A rainbow formed above Penzance station as I disembarked from the Night Riviera sleeper train at 8am. I was hoping for blue skies for my short break in Cornwall – only my second ever visit to the county and my first for twenty years or so – but the forecast didn’t look promising. A small break in the clouds gave me hope, and I decided to walk the three miles along the beach to St. Michael’s Mount rather than catching the bus.
It was certainly a bracing way to wake myself up after a fitful night’s sleep on the train, the beach was quiet with only a few joggers and dog-walkers around. As I got closer to the mount the silence was momentarily broken by the sound of galloping hooves as a trio of horses sent the sand flying, and this wonderful sight seemed to trigger a change in the weather. The grey clouds and mist cleared and the sun made a concerted effort to break through as I crossed the causeway to the harbour and village below the castle.
Walking to St Michael’s Mount is only possible at low tide, and I made it by only half an hour or so – my journey back was by boat. The little village below the castle is very pretty, with a visitor centre, gift shop, a couple of café’s and a small harbour for the boats to and from the mainland. The castle doesn’t open until 10am so I had some time to mooch around before climbing the steep steps upwards.
Virtually all of the castle is open to the public with plenty of charming rooms to look around, a chapel and some fantastic views over the harbour and back to Penzance. I didn’t have long before I needed to catch the bus to my hotel in St Ives so after an hour or so in the castle I flagged down one of the multitude of boats carrying visitors over from the mainland to take me back, and a short while later I was strolling through the picturesque village of Marazion before catching my bus.
After one of the most interminable bus journey of my life – over an hour to travel a few miles – I arrived in Carbis Bay and the Green Apple B+B where I was staying the night. I checked in and my very friendly host recommended the coastal path walk into St. Ives (Carbis Bay is a suburb a couple of miles from the centre).
He was bang on the money – some of the views from the path were incredible and the grey skies of the early morning had been replaced by cloudless blue ones. The sandy beaches below the path were busy but not unpleasantly so, and I descended the path into the narrow streets of St Ives. These streets really were bustling with people, narrow lanes of boutique stores, gift shops, ice cream parlours and quaint pubs all leading down to the harbour.
I’d hoped to catch one of the many pleasure boats to Seal Island, a craggy outpost home to a colony of seals, but was told by a gruff old seaman that the seas were too choppy. They looked placid enough to me, but later in the day I crossed to the far side of the town at Porthmeor Beach, where the waters were much more choppy and the landscape more rugged, and conceded he may have had a point.
With my seal-watching dreams dashed, I spent the afternoon and evening soaking up the atmosphere on the harbour and along the lanes, stopping off for liquid refreshment every so often – my favourite pub being the ancient Sloop Inn, right on the harbour. St. Ives has rich artistic history and these days Tate St. Ives is its biggest draw, but modern art leaves me cold (unlike the temperature which had become scorching by mid-afternoon). I did however spend a peaceful hour in the Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden right in the centre of town overlooking the church.
Chatting to a couple of weather-beaten locals in The Sloop, I discovered that there was a jazz gig in the Western Hotel that evening, and decided that would be a very pleasant way to spend the evening. And so it was, a foursome with pianist, sax, double bass and drummer playing a mix of trad jazz and some modern stuff. A couple of glasses of wine watching this and a long day in the sunshine led to a weary blogger gratefully flagging down a taxi outside the gig and a long, restful sleep at The Green Apple.
My train back home the next morning was at 10.10am from St. Erth, the mainline station where the branch line to St. Ives runs from. The weather was again wonderful as I walked past the local church down to Carbis Bay station to pick up the local train. It’s only a few minutes to St. Erth but what a stunning journey! The highlight being a totally deserted sandy beach that had me tempted to pull the emergency chord and leap out of the train. Oh well, I’ll just have to come back for a bit longer next time.
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