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 bird watching sites in Europe.
Rare and unusual species that have been sighted include Grey Phalarope, Black Tern, Sabine’s Gull, Balearic 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 either from the Porthmeor / Tate gallery side or the Porthgwidden side where there is an all-day car park.