2 Island

Cottage Boutique is an independent, local St Ives lettings agency with an unrivalled knowledge and love of our home patch. One thing we frequently get asked is, what is ‘Downalong’, and why is it referred to so often in our property descriptions?

We thought it was high time we explained our slippage into a bit of Cornish colloquialism…

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The narrow, twisting lanes of Downalong

What is Downalong?

Downalong is the oldest part of St Ives – a pretty tangle of narrow streets and tiny courtyards clustered around the harbour. It’s the most picturesque and atmospheric part of the town, characterised by traditional fisherman’s cottages, imaginative street names, and points of historical interest.

Many of our beautiful Cornish cottages, such as Inglewood and Kerry Cottage, are located in Downalong and it’s a truly magical setting for family holidays on the Cornish coast.

Behind every door there’s a story, and the cottages have been sensitively preserved for future generations. Check out Bethesda Cottage for a cottage renovation which embraces the spirit of St Ives, and Grade II listed Norway Cottage (close to the very useful and well-stocked Norway Stores) for historical atmosphere.

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Norway Cottage is one of Downalong’s historical highlights

Where is Downalong?

Downalong was originally the domain of fishing families, in contrast with ‘Upalong’ – the higher part of the town around The Higher Stennack and on towards Hellesveor, which was at one time the preserve of the local mining community.

There’s no exact boundary between Downalong and the rest of St Ives, but the area is best described as occupying the narrow spit of land between the harbour and Porthmeor beach. We think of No. 29, with its many gorgeous original features, as being on the boundary of Downalong and ‘town’ proper, and Island Square (home to 2 Island Square) is a good central spot to get your bearings.

The Digey is a classic cobbled street bisecting Downalong and connecting Fore Street with Porthmeor beach. Here you’ll find one of our best-loved properties, Lily’s Cottage.

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Looking towards Downalong from across the harbour

Life in Downalong back in the day

At one time around 300 vessels fished out of St Ives, catching millions of pilchards which would be salted and pressed into barrels before being exported to the Southern Mediterranean, where they were a dietary staple.

The cottages of Downalong housed the fishermen and their families, alongside net lofts, salting cellars and all the enterprises used by the community such as bakers, grocers, and butchers. Hence names like Pilchard Cottage, Little Fish, and Skipper’s Loft hark back to these times.

It would have been a busy, noisy place full of life, where families lived in close proximity (often in very cramped conditions) and everything depending on the fortunes of the fishing fleet.

Little courts, with cottages clustered around small open spaces, and gardens which back on to one another, provided space to dry clothes or meet for a gossip. Home to palm trees, they still provide welcome patches of green amongst the pretty granite and whitewashed cottages.

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Looking out from one of our best-loved Downalong properties, Red Sails

The artists arrive…

St Ives began to attract artists in the 1800s, with painters seeking to capture the special qualities of the light; being surrounded by water on three sides, the town is said to bathe in luminous, pink-tinged light. They arrived and set up studio spaces – often in Downalong.

The inter-war period was a real heyday for the ‘St Ives School’ and, with the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Leach, and Ben Nicolson all based in St Ives, it nurtured a worldwide reputation as an artists’ enclave.

Later artists, such as Terry Frost (who once lived at Guillemot Cottage), Peter Lanyon and Bryan Pearce reinforced that reputation. The Piazza (were you’ll find a Barbara Hepworth sculpture in the courtyard) and Barnaloft apartments were renowned artist hang-outs in the 1960s…

Porthmeor Studios, which was originally built for the pilchard fishery, was partly taken over as artists studios and it remains split between artists and fishermen to this day. The St Ives School of Painting and The Penwith Gallery are two other major artistic institutions located in Downalong. Home to various local artist makers, The Sloop Studios has been on the site of the old fish cellar since 1969.

It’s not difficult to see why artists fell in love with St Ives…

Other points of interest in Downalong

A stroll around Downalong will reveal lots of intriguing street names, including Teetotal Street, Virgin Street and Fish Street, where you’ll find 14 Fish Street, and Honest Cottage. Meanwhile on Rose Lane (look out for the shop of the same name for quirky vintage finds) you’ll find the blooming lovely 7 Rose Lane.

A short stroll from the harbour and Smeaton’s Pier (past Pier Cottage and Sonamara) you’ll find The St Ives Museum overlooking dog-friendly Bamaluz Beach. Here you can take a deep dive into the fascinating history of the town, including Downalong itself.

The narrow streets around the museum (here you’ll find cosy Chywidden) spill out onto the slope down to Porthgwidden Beach and its eponymous café – a great spot for coffee or lunch before a stroll around a green spit of land known (misleadingly!) as The Island.

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Bamaluz Beach, near St Ives Museum

We hope you enjoyed taking a stroll around this fascinating part of St Ives. If you have any questions about staying in Downalong, or need help choosing the perfect cottage, please get in touch with our friendly local team.