue that these ‘invasions’ involved relatively few people who, because of their superior technologies or military prowess, were able to impose their ways (including language) upon the indigenous natives. The Celtic settlement of Britain as a whole is now thought to have been a long, drawn-out affair, perhaps starting early in the first millennium BC and ending with the arrival of the Belgic people not long before the coming of the Romans.

Certainly, the evidence of Iron Age Cornwall is of continuity rather than upheaval, the arrival of Celtic speech coinciding with the first use of iron for weapons and other artifacts. By the time the Romans came to Britain in AD43, the famous promontory and hill forts of Cornwall – Chun Castle, Warbstow Bury, the Rumps, the Dodman, and so on – had already existed for centuries, and some remained occupied (though not continuously) until as late as the sixth century AD. In the west of Cornwall, people were already living in so-called courtyard houses, of which several well known examples survive today. Chysauster, near Gulval, dates from the Roman era but Carn Euny (in the parish of Sancreed) is older, consisting of three interlocking courtyard houses and a remarkable underground chamber or fogou – from the Cornish-language word for ‘cave’. These fogous are now thought to have been underground storage larders, although other theories suggest they may have had religious significance or were perhaps hiding-places in case of attack.

The Romans built a fort at Isca Dumnoniorum (modern Exeter) in about AD55, and it was from there that they exercised their rule in the far west. In fact, there is very little evidence of Roman intrusion or activity in Cornwall. A small fort, probably used as a forward operating base rather than a garrison, was constructed around AD55-60 at Nanstallon, near Bodmin, and five Roman milestones have been found in different parts of Cornwall. At Carvossa, a large enclosed site near Probus, imported Roman pottery has been found, and the remains of a Romano-British villa have been uncovered at Magor, Illogan. Politically, it seems that Cornwall formed a pagus or subdivision of the Roman canton of Dumnonia (present-day Cornwall, Devon and western Somerset) but was very much left to its own devices.

When the last of the legions left Britain in about AD410, Dumnonia survived in name as a post-Roman Celtic kingdom but the reality (or so it seems) was increasing political and territorial fragmentation in the South West peninsula. Certainly, by the ninth century Anglo-Saxon sources were referring to Cornwalas or Westwalas, while texts in Latin spoke of Cornubia and Old Welsh had coined the word Cerniu – each of these referring to the kingdom of Kernow or Cornwall, the land of the ‘West Welsh’, as it had by then become.

It is no longer fashionable to describe the post-Roman era in Britain as ‘the Dark Ages’ but it is nonetheless a murky period in Cornish history. Half-legendary figures such as Cynan (or Conan) Meriadoc and King Mark appear tantalisingly from the mists, the latter entwined intimately in the tragic tale of Tristan and Iseult. Ultimately a European medieval high romance, taken to France and beyond by way of Brittany, the story of the ill-fated lovers, Tristan and Iseult, has its roots in Dark Age Cornwall.

Near Fowey stands the so-called Tristan Stone, carved with the inscription DRUSTANVS HIC IACIT/CVNOMORI FILIVS – ‘Drustanus lies here, son of Cunomorus’. Drustanus has been indentified with the legendary Tristan, and Cunomorus has been equated with the sixth-century Marcus Cunomorus (‘King Mark’) whose fortress is said to be neighbouring Castle Dore.

In the several versions of the story that have come down to us, Tristan is the nephew (not son) of King Mark and is sent to Ireland to seek the hand of Iseult, the Queen’s daughter, for Mark. The Queen accepts, and the princess and her maiden Brangwayn set out on their journey to Cornwall. The Queen has given Brangwayn a special love-potion which Iseult and Mark are to drink on their wedding night but by mistake (or design) it is Tristan who sups the magic liquid. Inevitably, Tristan and Iseult fall hopelessly in love, and in the court of King Mark resort to a variety of deceptions to be together. Eventually, Tristan leaves Cornwall to fight for King Hywel of Brittany, where he meets and marries a second Iseult (Iseult of the White Hands). However, the first Iseult begs Tristan to return, and he does so, only to be slain by the angry and jealous King Mark who has uncovered the truth of the liaison.

