Once more I am doing this walk from the Blue Hills campsite near St Agnes and therefore have a longer journey than some. I am looking forward to this walk a lot as I know from the bits I had previously seen that the very west of Cornwall (Penwith) is gorgeous and in fact my favourite part of Cornwall. It will also take me through St Ives, my most favourite town in Cornwall, so I know this is going to be a good one.
The only slight fly in the ointment is that this part of West Cornwall is not well served by buses, probably because it is so sparsely populated. Lands End on the coast has a reasonable service but it was too far to walk. There is no other main road to the coast so the nearest I could get was the village of Zennor which is around half a mile from the coast path. There aren’t many buses that stop there though, so as with previous walks I wanted to get the journey done first so I could walk back without any time pressures. The bus I need to get to Zennor goes from St Ives. I know that parking in St Ives can be a problem so I decide the best thing to do is park at the park and ride station at Lelant Saltings and take the train into St Ives, as I know this runs every 30 minutes. I also love this train journey, so this is another good excuse to ride on it again.
I had a good journey to Lelant Saltings although the park and ride is approached through a small housing estate, which seemed rather odd. On entering the car park there is not a single other car there and there is a wooden hut in the corner which is where I assume you buy tickets, but it is closed and there is a sign saying when it is closed, to buy your ticket on the train. There are no pay and display machines. I park near the platform and head to the station. It quickly becomes apparent why the car park is empty – the trains don’t in fact start running until gone 9am, which is not much use if you want to use it to get to work. Checking the times though the train will still get me to St Ives in time to catch the bus (although I see this is no longer the case). I was hoping to have a little look around St Ives before catching the bus to Zennor, but that isn’t possible now.
However the station is in a rather lovely location, so I settle down on the station platform to enjoy the view right and read a book looking over the Hayle Estuary. About 10 minutes later I’m interrupted by a rather angry man who comes onto the platform and demands to know “Is this your car in the car park?”. I reply that it is to which he responds, very indignantly “Well you haven’t paid, you have to pay to park here”. I replied that there was no one here and I checked the sign said to pay on the train. This seemed to calm him down when he realised I had actually checked and read the sign. I then pay him the fee and the train ticket, which comes to over £6, quite expensive for a park and ride. When he has gone I also noticed he issued me with a St Ives Bay Line ranger ticket, which allows unlimited use of the line. Since I am only going one way I expect this is more expensive than a single, but since he seems to be such an angry man I decide to leave it.
Soon the train arrives and I make sure I sit on the right to enjoy the wonderful views over the bay.
The trains makes it’s way along the coast passing Carbis Bay and pulls up alongside Porthminster beach. It hasn’t changed in the years since I last used it, and the views are still fantastic. Better still the weather has brightened up too. I head up hill to find the bus station at St Ives, which turns out to be tiny, and soon find the Western Greyhound bus that goes onto Zennor (sadly Western Greyhound have pulled out of West Cornwall now, so this bus is now run by First).
I get on the bus and we set off for Zennor. The bus winds it’s way up the steep hills out of St Ives and along the fairly narrow B-road to Zennor. I nearly miss the stop since I assumed the bus went into Zennor. It doesn’t, rather it stops on the main road hence why the bus timetable shows “Zennor Turn”, I guess I should have realised, but I’m lucky someone else is getting off who clearly does know this.
Zennor is rather tiny, more or a hamlet than a village really and has a pretty church, which I have a look inside.
It doesn’t take long to look around the village by the farm there is a helpful sign pointing to the coast path (and field path), so I take the former, passing beside a farm yard and along a track to Carn Cobba. It is a little under half a mile along here to reach the coast at Zennor Head, in the care of the National Trust. The cliffs here are very granite with many rocky outcrops which are almost square.
The coast path goes around Zennor head, which is covered in heather, gorse and bracken. Sadly the weather has clouded up again, so the views ahead are rather grey again.
Rounding Zennor head the path continues high for a while but then descends gradually to more or less beach level, as the cliffs are now very low.
It soon climbs with the cliffs ahead again and the path turns out to be tougher than I expected, not so much for the gradients but more that it seems to involve walking over a giant boulder field, as the land is so rocky. The next photo shows the problem – that really is the path!
The sea is crashing into the cliffs here causing it to be mostly white froth, it is very impressive. I stop and watch it for a while.
Moving on I pass the National Trust sign at Tregerthen Cliff and soon round the corner to a little bay, Carn Porth although there is no beach, only rocks. The coast and path ahead look gentler though, having returned to more grass than rocks.
