As I was going to St Ives

Traditional nursery rhyme / riddle

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As I was going to St Ives
As I was going to St Ives

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
Every wife had seven sacks
Every sack had seven cats
Every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?

This traditional riddle / nursery rhyme dates back to the 18th century with the earliest publication being 1730. Whilst it is possible the rhyme refers to the other St Ives in Cambridgeshire the general belief is that it refers to our St Ives in Cornwall.

As for the answer, that is a matter of interpretation as the rhyme is a tad ambiguous. It depends if the man (and company) where going in the same direction as the writer or not.

Assuming they weren’t – as I feel is the intention then the answer is 1, i.e. the writer.

If they were then it gets a little more complicated.  Whilst there are various interpretations the most straightforward is 2802 (1 writer, 1 man, 7 wives,  49 sacks, 343 cats and 2401 kittens)