Mark’s son Constantine is described by Gildas about AD560 in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae as the ‘tyrant whelp of the filthy lioness of Dumnonia’. Even when he gives up his throne to retire to a monastery, Constantine continues his regime of corruption and murder, coldly disposing of rivals and opponents. Several generations later we find Geraint, altogether a more sympathetic figure, referred to in AD705 by Adhelm, the first West Saxon bishop of Sherborne, as ‘Geruntius, King of Dumnonia’. In fact, Geraint died heroically trying to protect his territory from the encroaching English kingdom of Wessex, struck down at the battle of Llongborth (perhaps present-day Langport in Somerset). Later, in the Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals) for the year AD875, we learn of the death by drowning of ‘Dumnarth rex Cerniu’ (Dumgarth, king of Cornwall), thought to be the ninth-century Doniert whose memorial stone can to this day be found near St Cleer. Its Latin inscription reads DONIERT ROG-AVIT PRO ANIMA – ‘Doniert has asked [prayers?] for [his] soul.’

The last king of Cornwall, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was ‘Huwal [Hywel], king of the West Welsh’ who was persuaded to recognise the overlordship of Athelstan, the ruthless and ambitious king of Wessex. Athelstan suceeded in welding the several Anglo-Saxon kingdoms together (to form the England we recognise today) as well as becoming the overlord of his Celtic neighbours. It was Athelstan who in AD936 fixed the River Tamar as the border between Cornwall and England, evicting the remaining Cornish from Exeter (and perhaps the rest of Devon) in an act in which, according to the later writer William of Malmesbury, that city was ‘cleansed of its defilement by wiping out that filthy race’.

St Ives out of season is also not a bad idea

Think of St Ives and beaches, ice creams and sunny clifftop walks come to mind. The cosmopolitan artists’ haven in south west Cornwall has always been about more than bucket-and-spade brigade, though in the summer months – when the sands are thronged, the traffic end-to-end and the queues for fish and chips snake along the harbour – you could be forgiven for forgetting that. St Ives in late autumn and winter is quite a different fish. While some hotels, guest houses and cafes shut up shop for three or four months, it is far from a ghost town.

In fact, there is just enough buzz to make it a perfectly smug place for a winter break: there are no cars, the beaches are empty and majestic, the coastal path blissfully clear and rooms and restaurant tables are yours for the taking. And when the mist rolls in, as it surely will, there is plenty to do – from exhibitions to thermal spas, shopping to cosy hidden bars.

There is even more reason to visit St Ives this winter. Great Western has just relaunched its London to Penzance Night Riviera sleeper service with some quite neat new cabins which have surprisingly comfortable, if narrow, beds (bunks if you’re sharing) that can be converted into sofas, plus a small sink, wifi and phone-charging sockets. The 23.45 from Paddington arrives into St Erth just in time to catch the 07.49 to St Ives on the branch line, which is an attraction in itself. The beautiful, 15-minute pootle around the coast has views across the Hayle estuary and Carbis Bay, dotted with oyster-catchers and flashes of wild flowers.

The other draw is that the new Tate St Ives, officially opened in October, having been closed for 18 months for a £20 million refurbishment and extension. The original gallery, which opened in 1993 and attracts over 250,000 visitors a year (over three times the number for which it was designed), has now doubled in size. The new extension, an “anti-iconic” build by Jamie Fobert Architects, has been cleverly carved into the cliff; the only signs of it are six light wells on the hillside and a handsome new facade clad in sea-green and sky-blue ceramic tiles which seem to change with the weather.

The new exhibition space is currently given over to a single, vast, room of sculptures by Rebecca Warren, but the space is flexible and for the next show in February, which is dedicated to Virginia Woolf and women artists since the 1850s, it will be divided up into various rooms.

The tiles on the new Tate St Ives extension change colour with the weather The old gallery spaces, centred around that remarkable loggia which reflects the sea back into the gallery, have been de-cluttered and refreshed, the better to show off the permanent collection of work by artists more or less connected to St Ives – from Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo and Mark Rothko right up to 2017 Turner Prize nominee Lubaina Himid. It is a joy to walk around and thanks to a redesigned entrance hall and cafe (still the best place for coffee with a view in town), the queues in summer should be shorter, too.

