As I already mentioned, the weather was not particularly brilliant. Cool, overcast conditions gave way to rain as I departed Lelant Saltings. However, as we trundled along the branch line, I caught sight of some of St Ives’ famous beaches, which even grey skies could not spoil. Soon enough we were gently braking to a halt at St Ives station.
As an aside, if you buy a ticket to here, it will say ST IVES CORNWALL on it, to avoid confusion with St Ives in Cambridgeshire… which closed in 1970. Hmm.
St Ives, like most branch termini these days, is a basic but adequate station. There’s a single platform, a waiting shelter, and a basic vending machine which sells tickets for stations on the branch only. Bizarrely, it appeared to be a modified car park pay & display machine. Again, this is not the original station. A larger structure once existed closer to the town centre but, like Looe, the line was cut back slightly and the site of the original station is now – you guessed it – a car park.
The local powers-that-be have taken it upon themselves to brighten the station up, with a good piece of modern art greeting alighting passengers in the car park.
Also in the car park, an enterprising individual has set up a privately operated travel agency to flog train tickets, among other things. I think ticket agents get about 10% commission on every rail ticket they sell – a nice little earner for someone there.
With some time to kill, I walked into the town centre. St Ives is another Cornish fishing port that has turned its attention to tourism. It’s well-placed to do so – the beaches would be beautiful on a warm sunny day, and there are plenty of – along the seafront there are fish & chip cafés, family run hotels, souvenir shops running the gamut from the tasteful to the tacky, and an old-fashioned amusement arcade.
St Ives is also famous for its community of artists, and there were plenty of small studios dotted around.
Slightly inland, I found Tate St Ives, a modern building which stuck out slightly amidst the little cottages surrounding it. I was sorely tempted to visit the exhibition inside, which promised “content that may offend”, but the admission charge was hefty and I was on a tight schedule. I decided that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice in the time I had available, and left it at that.
The main streets in St Ives are characterised by their narrowness and steepness. Below left is one of the main shopping streets. On the right is a side street I turned down. It was marked “unsuitable for motor vehicles”, although that didn’t stop a man in a white van attempting a hair-raising drive down it. Luckily, I was walking in the downhill direction – I wouldn’t fancy it the other way.
While wandering, I also stumbled across an old-style cinema – The Royal. I didn’t take a picture because a creepy-looking gentleman was hanging around outside giving me the evil eye, but there’s some photos on the cinema’s web site.
Having spent a couple of hours looking around, I retired to a café and enjoyed a traditional Cornish… er, coronation chicken sandwich. That done, I headed back to the station, mindful that I still had two stations to visit.
It turned out that I’d just missed a train and I had about 30 minutes to wait until the next one. This did give me plenty of time to get my sign picture, but even after that I still had lots of time to spare.
Pacing up and down the platform, I noticed this small plaque affixed to the platform fencing.
I felt a certain common ground with Jake. I remember, when I was about 4 or 5 years old, my Dad would sometimes take me to our local station, St Michaels in Liverpool, and we would sit on a bench watching the Merseyrail trains pass for hours. That was it – I needed no more stimulation or entertainment than that.
The plaque was a valuable reminder of the special and enduring place that railways can take in people’s hearts. For children (and young boys especially), there seems to be a special magic that only trains can bring. I know nothing about Jake, or why his life was so sadly cut short, but I can completely understand “the enjoyment he got from watching the trains”, and I’m glad someone took the time and care to commemorate him. Rest in peace.