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Branching Out to St Ives

Following the coastal footpath alongside the scenic St Ives railway line above the golden beaches of St Ives Bay.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 180ft (55m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Excellent

Landscape Coastal sand dunes, cliff paths and surfaced tracks

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 102 Land's End

SW 544365SW 521402

Dog friendliness Can let dogs off lead. Summer dog bans on Carbis Bay Beach and Porthminster Beach

Parking Station car park, St Ives, or Park-and-Ride car park, Lelant Saltings. Large car park with attendant; expensive. Or park at St Ives Station Pay-and-Display car park, catch a train to Lelant Saltings and walk back to St Ives

Public toilets At Lelant Saltings, Carbis Bay and Porthminster Beach

Notes This walk uses the Penzance-St Erth-St Ives railway. In summer about 20 trains a day run between Penzance, St Erth and St Ives, stopping at Lelant Saltings, Lelant and Carbis Bay. Fewer trains stop at Lelant Halt and some of these are by request only. Check timetables carefully

1 Look for a gap in the hedge, opposite the car park toilets and pay kiosk and beside a Park-and-Ride sign. Go through the gap, then turn right along a surfaced lane, past houses with colourful gardens, to reach Lelant Halt in under ½ mile (800m). Continue along the tree-shaded lane and in just under ¼ mile (400m) reach a T-junction. Turn up right to the Church of St Uny and St Anta. To the left of the churchyard entrance follow an obvious footpath that leads across the West Cornwall Golf Course. Look out for flying golf balls. Turn down right beside a concrete blockhouse, go under the railway bridge, then turn left by a house at a coast path sign.

2 The way now leads above the sand dunes of Porth Kidney where a glittering expanse of sand is exposed at low tide. Soon you climb steadily between hedges to the headland of Carrack Gladden, or Hawke's Point. Just past a railway crossing you have a choice of routes. Keeping to the higher route leads alongside the railway to Carbis Bay Halt, but for a more scenic route take the right-hand branch steeply downhill and along the grassy cliff edge, to reach the road where you turn down right to Carbis Bay beach and the promise of a swim in warm weather.

3 Follow the track in front of the Carbis Bay Hotel, then turn up left to reach a footbridge across the railway. Follow the path ahead and on along a surfaced lane that runs through a residential area. Where the lane branches, keep straight ahead, signposted 'Coast Path'. You soon reach a marvellous relic of old St Ives, the Baulking House. This historic building, with its flanking shelters, was used during the traditional pilchard fishing of the 19th and early 20th centuries. From here a lookout, called a 'huer', kept watch for the tell-tale purple stain of pilchard shoals in the bay below. The huer would then use hand-held signalling devices to direct the seine-net boats in the silent, skilful enclosing of the shoal.

4 Just past the Baulking House keep straight across at a crossroads and follow a track past blue-painted seats. Where the track bends sharply right, keep ahead past the final seat and go down a narrow path, and then some steps, to reach Porthminster Beach. Walk past the line of beach huts to reach St Ives Station and car park, or continue into the town itself.

In 1877 the archetypal Cornish fishing village of St Ives was linked to the main line railway and was never the same again. The 4½ miles (7.2km) of track that wound its way from St Erth along the estuary of the River Hayle and then above St Ives Bay, was intended to make markets more accessible to the local fishing industry. It also opened the town to the fast-developing tourism of the late 19th century. Fishing declined, but by the 1940s and 1950s the branch line was carrying tens of thousands of holidaymaking families to St Ives and was enjoyed by huge numbers of local people. Today the line carries crowds of day-visitors and its scenic qualities are still unspoiled. An added bonus is that the beautiful surroundings through which the line passes are also traversed by the coastal footpath. You can travel either way between station halts and return on foot through magnificent coastal scenery. There are three Halts on the line and the walk described starts at Lelant Saltings Halt, where there is a large car park.

While you're there

Lelant's Church of St Uny has an intriguing history. Records suggest that a 5th- or 6th-century chapel once stood between the present church and the sea, but that it was buried by the encroaching sands. The present church has Norman features and was once the focus of the medieval village of Lelant, the main port of the area, until silt and sand reduced the estuary's navigability.

Where to eat and drink

You can call in for a cream tea at the Old Station House next to Lelant Halt early in the walk. At Carbis Bay there is a Wimpy Bar on the beach and a shop selling ice creams. The Carbis Bay Hotel just above the beach does bar meals. The Porthminster Restaurant at the walk's end is an art deco building with a balcony overlooking Porthminster Beach.

What to look for

Cormorants haunt the mouth of the Hayle River and can often be seen, perching on the wooden poles that mark the seaward channel of the estuary, their wings outspread. They are not drying their wings, but do this as an aid to digestion. Cormorants and shags are often mistaken for each other. The cormorant is much bigger and has a distinguishing white patch under its chin. You are more likely to spot cormorants in and around estuaries and they often fly far inland to freshwater lakes.

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