Visiting in November, I had one dull-ish day and another filled with gorgeous sun, which I devoted to the South West Coast Path. I caught the branch line back to Lelant Saltings and walked the four-and-a-half miles to St Ives, through fields and churchyards, down country lanes (peeking into the vast back gardens of mansions), across clifftops and beaches including the wild Porthkidney Sands with its view across to Godrevy lighthouse, as immortalised by Virginia Woolf. Magnificent – and I saw a handful of people the whole way.

According to locals, the Pedn Olva hotel at the top of The Warren has outside terraces overlooking Porthminster beach and the harbour. You might even spot a dolphin. It is open to non-residents and is excellent for a coffee, a drink or a meal with really friendly staff.

My local favourites include the Beach Cafe Bar on The Wharf. You can get fabulous coffees, drinks and food all day and late evenings in the summer.

The Pilchard Press, the UK’s smallest – and Cornwall’s first – micropub which is fairly comprehensively hidden behind some bins and a pasty shop on the harbour. Inside the whitewashed cave are about four card tables and a bar serving five craft ales (as well as beers and wine) of varying strength. It opened last year and will not be hidden for long, I suspect.

The view from inside the sauna on the cliffside at the C Bay Spa I stayed at the Gannet Inn, a very cosy hotel in Carbis Bay, on the road to St Ives, which opened last year. The stylish rooms are named after sea-birds and have distant views down to the sea, the food is hearty and the welcome warm. The lounge, stuffed with leather and tweed armchairs and centred on a roaring fire is a very pleasant place to return to. Guests get access to the beach and spa at its sister property, the Carbis Bay Hotel, 10 minutes’ walk away.

The spa has two pools – one large and bracing, the other small and toasty with hydrotherapy jets – and a charming round sauna perched on the cliff, overlooking the beach as the waves crash in the distance. Who needs summer sun when you have views like this all to yourself?

If you are planning a long winter break for yourself, why not book one of the Blue Mist accommodations? There is a studio, family-sized and larger cottage for groups of all sizes, guaranteed to give you the cosiest stay for you.

Rock-pooling and swimming in the St Ives beaches

A strandline is the visual mark of the highest point reached by the tide on a beach and consists of sediments, such as seaweed and other organic matter, driftwood, and general detritus including litter. Due to variations in the height of the tides there can be several strandlines on a single beach and they can be home to a wide variety of life, including sandhoppers, beetles and small crabs, which in turn provide food for birds such as oystercatchers, turnstones, dunlins and sanderlings. With each high tide, new life and materials are deposited, helping to sustain these unique habitats.  

Beaches are increasingly under threat from pollution and most of it washes up in the strandline. Many local communities and organisations now arrange regular beach cleaning days, while many of the more responsible visitors and beachcombers, who search the strandline for interesting or unusual items, such as driftwood, shells, bones, sea glass and weirdly-shaped egg cases, also help by removing any rubbish they come across.

While there is easy access to most of the beaches around Cornwall, in particular St Ives, there are a number of coves in which the access route is less obvious and these often require care and attention if planning to visit them. All beaches and the whole of the coastline are subject to change due to the effects of the tides and adverse weather conditions, and coastal erosion can sometimes result in a beach that was relatively easy to access becoming less easy to reach, or even inaccessible. Therefore it’s important to plan a safe route down to the beach, not forgetting to ensure that there is an equally safe and easily negotiable way back up the cliff.

One of the results of the action of the tides are the delightful rock pools that appear on rocky beaches when the water recedes. Like a window into an underwater world, they can provide hours of fun for people of all ages, from children to adults. Here are some basic tips to help to get the most out of your rock pool rambles:

1. Check the tide times; the lower the tide, the more pools there will be.
2. Start with the pools closest to the sea and work your way back up the shore.
3. Keep an eye on the tide and ensure you have an easy return route up the beach.
4. Be aware that wet rocks and seaweed can be slippery.
5. Wear stout footwear.
6. Take a bucket or plastic container.
7. Nets are commonly used but not advisable as they can cause damage to small creatures; instead, use your bucket or container as a ‘scoop’.
8. Don’t wade into the pool as this can cause damage – it’s better to stand or kneel on the edge.
9. Carefully replace rocks or stones after looking under them.
10. Always gently return sea creatures to where you found them, ensuring they are the right way up.

