Sightseeing begins not once you step off the train, but once you step on it. The Penzance to St Ives train is a picturesque gem worth far more than the £4 asking price; far more than the typical drudgery of travelling from A to B. Where possible, seat yourself comfortably on the right-hand side of the train (or the left during the return leg from St Ives) for maximum viewing pleasure.
As the train pulls out of Penzance, the sidings slipping away on your left and the undulating walkway of the South West Coastal Path a trimming along the right-side cliffs, the view opens out over Mount’s Bay where St Michael’s Mount rises majestically out of the water to tickle the skyline. Graceful waves fill the crescent of Long Rock Beach, its swathes of cobblestones carved by the masonry of the ocean. Beyond this fortress of the tides, the coast curves around on its final voyage to Lizard Point, mainland Britain’s most southerly reach.
With Marazion approaching, the track veers away to the left and darts between hedgerow trees, hillocks peaking over the brush as the luscious greens of Cornwall’s interior appear desperate to prove their worth against the stellar blues that clothe its edges. In under five minutes, the onrush of fields slows to make way for St Erth, the required changeover as you detour away from the mainline. After getting off here and finding the single platform tucked around the corner – perhaps popping into the station café for a quick refreshment – the St Ives Bay Line will soon be ready to entertain you.
After picking up steam once more, the patchwork of greenery subsides to reveal the shimmering expanse of the Hayle Estuary with its uninhibited rivulets scribbling over a parchment of sand on its way to the ocean, the flow of its writing upon the land punctuated sparsely by islets of scrub. The village of Lelant glances over the scene below, the little church of St Uny and St Anta nestled in its grassy perch
Having made a pass of the village platforms, the Bay Line steers westwards to leave the estuary running in the background. Then, beyond the bobbles of fledgling dunes, the journey strikes its gold: a trinity of beaches and their sun-soaked sands. Porthkidney Beach comes first, a sprawling plain that stretches off into the distance – interrupted only by the dark tongue of Carrack Gladden lapping upon the ocean foam, a headland tufted with a rare mountain sedge and the purple tips of ivy broomrape. Under this cover will Carbis Bay thus emerge with its perfect concave sheltered from the worst of winds, a fitting sanctuary for the G7 Summit of 2021.
Weaving around one final clifftop, you are greeted at the end of the line by Porthminster Beach: a strip of buttery yellows melting into caramel tones where the surf recedes from the shore. You have arrived in St Ives, home to a decorated history of artists and writers; stepping off the train, it’s no wonder they felt so inspired.
Images courtesy of the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership. For more epic Devon & Cornwall journeys beyond the Penzance to St Ives train, check out their website over at Great Scenic Railways.