Mercifully, we were given a lift back into the village and we retraced our steps through the dunes to the beach. After a little faffing about, we decided walking along the beach was the thing to do to reach the Hayle estuary, as the tide was well out. The more we saw of the beach, the more impressive it became – a huge expanse of sand… but by God it was boring walking. More than two hours on (mostly) firm sand with nothing to liven it up except playing games with our trail of footprints – we were the first people to walk it since the most recent high tide and, as Lisa said, there was no point trying to hide where we had come from when a helicopter started hovering overhead – why? We thought it might be a rescue helicopter practising. Or maybe it was bored too, or nursing a morbid belief that we were about to wander into quicksand and would require hauling out. At the far end of the beach, we scrambled up some rocks and had a break and a snack by the lifeguard’s hut before plunging through more beach huts and dunes, just like at the Gwithian end of this beach. They didn’t last long and soon we were walking along the estuary side – Andy still grumbling that he couldn’t see why something that narrow couldn’t be forded. We later learned that the problems with the Hayle estuary are associated with the wider problems over the port, and that there was once a ferry which hasn’t run for some time.
After some confused wandering among the industrial relics, we crossed the old swing bridge and found a parade of shops. A chippy had closed mere moments before (we could still smell the frying) but a small café was open for another half an hour. We ate our second fry-up of the day and read the local and national papers. One had a story about a memorial to a local man who became one of the heroes of September 11 and we found we were just across the road from it, so after eating we wandered over for a look – hopefully the SWCPA will include this in the path description. Our next landmark was Jubilee Gardens which are under railway arches, but once inside we found it hard to get out again, doing a couple of full circuits before finding the exit – obviously the carbohydrates had addled the brain.
The next section is, unfortunately, seriously unpleasant as it features busy roads, some of which don’t have pavements, and some of which are dangerous, especially if there are drivers about who give walkers absolutely no quarter. The muddy estuary itself, however, is picturesque and attracts huge flocks of birdwatchers who congregate on pavements and road bridges. Signs also abound for the ‘scenic railway’ which although great fun is a standard branch line rather than anything to do with heritage rail. Crossing the roads into Lelant is complicated. First you go under the railway where the road narrows – at this point we were lucky to avoid being run down. Then you pick your way through a park and ride looking for a gap in a hedge which takes you on to the next stage of the route – a quiet, leafy lane through the village, past the railway station (which we explore) and uphill to the church. Although this is on tarmac, it is a really pleasant stretch. At this point we were so close to the other side of the river that we felt we could almost touch the point where we had been standing three hours or so ago – this is a rather demoralising thought.
We looked around the little church of St Uny with its atmospheric churchyard then headed off through the outskirts of a golf course, under the railway then following the tracks all the way to St Ives. Several trains passed us – this was a surprise, since we were harbouring the prejudice that trains in Cornwall probably only ran once a fortnight between July 15 and September 15. The walk parallel to the golf course is a little difficult – eroded dunes – but we soon hit the edge of the St Ives ‘conurbation’ and put our feet onto St Michael’s way, a path running from Lelant to Marazion. The path into town is mainly high and boxed in by hedges. Occasionally it dodges houses, including one belonging to an artist, or descends to beaches such as Carbis Bay, where a man was locking up a café. We suspected he had locked the toilets a mere moment before and were tempted to wee on the doorstep to demonstrate our anguish – but we resisted the temptation. Soon we were on a path that was very familiar from previous visits. A metal footbridge over the railway after Carbis Bay, and we were soon coming up to Porthminster Beach with its open toilets and blessed hot air blowers for drying off damp walkers. Then we were in town and, after some confusion and ill-temperedness, we found our way up to our B and B close to the Tate Gallery, which had friendly, chatty owners and a huge and shameless ginger tom cat living there. That evening we eat at Peppers – a familiar Italian restaurant off Fore Street. Andy has mussels for a starter and it’s a toss-up who’s most appalled by the yellow plastic bucket, surely from a beachfront newsagent, that is plonked down for the empty shells.
Start: 11.30am (taking into account the time it took us to get back onto the path); lunch: one hour approx; end: 6pm; time on path: 6.5 hours.
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The next day is a planned rest day. We have decided to pause in St Ives to do the laundry, post home a handful of disposable cameras full of holiday snaps and stock up on portable food as well as gathering our strength for the gruelling stage that is coming up. We do lots of gloriously mundane things like getting a service wash, visiting a cybercafé and shopping at the Spar. We also find Trewyn Garden – a sub-tropical public open space full of benches and eat a welcome bag of chips there, from a chippy that was inevitably just about to close. It was a lovely day despite awful weather and we could have stayed a lot longer. There were two high points – a first visit to the Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden, which looked quite lovely in the rain and which also had the benefit of a distinct lack of other visitors. This was the beginning of a love affair with Barbara Hepworth’s work, building on our fondness for the whole St Ives artists movement. Also, as is mentioned above, this was a time of unusually high tides and that evening the water in the harbour was over the wall and lapping along The Wharf, delivering a lot of sand to the doorsteps of the shop owners there. Most of the town seemed to be out photographing the phenomenon, which apparently is quite regular, and we felt glad to have seen it.