One of Britain’s finest long distance walking routes must surely be the 630-mile long South West Coast Path, which extends all the way from Minehead in Somerset to the Sandbanks Ferry near Poole in Dorset. But for those who like to mix their walking with some scenic rail travel the path offers few opportunities for what I call railway rambling, with one notable exception.
That exception is a seven-mile stretch of the path from the small town of Hayle (meaning estuary in Cornish) to the charming and cultural resort of St. Ives, which takes in the estuary at Hayle and then follows the route of the scenic St. Ives Bay Line, with numerous attractive photo-opportunities of both railway and seascape along the way.
Beginning at the rather basic Hayle station, head under the line and then turn right to join a main road which makes a semi circle to cross the line again under the viaduct, before passing to the left of a remarkable looking Asda supermarket, whose roof appears to have been designed to look like the bow of a ship.
For a more interesting route than simply following the B3301 road towards St. Erth, take the path around a lagoon that will eventually bring you to a point on the estuary opposite the attractively preserved Lelant station, the only request stop on the St. Ives branch, but only served by a handful of early morning and evening services.
This sparse service can be accounted for by the station’s location just half a mile from the hugely successful Lelant Saltings park & ride site, which can also be seen across the estuary once you have rejoined the B3301 and have passed a bird sanctuary on your left.
Bear right at the first road junction you come to, passing a large pub on the right and then crossing under the St. Ives branch before taking a right turn down to Lelant Saltings station. From here the Coast Path (which is rather better marked than the previous section) continues along a quiet lane which past Lelant station and eventually takes you up to the very attractive St. Uny Church.
From here, head along a path with the West Cornwall Gold Club to your left and a wire fence to the right until you reach a footbridge over the railway line. Cross the line and bear left on a rough and undulating path, which keeps you to the seaward side of the line all the way to Carbis Bay and offers many more fabulous photo opportunities.
Here you pass in front of the charming Carbis Bay Hotel (recommended) then up some steps and shortly cross the line once again at a footbridge. After some fairly challenging ups and downs between Lelant and Carbis Bay, the route from here into St. Ives is a gentle walk along metalled path and lane, eventually bringing you to the edge of the town on its sea front, just west of the railway station.
For those who have never travelled it, the 4.25 mile long St. Ives branch is one of the most scenic in Britain, with an intense 30-minute frequency of trains bringing hordes of tourists in to St. Ives from the park & ride site, from Carbis Bay and from its junction with the main line at St. Erth, the subject of one of my previous “favourite photo-spots” features, on account of its splendid semaphore signalling.
Pictured above working St Ives Bay Line services on 9 October 2018 is GWR 150249, while below 150233 approaches St Erth with the 10.51 Penzance-Plymouth service.