I round Mussel Point with the rocks of The Carracks just off shore. It is a wonder how these rocks survive the pounding they receive from the sea, but I suppose the granite stone around here is very solid. This brings me to the oddly named Economoy Cove. The path ahead is easy to make out along the cliff edge, and is glorious walking.
There is a steep descent and ascent to cross a stream at the aptly named River Cove and then a steep climb back up to the lovely heather-clad headland of Carn Naun Point.
There are more rock outcrops on the top here and a good view ahead. The coast path is not steep here but it does undulate, a lot. There are another couple of rocky coves, Brea Cove and Polgassick Cove ahead before the next headland, Pen Enys Point. Say that quickly and it sounds like something rather ruder….
As I pass around the coast there is a sign about a shipwreck in 1941 where a boat carrying tins of food was wrecked. The crew were all saved, but the cargo was all lost, but the locals came to collect the tins that washed up, not knowing what they were, since the labels had all been washed off. It reminded me of an episode of Open All Hours where Arkwright was selling unlabelled tins.
I soon reached Pen Enys Point which sadly the coast path cuts off and there wasn’t an obvious path around the end, so I too missed it off (although it is open access land, so you are permitted to walk around it). There is a good view back with the white line of foam where the sea has been crashing into the cliffs. I stopped here to enjoy watching the sea crashing into the cliffs.
Ahead there is another rocky bay with another high headland at the end, Hor Point. There are good views from the top, but progress proves slow along here, as the path is so uneven I have to watch every step, as the soil is thin and has been worn away to leave lots of uneven rocks.
Sadly soon there is a bit of drizzle, which I hope won’t turn into rain. The coast path ahead follows the undulating cliffs but thankfully these soon become lower and less rocky. Rounding the corner at the wonderfully named Clodgy Point I can see St Ives ahead, so it’s not far now.
The path drops down to sea just west of Carrick Du and then follows along the low cliffs to the edge of Porthmeor Beach.
I love St Ives, as it has such pretty buildings, wonderful beaches and the most beautiful colour sea. There is something special about the light here, which makes the sea such an attractive turquoise and has been attracting artisits for years, so much so that there is a branch of the Tate Gallery behind the beach, the aptly named Tate St Ives. One of the other things I love about St Ives is being on a little peninsula it has so many beaches that there really is something for everyone. The first beach I come to, Porthmeor is the main surfing beach, being north west facing.
Having seen just one person on the coast between Zennor and St Ives I am quite surprised how busy the beach now is. I cant resist heading down onto the sands for a paddle though. The beaches of this very western part of Cornwall are a little different in that the sand is more white than yellow and a little coarser than some. I take pictures of the breakers coming crashing into the beach. One thing that has always surprised me about the town is how close the houses are to the beach – here some of them quite literrally have their windows on the beach, with nothing, not even a promenade between them. Lovely as a holiday home but during a storm I think it must be rather less pleasant and I doubt you could get much sleep worrying if there would be any house left by the morning.
I sit on the beach for a little while to enjoy a nice rest and as I do so the sun comes out too, which lifts my mood even more. At the end of the beach is St Ives Head, more commonly known as the Island. Although not an island, it is not far off and maybe one day will become one. There is a pretty little chapel on the top, too. I follow the coast path around this head and soon have views of the next beach Porth Gwidden. This is a small beach backed by beach huts. Facing east, the sea is calmer here. This is another good thing about St Ives. As there are beaches facing so many different ways you can usually find one sheltered from the wind and today is no exception – this beach is noticebly more crowded, proably because it is more sheltered.
I take a brief break from the coast path to explore some of the pretty cobbled streets around this part of St Ives, which are lovely.
Back to the coast path I’m soon reaching the back of the harbour. This is a very pretty part of the town with a good beach even at the back of the harbour, and a nice cobbled road lining the harbour. You have to watch the seagulls if eating ice cream or chips though – they are the most agressive I have ever come across, and I’ve seen them take ice creams clean out of peoples hands.
I wander slowly round the harbour, not only to enjoy the view but also because the path is very crowded, especially passing the pub. As I head a little further around the light has become really beautiful and you can see the wonderful colour it makes the sea and the contrast with the white buildings around the harbour. The roofs are all yellow with lichens too, a sign how clean the air is here, probably because there is nothing but sea until America further west, where it usually comes from.
The promenade runs round the busy road and soon I am at Porthminster beach. As I said earlier St Ives has so many different beaches and this one is prefer for families and young childern, since the waves are so tiny it is good for swimming and paddling, a contrast to Porthmeor just around the corner.
