Tap tap tap. “Good morning. I’ll leave the breakfast outside your door shall I? We’ll be arriving in St Erth in half an hour.”
I pull the blind up to see dawn breaking over Cornish heathland and the silhouetted ruins of old tin mine steeples up on the hills.
Feeling like I’ve had the best sleep in years, I have my British Rail bacon sandwich and tea, watching a freshly first-light splashed Cornwall roll past the window as I ease into my trousers and the train eases into St Erth.
Disembarking from the huge, snorting, sleeper we pick up a tiny two coacher that is patiently waiting for us on the adjacent smaller platform and head out on what must be one of the most beautiful rural train routes in Britain. Running round the curve of St Ives Bay: first with the boggy, paludal mudflats of Lelant and then the clean, wide beaches of Carbis Bay to our right. High grassy bluffs are on our left, with the sight of many fleeing rabbit arses running up the slopes from our chuntering train.
St Ives appears round the bend and, even though expected, Passepartout gives a gasp as we look down on the beauteous lolling town with its roofs and church chapels and its ‘Island’ – not really an island – a grassy promontory, splitting the town in two, pushing out into the sea with its Cornish-austere chapel atop, sat alone. And a special light framing it all.
The town is silent this early, aside from a few dog walkers on the town’s 5 beaches as we walk in brilliant morning sun to hire a chalet. We pass the perfect semi-circle harbour with its stone pier and pretty coloured boats leaning up on the sand with the tide out – the boats look like old-fashioned, coquettish, photographed models to me: posing with legs flicked up and their chin resting on their palms.
Later in the day we set off out of the town to tackle the long costal walk from St Ives to Zenor.
The jagged path pushed fast against the dramatic dropping cliffs, with waves – crashing over dark rocks below – rearing up powerfully high. The weather has turned more climatic and theatrical. I have brought our radio and we sit alone on the cliffs and eat cheese and pickle sandwiches (the Greek winces) and listen to what seems an entirely appropriate broadcast of Elgar as we stare out at the Atlantic. With Cornwall rolling behind us, bare and sad and formidable.
A heavy sky hangs over the fields running from the cliff edges, with the grass such a deep green colour it seems almost black. The walk is long and lonely, rocky and blowy. Exhilarating, and a world away from the sun-soaked ups and downs of our previous walk on the Dorset coastal edge. The never-ending, fraying cliffs of sea continually rising and breaking out far beyond.
At the other end of the coastal path, having, of course, missed the last rural bus service in the tiny village, we taxi back to St Ives, finding it just as we had left it: bathed in late sunlight.
Amongst the stone cottages tumbling over each other down to the sea – like a knot of drunken sailors holding themselves upright together – and amongst a less cut-price, more smug holidaying crowd than the other seaside towns we’ve passed through so far, I explain a Cornish pasty to Passepartout. I tell her that this was once a full meal for tin miners in Cornwall and at one end of the pasty there would have been their pudding with sponge and jam mixed in with the meat and potatoes – not knowing if any of this is true or not.
An aerial bombardment from the colossal seagulls of St Ives meant that the pasty was soon being carried out towards Seaton’s lighthouse anyway. It comes as no surprise to learn that Daphne Du Maurier, author of Hitchcock’s The Birds, lived in St Ives.
As we watch the seaside pterodactyls attack an old woman and then a small child for their ice creams, we admit defeat and take a dark table at the ancient Sloop Inn for the evening, me fruitlessly attempting to coax my Greek drinking companion into a liking of thick Cornish ales as we sit between the loud, conspicuous, local artists, second homers, pleased-with-themselves holiday makers and the faintly sad-looking, lined, old fishing folk. A solid dark night falls over the sea outside.