The heralding of spring is usually celebrated on May 1st, but St Ives May Day is held later, on the first Bank Holiday Monday. This long-held event celebrates the coming of spring, longer days and hopefully some warm weather. You can look forward to dancing around the Maypole, May Sticks and all the fun you would associate with any May Fair, but St Ives May Day goes that little bit further.
Traditional Pee Whip Ceremony
At midday you need to be stood outside the Guildhall which is right in the centre of the town on Street An Pol, and yes, that is a genuine Cornish address! This lovely historic building is covered in window boxes and hanging baskets in summer, so you can't miss it. Inside it has a huge concert hall and it is where the Grand Bard and Mayor choose the May Queen and King. They also crown the attending Prince and Princess in a ceremony known locally as the “pee whip”.
More traditional ceremonial customs follow with the arrival of the St Ives Guisers, dressed in their mock formal black and white costumes. Horn blowers then herald the start of spring and this is followed by May Sticks. The street parade then gets underway as the whole procession moves down to the harbour.
What to see and do at St Ives May Day
There is plenty of traditional culture and talent on show, including Cornish dancing and music, local choirs and brass bands performing throughout the day.
The whole event brings St Ives waterfront vividly to life with plenty of music, performances, side stalls and activities to enjoy. The RNLI Lifeboat Station will also be open and you can get a closer look at the latest boats, inflatables and equipment that have saved many lives in the area.
Later in the day, if you get a chance, watch the children dancing an intricate circle dance around the maypole. Each child holds one of the coloured ribbons which eventually get plaited and woven around the pole in a pretty display. The children are dressed in red shirts with white overdresses and frilly white mop caps, as in days gone by.
As usual the art galleries, potteries, bakeries and independent gift shops are all open for browsing, so take time to wander through the old streets and alleyways. You're sure to find a few surprises there.
Getting to St Ives May Day
You may be wondering how to park and navigate the notoriously narrow streets of St Ives on such a crowded day, and the answer is, you don't. Parking is plentiful at the top of town and the walk down is easy (but perhaps not so good walking back when you are laden with purchases, candy floss, ice cream and balloons!
A wiser alternative may to park and catch the train to St Ives along the St Ives Bay Line. You can leave the car at nearby Carbis Bay or further afield at Lelant or St Erth, which is just four very scenic miles away. The Penzance train also connects with this branch railway if you are visiting St Ives from further afield.
If you are wondering what to eat, my suggestion is to arrive hungry and enjoy the fish barbecue that takes place by the harbour ‐ it is so tasty and delicious. For dessert there are countless ice cream shops just waiting to scoop a variety of flavours of creamy Cornish ice cream onto a cone and top it with a generous dollop of rich Cornish clotted cream and a flake.
Do you know St Ives well? What would you suggest visitors do on May Day? Can you recommend a particular event, café, or place to visit? Go on ‐ give us your ideas in the comments box below!