Travel: From coast to coast in an afternoon

SUNDAY WALK: There are lots of reasons to go to St Ives. But at this time of year, people go to Hurl the Silver Ball. By Matthew Brace
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The Independent Travel
SOUTH WEST Cornwall is an extreme place. Penzance is the most westerly rail terminus in England, a five-hour ride on the Great Western line from London, and virtually at the end of the A30. There are only a few miles left of Britain before the landscape falls into the sea at Land's End. Because the land is so narrow you can walk from coast to coast in an afternoon.

At this time of year people come to St Ives to experience a different kind of extreme - the traditional Cornish folklore festival of Hurling the Silver Ball. It takes place tomorrow on the first Monday after the feast day of the town's patron saint, St Ia. At one time this rough, no- rules sport, which is not connected to the Irish game, was played throughout western Europe but today hurling matches are only held at St Ives and St Columb Major near Newquay once a year.

The ball is traditionally made of apple wood sheathed in silver paper or material and is passed from runner to runner until goals are scored. When parishes used to play each other they used their church towers as goals. Heritage organisations would no doubt have something to say about that these days so they use alternatives.

Start this walk in Penzance at the joint train and bus station and walk east along the South West Coast Path. (Ordnance Survey Landranger map 203 covers the route.) The path runs parallel to the train tracks and you will have the fairytale castle on St Michael's Mount in your sights.

Head for a large car park at the back of the beach and opposite a marshy bird reserve, before you reach the village of Marazion. If the tide is out and you want to pop over to the mount then it will add a couple of miles (and hours) to your journey. If you are willing to leave it for another day, then from the car park follow the road north to the A30 across a bridge over the railway.

Take care going over the roundabout and up a side road to the village of Varfell and on to Ludgvan. Ludgvan Parish Church sits on its haunches in the middle of the village and a scallop-shell signpost nearby tells you that you are walking part of St Michael's Way, a pilgrim route. This is one of an extensive network of pilgrim routes throughout Europe, all leading to St James's Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. St Michael's Way follows a route from Lelant near St Ives to St Michael's Mount.

From Ludgvan head uphill between high-banked Cornish hedges past the handsome Treassowe Manor to a crossroads at Castle Gate. The views are magnificent and, on a clear day, you can see both coasts from this spot. From here it is a straight walk along the B3311. Actually, "straight" is not the right term to describe a backroads walk in Cornwall. The road turns, twists back on itself, lunges up hills and dips into hollows.

This area has retained its small field systems. The greed of prairie farming which has swept so much of Britain and destroyed miles of hedgerows has, thankfully, not spread down here.

You will reach the creaking front door of The Engine Inn, a Greenall's pub sitting high on the rolling Cornish backbone of hills in the village of Cripplesease - aptly named for those by now suffering from blisters or a sore ankle. Out of the wind, a pint of Flowers Original Bitter fortifies you for the final downhill slog.

Just up the road from the Engine is the reason for its name - an abandoned engine house that once puffed and blew, working the tin seam that ran through here. There are scores of abandoned engine houses dotted over this part of Cornwall, memories of a boom-time when metal was this area's saviour. Today they are silent and deserted save for the moan of the wind, the ghosts of old tin miners and the odd walker munching sandwiches and hiding from the elements behind their thick stone walls.

From here Cornwall's north coast dominates the view: Porth Kidney Sands where the River Hayle empties into the sea and the majestic arc of beach leading the eye east to Godrevy Point.

Signs lead you into the town and some roads are so steep that gravity carries you down to the pretty harbour. St Ives's harbour wall reaches round to shield the town from the sea and the fishing boats bob on the tide and gulls dive for food. The scene is set for Hurling the Silver Ball. Staff or locals in the 14th century harbourfront pub, the Sloop Inn, will fill you in on details of the game and you can take a room here if you can't make it any further.

Buses run from St Ives back to Penzance every 20 minutes, take 25 minutes and cost pounds 1.20 one-way. Trains run every 40 minutes, take 15 minutes and cost pounds 2 one-way. Train and bus stations in St Ives are on the A3074 heading along the cliffs south from the harbour and are well signposted. For more information about St Michael's Way call 01209 8206111.

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