Though well known for destinations such as Tate St Ives and Porthminster Beach, the St Ives area has many lesser-spotted but wonderfully interesting sights.
Head off the tourist track, pass down a side street, or venture out into nature; you might discover things you weren’t expecting.
Here, we share our insider’s guide to some of the “hidden” sights to spot in St Ives.
Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Madonna and Child’
The links between Barbara Hepworth and St Ives are strongly forged, and many visitors to the area will take time to visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.
However, if you’re interested in Hepworth, we also recommend a trip to St Ives Parish Church. Here, you can see one of the artist’s most poignant works: a 1954 sculpture named ‘Madonna and Child’. The piece was carved in memory of her son, Paul, who was killed in February 1953 while serving with the RAF.
Trewyn Subtropical Gardens
Away from the hustle and bustle of the harbour, Trewyn Subtropical Gardens feels like the perfect place to press pause. This small park is tucked away behind Fore Street, and overlooks the parish church. Though it’s right in the heart of the town, it’s less visited than other spots, and has plenty of benches for quiet moments. If you’re still on the hunt for Hepworth links, the gardens are also where you’ll find John Milne’s bronze memorial sculpture, entitled ‘Megalith’.
The Fishermen’s Chapel
At the entrance to Smeaton’s Pier, you might spot a small and unassuming building with uneven granite steps. This is St Leonard’s Chapel – otherwise known as ‘the fishermen’s chapel’ (St Leonard being the patron saint of fishermen).
With St Ives functioning as a busy fishing port for centuries, many fishermen went out to risk their lives on the sea. According to tradition, before they did so, they stopped at this chapel to pray. Nobody knows exactly how old the building is, but it’s certain to have been built long before the 1570s, when records show that repairs were carried out.
St Ives Community Orchard
Set across 30 acres at the bottom of Penbeagle Hill is St Ives’ community orchard and wildlife reserve. The site was previously disused, with volunteers clearing its sea of brambles and bracken to plant hundreds of fruit and nut trees, as well as wildflowers and grasses.
You can visit the orchard at any time, for free; or attend one of the events or work parties that take place throughout the year. Check the project’s website for the latest information about events.
Shipwreck of the SS Alba
In the wild winter of January 1938, the Panamanian steamship Alba was travelling from Wales to Italy when the weather worsened. With conditions fraught and visibility poor, her captain made the decision to shelter in St Ives Bay. As the rain and sea spray lashed, however, he mistook lights above Porthmeor Beach for the lights of St Ives, and ran aground on the rocks off Porthmeor.
What followed was one of the most notable rescues in St Ives’ history. The lifeboat Caroline Parsons was launched in 40ft waves to safely rescue all 23 of the SS Alba’s crew, though the lifeboat capsized and was itself wrecked. Local volunteers came out to haul the men ashore, though five of the Alba’s crew members were tragically lost in the turmoil. The ship was left to the mercy of the elements, and remains there still. If you look out onto Portmeor Beach at low tide, you’ll be able to see the Alba’s boiler protruding from the water.
This is one sight that’s certainly not hidden: it’s hard to miss the 50ft-high granite obelisk that overlooks the town. And yet, Knill’s Monument is well worth a visit to appreciate close-up. It was designed by John Wood the Younger, who also created Bath’s beautiful Royal Crescent, in honour of John Knill, a former mayor of St Ives.
The monument stands on Worvas Hill and bears Knill’s coat of arms, featuring a golden lion, and the Latin text Nil Desperandum (Never Despair). It now lies within the Steeple Woodland Nature Reserve, which can be reached on foot from St Ives and Carbis Bay (take a look at the reserve’s website for directions).
The Oldest House
Said to date back to the 1600s, St Ives’ oldest house can be found on Fish Street (next to the Sloop Inn, on the harbour). The house itself is, of course, private, but it’s marked with a small plaque and has upper windows that look out to sea – perhaps for former residents to keep watch for their seafaring loved ones?
Plan your stay
If you’re interested in exploring St Ives, and haven’t yet booked your stay, take a look at our villas and lodges to get started.