The St Ives Light & Our Locations (Part 1)

Part 1 – The Light

Tobi Carver - 15th April 2020

Picture the scene…

It’s the mid-1920s and a couple of artists from the trendy London set have taken the trip to Cornwall and find themselves taking a picnic overlooking the sparkling turquoise waters of St Ives bay.

Oh I say, Ben,’ she says, ‘isn’t this light just to die for … So intense … So clear … So pristine … So special!
Yes dear … Pass the potato salad would you?

That moment started the process of St Ives becoming a world famous artists colony.
Okay so it probably didn’t happen that way but it was the ‘quality of the light’ that in part drew and still draws artists to St Ives.

So how come a small Cornish town, built on the back of fishing and mining has achieved such renown as an artistic hotspot and just what do people mean when they talk about the quality of light?

The far west of Cornwall is the old mining hundred, or area, of Penwith and the geography is pretty special. The old hundred is the final piece of the UK. Either side of the Lands’ End peninsular are two large bays, Mount’s Bay and St Ives Bay. Both also have an island in them. Mount’s Bay has St Michael’s Mount with it’s impressive castle crowned mount of rock. St Ives Bay’s island is no longer obvious but is still there in name with ‘The Island’ jutting out from the town of St Ives surrounded by golden beaches and shimmer sea.
That is where the golden, pristine bright light of St Ives comes from – the sand and sea.
Research has been carried out as to whether there actually is something unique about the light in St Ives or whether it is just an artistic pretension. Results have varied.
Some say there is nothing different about the light than anywhere else and the truth is there isn’t really but it’s not just about the light …
St Ives Bay runs for miles in a rough horseshoe shape and boasts some of the cleanest beaches in the UK. These beaches help to create the special light around the bay. The town itself is built from granite and has grown up on a built-up spit of sand which at one time connected the mainland to the island. These mean St Ives is surrounded on three sides by golden sand and reflective seas.
So St Ives is bright white granite buildings, sat on a bright golden sandy spit of land in a bay fringed with miles of such golden sand its sometimes blinding and surrounded by sparkling sea … See where I’m going with this …
It’s the reflectiveness of the surrounding landscape which create the areas unique quality of light – not the incoming light itself.
The fact that St Ives is surrounded by beaches of crushed golden granite and white seashells and water make for a lot of light bouncing around the place. This light then takes on the tints and hues of whatever it’s bouncing off. For instance during a beautiful sunset with the sun going down viewed from Porthmeor you see beautiful light sailing through clear unpolluted air. This light then bounces off the sparkling sea before it hits the acreage of ’Meor’s bright sand and then reflects back at the beach from the golden granite buildings that line the sand.
It is a similar effect to the reflectiveness in the alpine landscape where the sunlight reflects and bounces around the tall pale rock peaks and ice white glaciers and snowfields. Anyone who has spend time in the alpine or snowbound environment knows how intense this reflected light is.
So is the light in St Ives special? Well thousands of people would say yes and at sunrise it can be the best of all. It can be peaceful, warm and crisp or harsh, grey and cold all things which our photographs do an excellent job of capturing to create our unique products for you.
Words: Tobi Carver
Pictures: Kieran Brimson and Gavan Goulder

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