Day 25 – Penzance, then down the wonderful St Ives Branch

Portsmouth Harbour – Westbury – Plymouth – Penzance – St Erth – St Ives – Penzance

Technically this was not part of the Interrail journey. Several days of this trip haven’t used the pass at all (Seville – San Sebasián – Irun is one example, yesterday’s ferry is another.) I only get two days of domestic travel included in the pass so am using them sparingly. One will be tomorrow and the other at the start of Trip 4. Instead, I booked this trip through a split ticketing site, which almost halved the cost compared to buying at a station.

It was an early departure from Portsmouth Harbour. Only one other passenger joined me at 7:23. The railway works its way around the edge of Portsmouth Harbour and crosses the rivers Hamble and Itchen on the way into Southampton, and the Test on the way out. O-Level geography briefly came back to haunt me, with “The Test in the West” being a phrase drummed into us by Mr Floyd, when we studied the economic development of this area.

On arrival in Westbury I discovered that the connecting service to Plymouth was running 10 minutes late, due to it waiting for staff, presumably delayed on an earlier service. 10 then became 17 and in reality it was 22 by the time we left. My 10 minute connection at Plymouth was not looking good.

Never mind, there was still the iconic run down through Dawlish to keep us amused for now. It looks like the sea wall works are pretty much done.

When we arrived in Plymouth, everyone realised there was an unexpected Penzance service in the next platform and we all dashed across. However it then didn’t move for another half hour. We apparently needed to wait for a pilot across Saltash, I’ve not heard that one before. There was no obvious evidence of work going on, nor indeed of a pilot when we did move.

Saltash Bridge from the Cornish side
Saltash Bridge from the Cornish side

We arrived in Penzance just over an hour late. I dumped my bags at the hotel and dashed straight back out to head to St Ives. I wanted to go to the Tate and there are no left luggage facilities at St Erth or St Ives so had no choice but to do it this way, even though it used an hour I didn’t really have.

The St Ives branch remains one of my favourite journeys of all. At the start of last year I stayed in St Ives for a week and walked beside and rode the whole line, including getting off the Parliamentary Train at Lelant Sidings one day, and hailing it at the request stop at Lelant on another. I also love the little cafe at St Erth and will always use it if it is open, this time just for a cup of tea.

The delayed trains earlier meant there was no time to waste in getting to the Tate, specifically to see the Barbara Hepworth exhibition, which closes at the end of the month.

I love her stuff, so it was great to see things I didn’t know. She is known as a sculptor, but her drawings and paintings are lovely. It was fun to see a small version of the iconic Four Square sculpture that stands in the sculpture garden a short distance away. There was just about time before they closed to nip into the cafe and take a few photos of the view over St Ives.

There wasn’t time to visit the sculpture garden, sadly. It remains one of my two favourite places on the planet (Portmeirion is the other) and I’m sure I’ll be back soon.

St Ives was predictably busy with Easter tourists. I do prefer it out of season, but it is lovely at any time. I wandered around for a while, grabbing photos and just about resisting a pasty from my favourite baker, or indeed an ice cream from one of the many shops.

I headed back to Penzance on the 18:30, which is one of the rare services that runs direct without a change at St Erth. I presume they swap from a 4-car set to a 2-car one at this time, as the stock is stored near Penzance overnight.

I rarely wander around Penzance, but this time tried to look at it as if I’d not seen it before. Given it’s proximity to St Ives, and similar size, it couldn’t really be more different. You get the sense that it is a working town and not really a tourist destination, though there are of course hotels all along the sea front, other than at the harbour. The tide had reached the point where waves were crashing up the wall, which is always fun. I struggled to find somewhere to eat, but ended up in a friendly pub, which was almost entirely full of locals. I had to wait for food, but it was worth it.

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  1. Celia Lyon

    I arrived late the evening that I went down last year and the hotel suggested the Longboat Inn for me to go to. It wasn’t that busy but they said that they had no tables to eat at for over two hours!! So I went to a curry house about two doors up which was great, I can highly recommend it.
    The exhibition looks good, glad you got to it. I didn’t do the St Ives train as I had a bus pass, but will try it next time.
    You packed so much into your trip Steve, I’m very jealous

  2. The curry house looked decent, and was also very busy, but I’d had an Indian the night before. There was also a very nice little independent pizza place, but they’d been so busy that they had just sold out as I arrived.

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