Sadly from Porthminster beach the coast path is not so good, heading up hill under the railway line and alongside the road for a while although it is at least a minor road, not the main A-road. The height gained gives me a good view down to Porthminster though and the Island at the end – you can see how it really is nearly an island.
I also like the fact that other than the chapel it has not been deveoped, so you have these wonderful hills behind the houses.
Rounding Porthminster Point I am heading south to Carbis Bay, still along a track near the railway line. This soon brings me to a junction with another long distance path, the St Michaels Way, which is a “coast to coast” path in West Cornwall, linking St Micheals Mount on the south coast with St Ives. A walk for another time perhaps?
The sign also tells me I am only 2.5 miles from Lelant now. The path soon runs parallel with the railway which is in a cutting on the edge of the cliffs here, and you can here them clattering their way along the tracks. Ahead I come to another glorious beach, Carbis Bay. Although only a small place, this one has the luxury of it’s own railway station, providing easy access. It is much less crowded than the beach in St Ives and away from the central section where the car park and cafe are, it is quiet.
The coast path goes along the road a bit at the back of the beach but then becomes a proper path around the headland of Carrack Gladden.
This is a coast I know well, as St Ives was my favourite place to visit when I lived in Exeter. Although a long journey (a little over 3 hours each way), it was a stunningly beautiful one with much of the route along the coast, and I walked between Carbis Bay and St Ives quite often.
As I round the headland I look back for a last view of Carbis Bay, which is now mostly backed by the bracken covered cliffs.
Ahead though I get an even better view. I remember this well from my previois visits, but I come around to the oddly named Porth Kidney Sands, a totally unspoilt and also totally deserted sandy beach, which stretches to Hayle in the distance, although it is interrupted by the Hayle river.
At high tide there is little in the way of beach here and it is quite close to high tide now. I love this beach because it seems no matter how busy St Ives is, this beach is usually virtually deserted, probably because of the more difficult access (there is no car park close by). I stick to the coast path as the higher cliffs give way to sand dunes, with the railway line close by to the right.
You get a good view of the trains passing along the coast here.
As I near Hayle you get a good view of the town itself and soon I am along the banks of the river. The river that looked small enough to wade further back is now obviously bigger than it looks but it has good dunes on either side. The path now heads a little inland.
A little south from the mouth of the estuary the coast path heads a little inland to over the dunes to Lelant church. This is a lovely church, made out of granite bricks and something of a landmark along the coast, since it is about the highest thing around.
The coast path then joins the minor road through the village, which I follow to reach Lelant Station, where I started my previous walk. I reach there around 4:15pm and I decide to head back into St Ives to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening rather than contiue the walk to Lelant Saltings, since I’ve walked this bit of the coast before.
I check the train timetable and by an odd quirk, the next train to come does not stop at Lelant Saltings, but does stop at Lelant by request. The downside is, I have nearly half an hour to wait for it. Perhaps that St Ives Line rover I was sold earlier was useful after all, since I can use it to make the journey back to St Ives for no extra charge. I have a pleasant wait for the train overlooking the estuary although have to remember to hail the train, as it stops by request only.
The train is quiet and I enjoy the view once more on my way back to St Ives. When I am back to the town, most people are now leaving and the beaches are getting quiet again. The tide has also gone out a lot, leaving the boats in the harbour resting on the sand. I stop for pasty and chips in the town and wander around the now quiet streets. It is such a lovely town.
After a few hours I take the train back to Lelant Saltings. Thankfully although it starts late, the trains also run into the evening back to Lelant Saltings, unlike some Park and Ride services, that seem to shut down come around 6:30 to 7pm.
This has been a fantastic walk that I have thouroughly enjoyed and think this is the best way to do it, since you can enjoy plenty of rests on the fantastic beaches around St Ives at the end of the walk.
Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk. You will need to use the train between Lelant and St Ives and the bus from St Ives to Zennor.
First service 300 : Lands End – Sennen – Sennen Cove – Lands End Airport – St Just Bus Station – Botallack – Geevor – Morvah – Gurnards Head Hotel – Zennor Turn – St Ives. This bus runs 3 times a day seven days a week during the peak summer season (from 24th May to 31st August this year) and is operated using a vintage double decker bus.
First Great Western Trains : Penzance and St Erth to St Ives. St Erth – Lelant Saltings – Lelant – Carbis Bay – St Ives. Trains run every 30 minutes through the day for most of the year (though not all trains stop at all stations) seven days a week, with a slightly reduced service in the winter.