Welcome to the west. The truly wild west.
St Just has an edge-of-the-world charm like no other town in Cornwall. In truth, even locals from nearby Penzance find it far off and exotic! Nestled on the edge of the moors on one side and the wild Atlantic on the other, this charming, up-and-coming town is at the heart of west Cornwall’s tin mining country. It’s also a stone’s throw from some of the most dramatic and romantic countryside the county has to offer.
Here’s 10 things to do in St Just and around.
1) Potter around the town square
It’s a perfect little spot, St Just square, sitting at the very heart of a Cornish town with plenty of heart. There’s a church, a plentiful supply of pubs, and galleries and foodie joints. In fact, one of the nicest things to do in St Just is simply having a mooch about, grabbing some artisan bites or a proper pasty and watching the world go by. While you are there, pop across the road to Plain-an-Gwarry (‘playing place’, in Cornish). This open grassy space is one of the few remaining sites of a medieval open-air theatre, where mystery plays were performed. Find out more at the local council website.
2) Visit the Jackson Foundation Gallery
Kurt Jackson: a big name for a small Cornish town. A celebrated painter of iconic Cornish landscapes – the valleys, moors and seas near his west Cornwall home – Jackson’s legacy and contemporary obsessions are celebrated at The Jackson Foundation, a free gallery at the heart of St Just. Look out for the annual programme of exhibitions at the gallery’s website. For art lovers, it’s one of those things to do in St Just that comes right at the top of the list.
3) Experience the ‘real Land’s End’
Shhh… we’re going to say this as quietly as is possible on the internet. To locals, Cape Cornwall is the real Land’s End. No shops. No attractions. Just a massive chunk of imposing Cornish headland and the Atlantic Ocean at its wildest.
Well, not just that. There’s also ‘Charles de Gaulle in the bath’. That’s the name of the artfully arranged collection of rocks called the Brisons just beyond the cape that looks like… well, Charles de Gaulle in a bath. There’s a path around, and up and over the cape – on stormy days there’s no better place to clear your head. A wild, wonderful spot.
4) Dip your toes in Priest’s Cove
It might not be sandy, but Priest’s Cove, adjacent to Cape Cornwall, ticks plenty of family-friendly boxes. There’s good parking nearby, a slipway into the sea and even a small manmade saltwater swimming pool constructed among the rocks – great for young ones. With small fishing huts and boats scattered about the entrance to the cove, it has a timeless Enid Blighton-family-day-out-atmosphere too. Do be aware, though, that there are no lifeguards in this tiny spot.
5) Wind your way down Kenidjack Valley
Potter down this gorgeous winding valley (sometimes known as Nancherrow Valley) which follows the Tregeseal River down to the ocean. During this magical little walk you’ll discover romantic mine workings, softened by time and nature. Also, look out for common and rarer birds including the kestrel, merlin, short-eared owls, snipe, woodcock and – if you’re super-lucky – the famous Cornish chough. Find out more in our post about Cornwall wildlife.
6) Discover ‘Dinosaur Eggs’ in Cot Valley
A sister valley to Kenidjack, Cot Valley is another lovely walk with a rather dramatic destination. When you reach Porth Nanven Cove at the end of the valley, you’ll discover a pretty cove festooned with thousands of ‘dinosaur eggs’. Spot those speech marks? Yes, of course they aren’t actual dinosaur eggs, but it’s an evocative name for these smooth round granite boulders that give an otherworldly air to this dramatic spot. And they’re great for a clamber.
7) Have your Poldark moment at Botallack
Sometimes things get a bit Poldark-y in west Cornwall, and nowhere more so than at Botallack. The TV series based on Winston Graham’s novels showcased this stunning location, which feature an ampitheatre of towering cliffs and the Crowns engine houses perched above the ocean.
This is Cornwall at its most dramatic and romantic, bringing together magnificent natural features with a rich mining history. Potter about the ancient mine ruins at the top, then descend the path and gaze at the Crowns and the sea beyond where you’ll enjoy views of white water exploding into the rocks below. While you’re there, consider this: from this spot, miners crawled into tunnels that stretched a full half mile out into that wild sea.
8) Explore the region’s mining history
Operational between 1911 and 1990, Geevor Tin Mine is the place to explore Cornwall’s rich mining heritage. It was the last mine to work the famous St Just mining district and, since 2006, it has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape. This family-friendly attraction includes the chance to walk through the tunnels of 18th century Wheal Mexico Mine, which was constructed by men and boys who worked here more than 200 years ago. Note to kids: it’s like Minecraft, but REAL!
9) Take the world’s finest coastal drive
It’s a big claim to label the run from St Just to St Ives the world’s finest coastal drive, but we’re sticking by it. This wild, twisty, 15-mile stretch with craggy moors on one side and even craggier coast on the other, takes you through mining towns, Iron Age field systems, farms and wild middle-of-nowhere stretches. Depending on the season, the brooding landscape is splashed with notes of golden gorse or purple heather. Beautiful.
10) Explore our ancient past
The region around St Just is scattered with ancient sites and one of the best things to do in St Just is immerse yourself in Cornwall’s rich Celtic past. From stone circles and quoits to hill forts and fogous (underground chambers) you’ll discover ancient spots and monuments up to 5000 years old. This is a big subject, spanning several thousand years of antiquity, but don’t feel you need to swot up and become an expert. Many sites are nestled in spectacular countryside or high atop hills with arresting views and make a great focal point for a country walk around St Just. Find out more here.
Penzance: an ideal base for your St Just visit
If St Just is on your holiday must-see list, why not stay in Penzance. This charming port town is famous for its stunning bay, historic Chapel Street, world-class restaurants and vibrant local culture. It’s also a great spot to base yourself for day trips to Land’ s End, Falmouth, St Ives and 10 of the best spots in the whole of Cornwall, including St Just. Find out more at the Love Penzance website.