Perhaps the loveliest approach to St Ives is by way of the train from St Erth along the coastline through Lelant and Carbis Bay . The train station is just above Porthminster beach from where you can make your way to the town centre via the jumble of cottage lined streets known as 'the Warren'. Another great view of the old fishing town is from the path winding down from the car park above the town. From here one can get glimpses out over the rooftops to the harbour and Island beyond.
St Ives has been a busy fishing port since the Middle Ages and is believed to have been settled as early as the Bronze Age. The West Cornwall moors, which the town borders, are testament to this with their ancient field systems and numerous megalithic sites . St Ives Museum contains some interesting information about the town's past including exhibits on wrecking and the fishing industry. Nowadays, the fishing has given way to tourism as the main industry. This initially came about after the extension of the railway and more recently with the opening of the Tate Gallery . Together with the Barbara Hepworth Museum, this has had a knock on effect in St Ives, leading to the opening of many more galleries and studios and an art scene that continues to flourish.
Art played a part in the life of St Ives long before the arrival of the Tate gallery. For almost 200 years the unique quality of light and spectacular scenery have attracted artists. JMW Turner, for one, painted a landscape here in 1811. Although many other artists visited and painted in the area, it was not until the 1920s that the town became a centre for the arts. It was at this time that Bernard Leach started his pottery here and soon many more artists and writers were following in his footsteps, notably Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth . This was the start of the St Ives School , but a new group of artists are making their marks in the area today.
The hump of land jutting out to sea is known as the Island , called Pendinas in ancient times this was once a promontory fort. This Island is firmly connected to the mainland and always has been although there is sea on three sides as can be seen from this panoramic view . On top of the Island is the ancient and diminutive Chapel of St Nicholas ; almost demolished in the 1900s it was restored in 1911.
Perhaps St Ives' greatest natural asset is the array of beautiful sandy beaches that surround the town. Set in the eastern lee of the Island is Porthgwidden Beach , an ideal place for swimming. Round the corner and overlooked by the Tate Gallery is the large and sandy Porthmeor beach , one of the major surfing beaches in the area. Directly in front of the town is the Harbour Beach and nearby, Porthminster Beach with its highly rated cafe. The latter beach was a popular place for tourists during the Second World War, when so many other beaches were out of bounds to the public. Ideal for families is the long sandy beach at Carbis Bay , a short way along the coast.
The Church of St Ia dominates the St Ives skyline and the old town is clustered around it. Built in the early 15th century, it is well-worth a visit if only to see the Madonna and Child carving by Barbara Hepworth in the Lady Chapel. The carving was created in memory of Hepworth's son, Paul, who died in a plane crash in 1953. The harbour pier with its octagonal cupola was built between 1767 and 1770. There are lots of narrow, winding streets filled with fishermen’s cottages, between the harbour seafront and Back Road West. These days there are lots of cafés and places to eat, from pasty shops to excellent restaurants.
Overlooking St Ives is the Knill Monument , a tower built in the 18th century by one John Knill, mayor of the town in 1767. To fulfil the terms of his will, every 5 years 10 young girls dressed in white dance through the streets and up to the tower, At the top, they are joined by 2 widows and the mayor who dance around the monument with them whilst spectators sing the 100th psalm.
Another local custom is Hurling the Silver Ball , which should be held on the first Monday of February. The mayor throws the ball from the church wall in the middle of the morning. It is then thrown from person to person, through the streets and down to the beach, until noon when the person holding it receives a small prize.
Prominent amongst more recent additions to the St Ives event calendar is the annual September Festival featuring a range of arts, music and literature. Established around 30 years ago the festival now attracts many thousands of visitors from all over the world. More recently still has been the growth of the New Year's Eve celebrations in the town which sees thousands of revellers in fancy dress thronging the streets.