Jellyfish can be washed up on beaches, especially around the strandline, or encountered in the sea and in rock pools. They are simple creatures consisting of 90% water and have no brains, bones or blood but some of them can be quite beautiful to look at. However, some jellyfish found in UK waters can sting, even when dead or stranded on a beach, so they should never be handled and avoid any contact with their tentacles. Fortunately, most stings are merely unpleasant, similar to a nettle sting, but if you are stung, inform any lifeguard present and seek medical attention if the pain is severe – applying an ice pack or taking ibuprofen and paracetamol can ease the pain and swelling.

Over 200 people die every year around the coastline of Britain and Ireland, and thousands more find themselves in difficulty and have to be rescued. The safest beaches on which to swim are those patrolled by RNLI Lifeguards, provided you follow their advice.

If on a beach where there are no lifeguards and you decide that the conditions are nevertheless suitable for entering the water, please be aware of the following advice:

1. You are responsible for your own safety and that of any dependants.
2. NEVER swim alone.
3. Do not allow children to enter the sea alone.
4. Check where any safety equipment is situated. Sennen Cove
5. Wear a wetsuit if intending to be in the water for more than 15 minutes.
6. In high swell avoid deeply shelved beaches and don’t swim near rocks or into caves.
7. Swim only within sheltered coves or bays unless you understand the tidal streams that can be found near headlands and in the open sea – that takes local knowledge and experience.
8. Never jump or dive into water unless you have checked it for depth and obstructions such as rocks.
9. Never use inflatables – they can drift on the current or in the wind.
10. Avoid areas where rip currents commonly form, such as river mouths or estuaries, piers or the edges of coves, but also be aware that they can be found anywhere off the beach so learn to spot their characteristics, such as a break in the pattern of the waves, excessive foam, or debris being dragged in the opposite direction.
11. If caught in a rip current do not attempt to swim against it but instead swim to the side, parallel to the shore, until free of the current, then swim to the shore.
12. Never approach seals or their pups.

The harbour of St Ives

Life at St Ives has traditionally revolved around its harbour. Here, up to about the time of the First World War, were to be seen the town’s large fleets of mackerel and pilchard luggers, coasting vessels loading or discharging cargoes, seine boats arriving from Porthminster deeply laden with silvery fish; and all the bustle and activity associated with a prosperous seaport and fishing town.

Today, the scene has vastly changed, yet the harbour remains the focal point of St Ives. Nearly all the fishing boats have gone, their places taken by gaily painted pleasure craft, whilst the sand, once grimy with coal, is now a clean golden bathing beach. Many regret the change, but it was inevitable with the decline in the fishing industry; and St Ives is at least fortunate in having a type of harbour that has adapted so well to meet new circumstances.

As early as the sixteenth century St Ives was the chief port of departure in the west for passage to Ireland, and there are several entries in the old Borough Accounts relating to this traffic. Thus in 1592: ‘paide William Ots to pay for 2 passengers bounde to Irelande whiche weare hosted at water treweks 3s.4d.’ ‘Paide to a man of Irelande that had his barke stollen by pirats 1s.’ 1604: ‘paide to a poore souldier that came from Irelande 3d.’ The importance of this sea-link with Ireland is shown also in a by-law passed in 1619, which decreed that ‘All yrishmen landing hencforth ther loades or Burden of tymber [are to pay] ijs.ijd. & ballaste of Sand to be taken at this charge if they liste to take it.’

No contemporary description of the harbour has survived, but it is known that prior to 1766 the pier ran out from Carn Glaze (the site of the present Fishermen’s Co-operative Stores). It appears to have been of simple construction, probably consisting of timber piles driven in the sand, with a rubble filling. The maintenance of this pier and the clearance of sand from the harbour imposed at times a severe strain on the very limited borough finances.

The harbour began to take on something of its present appearance in 1770, when a new pier was constructed to the design of John Smeaton, the great civil engineer. This was built out from the Castle Rocks, the old pier being at the same time demolished and the Wharf constructed. Though only about half its present length, Smeaton’s Pier sheltered a much greater extent of water than its predecessor did, and so accommodated the growing trade and fishing industry of the town. This growth in the years following the building of the pier is best illustrated by the annual amounts of harbour dues collected by the Trustees, which rose from £593 in 1770 to £1280 in 1814 and to £1824 by 1836.

