Yes, we know The Island isn't really an island as it is firmly attached to the mainland of St Ives. But we still call it The Island. It is actually a beautiful headland jutting out into St Ives Bay and provides a lot of shelter for the harbour.
The Island sits in between Porthmeor Beach and Porthgwidden Beach and is easily accessible from all parts of the town. From Porthmeor Beach, take the steps up by the flats on the East side of the beach. From the harbour, follow the coast path round past Bamaluz Beach and across Porthgwidden Beach. From the centre of town, walk along Back Road East and turn down Island Road.
Since the settlement of St Ives, The Island has played a big role as a lookout and focal point of St Ives. It was originally called "Pendinas" which means fortified headland, and it used to be a promontory fort with a ditch and ramparts.
St Nicholas Chapel sits right at the top of The Island and dates back to the 15th century or possibly even earlier. It is thought that this is where people came to worship prior to the main church being built in St Ives in 1434. It is a really simple, granite chapel consisting of one small room, with the most incredible view!
During the 18th century it is believed that the chapel was used more as a lookout post, especially for revenue officers or "preventative men" keeping a watch for smugglers. It then fell into the hands of the War Office who used it as a store.
In 1904, the War Office started to tear the chapel down, but there was a public outcry. In 1911, Sir Edward Hain (the St Ives ship owner) stepped in and restored the chapel to commemorate the coronation of King George V.
The chapel was restored again in 1971 which is when the floor tiles by Bernard Leach were made. The icon of St Nicholas was donated by a monastery in Devon.
Volunteers now open up the chapel in the summer months and it is also used for wedding blessings.
St Nicholas is not only the patron saint of children, he is the patron saint of sailors too. So it is not surprising that there is a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas in St Ives.
Although there are no remaining traces, it is interesting to note that The Island was used as a sort of lighthouse before Godrevy Lighthouse was built in the late 1850s. The light was basically a fire and it was called The Pharos. It was lit at night to help guide shipping safely into the harbour. We believe the fire was placed on Lamp Rock, which is the rocky outcrop on the north-east corner of the Island.
Our little island in St Ives was considered to be of strategic importance in the 1850s! A gun battery was built in 1859 to help protect the area from French invasion. It consisted of a 3 gun emplacements and an ammunitions cellar. What is now the Surfhouse St Ives used to be the barracks that housed the gunners and their families.
In 1895, it was all dismantled when the powers that be decided that St Ives wasn't really a main target for battle!
In around 1905, the Admiralty put up a signalling mast and a huge semaphore pole on what was then referred to as ‘Battery Point’.
The Coastguard built a lookout on the largest of the 3 gun emplacements in 1945. This used to be run by the government and was manned day and night. However, in 1994 the government closed it down as it thought new technologies made visual monitoring of the coast unneccessary.
In 1999 it was reopened by NCI coastguard, which is a voluntary organisation. They keep watch over the coastal activity in St Ives Bay. They also monitor weather and sea conditions and provide information for mariners, walkers and other users of the sea and coast. They also observe the coastal and marine life.
The other main building on The Island is now called Surfhouse St Ives. This building was originally the barracks for The Gun Battery and was built in 1860. It has had all sorts of uses, mainly military, but also as an artists studio. It had fallen into disrepair though and needed a lot of TLC. Tassy Swallow, a local surfer secured a long lease from the council in 2014. She received crowd-funding to repair the building and now runs Tassy's Surf Ratz, a surf education project for girls aged 6-12 from there. Surfhouse St Ives is also a place for education and entertainment for the wider community. They hold workshops, film nights and other events there.
Tassy Swallow is also the brain child behind the fabulous Island Summer Island Disco!
Every year on the 1st Saturday in August, The Island comes alive with it's own fabulous festival. It is all about food, drink, music, entertainment and the whole community coming together to celebrate the Summer!
The Island is simply buzzing with wildlife. Take a walk along the path that circles The Island and keep your eyes and ears peeled.
The Island is one of the stopping off points for migratory birds, and so it is one of the best bird watching sites. Rare and unusual birds are frequently spotted as are Gannets, Razorbills, Manx Sheerwaters, Cormorants and even the occasional Puffin! On top of The Island in the bushes, the bird life is just crazy. Sit still and listen and the whole place comes alive! Circling overhead we have a resident Kestrel!
The Island is one of the most stunning place for wildflowers, especially in Spring. We get carpets of seapinks (thrift),
You would be unlucky not to spot a seal on a walk around The Island. They are plentiful at most times of the year. There are also often pods of dolphins to be seen and even the odd whale!
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