(all photos by Malcolm – apart from the chips)
We had talked about having a few days away in late November to celebrate our ‘going out together’ anniversary. The GWR rail offer planted a seed of an idea of going to Cornwall (all the way from Bath to St Ives and back, for just £24 each!).
Many years ago, when he was in a job involving staying away from home for a fortnight at a time, Malcolm stayed in a memorable hotel there. We had been to St Ives together several times over the years, but only ever for the day when we were camping near St Michael’s Mount. Going back to stay there, especially out of season, seemed an attractive proposition. So I looked up the hotel to see if they had any seasonal offers on (normally this is a rather expensive place), and they did.
£59 per night B and B for the two of us seemed like a steal. I booked two nights and our rail tickets, and we were set. Or so we thought.
We didn’t expect torrential rain for about 36 hours before we were due to leave, with the rail line cut off by flood water and GWR warning people not to travel unless it was really necessary.
Still, with limited and contradictory information on the GWR and other websites, we thought we’d take our chances. We turned up at the station ready to travel and hoped for the best.
And the best was what we got. Despite everything, and despite lots of GWR sucking of teeth and dire warnings about Devon and Cornwall being marooned, we found that our train managed to get all the way to Taunton, where there was a coach waiting to take us by road on to Exeter, and then onto a different train, thus successfully by-passing the flood.
So, we eventually arrived in St Ives rather later than planned, but early enough to spend a couple of hours exploring the town before hiking up the hill and checking in at the hotel.
We were blessed with good weather (mostly), and had a great new-to-us walk along the coast path from St Ives to Hayle. The views and beaches were stunning. There were plenty of birds to see. Just at the right moment we found a lovely cafe for coffee and cake (definitely somewhere to plan to go for lunch another time). We had a brief stroll around Hayle, though oddly the only place we found truly interesting there was the recently-built Asda – an astonishing and we thought beautiful (though locally controversial) building designed by Bath-based architects Fielden Clegg Bradley. We had seen it from the train on our journey to Cornwall, and wondered what it was.
In sharp contrast to the tourist-trap shops of St Ives, Hayle struck us as one of the many economically depressed towns of Cornwall, with little evidence of investment in the community (apart from the Asda building and the restored railway viaduct). This is common in the UK as you get further and further from London, and especially in places like Cornwall where many wealthy people from elsewhere own second homes which mean that locals, mostly on low wages, simply can’t afford to live in their own communities.
In fairness to Hayle, we really didn’t have a lot of time to explore it before getting our bus back to St Ives.
However, Hayle was of particular interest to me because in 1940, at just 10 years old, my mum was evacuated to a village nearby (Gwithian) for two years. Although she was very fortunate to be billeted with two lovely families, this was nonetheless a traumatic experience for her. Moved suddenly from her almost entirely Jewish immigrant surroundings of London’s east end to a tiny village in rural and remote Cornwall, with her (older) sister’s school but not her older sister, she barely saw her parents or anyone else she knew during the whole two years, due to travel and communication restrictions. A fussy eater and a shy child, she had to swiftly adjust to profoundly different food, culture, surroundings, language and life.
The next day we spent exploring St Ives. Coffee and excellent brownie at the local Farmers’ Market; tiny back streets; lots of photography (him) and culture (me) – when we split, he walked a little way along the coast path and took some stunning pictures, and I sat and just ‘was’ in the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden. Such a peaceful and inspiring spot, both as a small town garden but also as a compact collection of her beautiful work. And a fascinating and fiercely talented woman.
Then tea and chips by the harbour. The full English seaside experience (especially if you add in the fish and chip lunch we had the next day).
As we left, we managed to catch a beautiful sunset over St Ives.
Any cobwebs were thoroughly blown away by the time we got home, and we felt refreshed and reinvigorated by just 3 days away. Especially as we did something we’ve never done before and upgraded our reserved train seats to 1st class, and sat in comfort. Despite the disruption on the way there, the journey was just as much a part of the holiday experience as the time in Cornwall was. We will definitely look out for this rail offer again next autumn.