Virginia Woolf spent her childhood summers at Talland House above Porthminster Beach. She later said that lying in bed there and listening to the waves was her most important memory. The house has views across St Ives Bay to Godrevy Point and its enigmatic island, the inspiration for her book To the Lighthouse.
Just as this view was an inspiration for Woolf, the vista from Godrevy Point across to St Ives is an inspiration of its own. St Ives stands against the ocean on its promontory four miles to the south-west.
A sweeping glance around the bay reveals clifftop houses above Carbis Bay, the Hayle Estuary and the three-mile stretch of golden sand backed by dunes that is Towans beach. The island itself is not open to the public but dominates the views seaward from Godrevy Point. Parking and toilets are available close to the headland.
This is an important site for both historical and ecological reasons. The Devonian mudstones, formed over 35 million years ago, are topped with a Bronze Age burial mound and Iron Age deposits. The fossil of a dog – possibly 12–15,000 years old – was discovered here, too, making it one of just a few places in Cornwall where a mammal fossil has been found.
Life and Light
Cornwall accounts for just over 2% of the world’s lowland heathland. The Knavocks, an area of open access land half a mile to the east of Godrevy Point, is a great example of this habitat. Its traits include poor fertility and a long history of human management. It is thus hardly a surprise when one learns of the meaning of Godrevy – from Cornish, it translates as ‘small farms’.
The heathland is home to rare wildflowers, including purple eyebright and white bell heather. Silver-studded blue butterflies flutter among the heather or cluster together to rest in the late-afternoon sun. Mutton Cove, between Godrevy Point and the Knavocks, is home to a colony of grey seals, often visible from the cliff path above.
And we return to the lighthouse, a charismatic feature that draws the eye from the mainland. Built in 1859 to protect vessels from a reef just beyond the island, it was visited by Woolf in 1892 when she was 10. It was automated in 1939 and in 2012 the light itself was relocated to a modern structure on an adjoining rock. But light at night there is still, as there was in Woolf’s day, tracing its beam around the bay.