In 1837 St Ives, very unwisely, was declared a free port, and dues ceased to be collected – a measure that resulted in unavoidable delay in carrying out further improvements.

In 1844, 165 coasting merchant vessels having a gross tonnage of 9723 arrived in the port of St Ives. By comparison, during the same year, 856 vessels arrived at Hayle, these having a tonnage of 65,979. But what was more important at St Ives was the fishing industry; in 1847 the capital invested in the pilchard fisheries was in excess of £150,000, with 400 boats and 735 men employed, whilst a further 100 men were engaged in other types of fishing.

Imports from within Britain were coal, iron and general merchandise and from abroad timber; exports within Britain were fish and copper ore, and abroad, fish and tin. Sailing vessels belonging to the port totalled 8994 tons, with a few steamers totalling 498 tons.

In 1864 work was begun on an outer harbour by erecting the New or Wood Pier at the seaward side of Smeaton’s structure, and running roughly at right angles to it. Its timber frame failed to stand up to the buffeting of the Atlantic rollers, however, and in less than twenty years it had become an almost complete wreck. Today little more than its short masonry stump remains. The failure of this project brought on an acute crisis, the harbour being desperately overcrowded with the ever-increasing fleet of fishing vessels. This situation reached its climax in 1886, with the so-called Tresidder’s riot among the fishermen.

Eventually, in 1888-90 the position was relieved by adding a lengthy extension to Smeaton’s Pier. The shorter West Pier was built in 1894 as a loading jetty for roadstone from the Carthew and Orange Lane quarries. Finally, around 1922 the Wharf Road was constructed from the lifeboat house to Chy-an-Chy, affording much needed relief to Fore Street, which previously had to carry all the traffic.

Since then, St Ives has ceased to be a seaport, whilst its fishing fleet has dwindled to extinction. These events have brought about great changes in the town itself. The smoke houses for curing, the great pilchard cellars, the barking houses for tanning nets, and the net factory have all gone, either swept away to make room for modern developments, or converted to new uses. The last St Ives pilchard cellar, in Norway Lane, was cleared out in 1968-69, much of its equipment being transferred to the St Ives Museum at Wheal Dream. Yet with all these changes, ‘Downlong’, the old fishing quarter, still retains a great deal of its atmosphere, the narrow alleyways and picturesque cottages proving a never-failing delight to artists, photographers and holiday-makers.

Barbara Hepworth and St Ives

St Ives has always proven to be an inspirational seaside town, a font for creativity and artistry. The beautiful landscapes are among the many sources of inspiration and the opportunities to work alongside creative individuals continues to inspire the development of beautiful art.

Various well-known artists, past and present, have passed through St Ives and continue to its vibrant art community.

If you link the word “St Ives” along with “sculpture” it would be inconceivable to imagine that you would not at some point arrive at the name Barbara Hepworth. Such was her influence on the town, that you will see many of her sculptures displayed at various locations around it. There is also a museum, the Barbara Hepworth museum, that continues to inspire modern artists.

Born in Yorkshire in 1903 to Herbert and Gertrude, Barbara frequently accompanied her dad in car rides over the West Riding for his work as a civil engineer. She received a music scholarship during her time at Wakefield Girls School, and the summer holidays were spent at idyllic St Robin’s Bay in Whitby.

Hepworth studiesd sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London and her early twenties were interspersed with trips and stays in Paris and Rome. Her life up to her mid thirties revolved around travel, working with and learning from other artists.

She arrived in Cornwall with her second husband and triplets in August 1939, before the outbreak of war. With little time to work, and living in cramped conditions, Hepworth had no major output until the end of the war, but it was after that when her work flourished and the outpouring of major creative works began.

If you ever visit St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth museum is definitely an attraction not to miss out on. But if you live in St Ives, and are venturing afield, perhaps at some point you might like to visit the Hepworth Wakefield museum in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where more of the sculptor’s works are exhibited alongside artists who have a link with the region.

Can you explore St Ives from a caravan, and why van it in the first place?

The Blue Mist accommodations are a good base to explore the town of St Ives, but is it possible to do so in a caravan? And why travel in a caravan in the first place?

