It was the end of a hot day as a large group, of all ages, gathered at the top of Carnstabba Hill, between Halsetown and St Ives, for the Midsummer Eve bonfire.

Kirsty Arthur bonfire
St Ives mayor, Kirsty Arthur, poses in front of the bonfire after setting it alight. Photographs: St Ives Local

As the sun set spectacularly over the north coast, a time-honoured ceremony got under way with a selection of Cornish songs by Vaughan Bennett and his son Tristan. A Cornish version of Camborne Hill, and a tune I’d never heard before, the Three Golden Pins, among their selection. The latter refers to golden decorative pins sent back home from Cornish miners who travelled the world in search of work. The ceremony is held by permission of the Bennetts, who own Penhalwyn Trekking Stables.

Vaughan Tristan Bennett
Singers Vaughan and Tristan Bennett

The event, organised by St Ives Old Cornwall Society, dates back centuries and celebrates the midsummer festival of St John (the Golowan festival in Penzance this weekend does the same). It incorporates prayers and blessings, said this year by William Thomas, in the absence of St Ives Parish Church vicar Nick Widdows. Cornish speaker Dee Brotherton translated the English to Cornish. Mayor Kirsty Arthur spoke, too,in both languages, and was invited to light the bonfire at the closing of the ceremony. The hilltop blaze would have been visible many miles away.

Lady of the Flowers Peny
Lady of the Flowers, Peny Melmoth

Good luck for the year ahead is ensured by the tossing on the fire of a bouquet by the Lady of the Flowers, this year Peny Melmoth. Among the bouquet. a mixture of herbs and flowers, “good weeds and bad weeds”. Midsummer is, historically, the most magical time to gather the herbs that heal and bring good health.

Singing at bonfire
Mayor, Kirsty Arthur, and deputy mayor, Johnnie Wells, join in the communal singing of Cornish songs before the bonfire is lit

As the flames reached their peak, people stayed and chatted and were probably still there long after we left. Along with crying the neck (welcoming the harvest), the Midsummer Eve bonfire remains one of St Ives’ most cherished and long-established instituions. Long may it continue.