Living in a van is a bit like camping. You can access all sorts of beautiful places whilst living close to nature and having no ties to one fixed location. But it’s a lot more comfortable than camping. You have everything with you. You have your books, music, gas and electricity. You can be warm and dry and have proper cooked meals. Everything you need. And you can drive away any time you like. You have the comfort of a house and the benefits of no house. But you do have a home, and the world is your garden.

Until about 10,000 years ago there were hardly any permanent homes or villages. For 95% of our human existence we have lived nomadically, carrying everything we owned around with us – that is, only everything that was absolutely necessary.

So being a nomad isn’t such a new thing to us humans. If you see the brain as a result of every iteration that came before it, there’s no wonder we have this urge to travel, or that sometimes we feel trapped if we stay in the same place for too long.

Why does it feel so good to explore and travel? And why can we sit and stare at a fire for hours in complete contentment? Maybe it’s because it’s what we’ve always done and we recognise it in some subconscious, genetic memory kind of way. There are still plenty of nomads knocking around.

Apart from the modern nomads who use vans and technology (that’s us), there are still traditional nomadic tribes who travel by animal, boat or foot and live in tents and temporary shelter. The vandweller Vandwelling has its roots as far back as the horse-drawn vehicles such as the Roma Vardo wagons in Europe in the 19th century.

It’s different for everyone. A van can be the platform for many different lives. There are all sorts of people living in vans for different reasons. Here are some of them:

Live for less
House living costs take up a considerable amount of most people’s monthly earnings. A van bypasses all of that and lets you save the extra money per month which can help you get out of debt, save up, start a business or just buy yourself some time. In this way a van can give you a huge leg up. But it’s not just rent. A van can save you a lot of money on hostels and hotels when travelling.

Travel
Travelling in a van is not like normal travelling where you go from point to point, checking in at hostels or hotels on the way, sticking very much to the travel-grid. Having a van gives you access to everywhere and allows you to see places you probably wouldn’t see otherwise. You experience all the things in between and get a taste of the whole country. And because you have your home in the back, you can pull up in some amazing spot and live there without being bound by check-in times.

Live your sport
People have always used vans to immerse themselves in their sports – like climbing, skiing or surfing. A van lets you get up when the sun rises to head straight out to do what you love. Your sport becomes your life and a way of living.

Take a step back
We’re constantly being told what to do and how to live, how to look and what to buy. It makes life stressful. Being able to take a step back and distance yourself from all of this can be an invaluable opportunity, and a van lets you do it.

Festivals
Having a van is a nice way to do festivals. It’s difficult to go back to a cold, damp tent after having the luxury of a van with full living facilities. Just being able to get up in the morning and make a coffee without getting dressed to queue at a stall makes it worth it. And you can also store loads of food, drink and have your own party at your camp. But when it rains everyone will want come into your van and you’ll have to get rid of that wet hippy smell.

Escape winter
Apart from affecting the regulation of melatonin in the brain, winter also makes us deficient in vitamin D, which is not cool. But with a van you can go south for the winter and be a ‘snowbird’.

Test out where you want to live
There are so many great cities it’s difficult to decide where to live. Living in a van lets you easily try out new places, and even see which neighbourhood you like the best.

Stay in amazing locations
Living in a van lets you have a view that no one else can even get, and a view that would cost a lot of money if it was a hotel. But this is a view that is all yours. There’s nothing better than waking up in a beautiful place and stepping outside to watch the sunrise with a cup of tea.

Health
Many of us are surrounded by distractions, noise, bad food and are often forced to live lifestyles that put a huge amount of stress on our minds and bodies. You might not even realise until you’re away from all of these things. But in a van you’re forced to be more active and to eat better food – at least that’s what I’ve found. Just by simply living closer to nature, waking up with the sun and going to bed with the sun, we can’t help but feel the hugely positive effect it has on us.

Get back to nature
The sun, the stars, the rhythm of the waves, the sounds of wind and rain and animals. Nature is easy to forget about when living in a house, but in a van you cannot help but be affected by your natural surroundings. And a van is probably the easiest and most comfortable way to live closer to nature.

Live simply and minimally
The best things in life are the simple things. You realise this even more when you live in a van. It lets you see what really matters, and that we don’t need all this stuff to be happy or to make our lives complete.