There’s no denying Cornwall is a beautifully scenic county. One of the best ways to see it is from the top of a double decker bus. From this vantage point tantalising glimpses can be caught of the sea beyond lush green fields dotted with old stone cottages and engine houses.
Helston to Penzance; service U4; operated hourly (Mon – Sat) 2 hourly (Sunday) by First; time 1 hour.
My journey begins outside the Blue Anchor pub, a thatched building originally a monks’ resting place which became a tavern in the 15th Century, in the old market town of Helston. Famous for its Furry Dance the town plays host to hundreds of visitors who come to see this ancient British custom. The Furry Dance takes place every year on May 8th (or the Saturday before if May 8th falls on a Sunday or Monday), and is a celebration of the passing of Winter and the arrival of Spring. There are several dances throughout the day, the main one being at midday when the men wear top hat and tails and the ladies wear beautiful gowns and hats. The dancers dance their way through the town, passing through some of the houses, accompanied by the Helston Town Band.
To the right as I leave Helston is the Coronation Lake. Boats can be hired and there is a café on the lakeside which is a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by or to view the variety of water birds on the lake. On the opposite side of the road is the entrance to the Penrose Estate, a favourite area of mine.
This estate administered by the National Trust is home to the Loe (An Logh in Cornish), the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall. It is believed to have been created in the 12th Century after violent storms caused the formation of a huge bank of sand and shingle, which cut off the valley (through which flows the River Cober) from the sea. This bank is known as Loe Bar. The variety of habitats around the area such as woodland, marsh and open water encourage a wide range of wildlife. The Loe is reputed to be the lake where Sir Bedivere cast King Arthur’s sword Excalibur. The whole area has been designated as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest by Natural England. There are several lovely walks within this area. The walk around the perimeter of The Loe is about 6 miles but there are shorter ones through the surrounding woodland.
From Helston the bus climbs up the hill with pleasant woodland on either side, before the long descent into Porthleven. Early in the year fields of daffodils will delight and uplift you on the approach to this picturesque harbour side village. Boats bob gently on their moorings on warm summer days or thrash about wildly on a stormy afternoon. Porthleven is a popular resort yet remains relatively un-spoilt. Local artists’ work is displayed in shops and galleries which nestle around the harbour.
There are two good harbour side pubs which serve food as well as an excellent fish and chip shop surely the best in Cornwall!
Shortly after returning to the main Penzance Road and passing through the villages of Breage and Ashton, Tregonning Hill comes into view on the right.
The hill has an interesting history that dates back to the Bronze Age. The remains of a Celtic stronghold, Castle Pencaire, dating from around 250 BC can be found on the hilltop. Nearby there is a quarry where John Wesley is alleged to have preached. This is also the place where William Cookworthy first extracted china clay in the mid 18th Century.
I love to walk along the crest of this hill where, on a clear day, can be seen magnificent views across the whole of Mount's Bay on one side and over towards St Ives on the North Coast to the right. There is a topograph showing the distances to a number of landmarks in the county on the hill top close to the site of the Celtic remains.
The bus soon turns left and heads down the hill to Praa Sands. Praa is the ancient Cornish word for ‘hag’ or ‘witch’ As the bus descends down the hill Pengersick Castle can be seen. This is supposedly one of the most haunted buildings in Britain and there is a strange eeriness about the place.
Praa lies in a sheltered depression and the beautiful stretch of golden sand is very popular with families and has Lifeguards during the summer months. The bus toils up the hill on the western side of Praa to return to the main road for a short time. After taking a sharp right turn the journey continues into the pretty village of Goldsithney.
The bus meanders along the narrow lanes towards Marazion. This quaint little town on the shores of Mount’s Bay is a favourite with tourists. The clean sandy beaches provide a safe environment for wind and kite surfing as well as good old fashioned beach holidays. There are stunning views across to the Lizard Peninsula and Land's End. Indeed Mount’s Bay is renowned as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. In my opinion this is the best part of a lovely journey.
Here the magnificent ‘jewel in the Cornish crown’ of St Michael’s Mount can be seen in all its glory. At first tantalising glimpses of the Mount can be seen between the higgledy-piggledy cottages as the driver negotiates the narrow road leading down into Marazion, before culminating in the full panoramic view of the Mount rearing majestically out of the beautiful Mounts Bay. At low tide there is a causeway linking the Mount to the mainland offering visitors the novel experience of appearing to walk on water! At high tide visitors to the Mount are ferried over in small boats.
There are a variety of gift and craft shops and galleries for art lovers to pass pleasant hours looking at the works of local artists.
Meals in Marazion
The Fire Engine Inn - This pub offers an extensive menu as well as a fabulous view of Mount's Bay.
The Kings Arms - Sit outside this 18th century pub in The Square and watch the world go by!
The Godolphin Arms - This family run inn is literally perched on the sea wall at the end of the Causeway leading over to St Michael’s Mount. Offering overnight accommodation as well as a delightful beach side terrace and a varied menu.
The bus then runs parallel with the beach for a while giving far reaching views to Mousehole and Newlyn before passing through the village of Long Rock. There is a level footpath from Marazion passing through Long Rock to Penzance which is an easy pleasant walk of about 3 miles with sea views all the way!
Heading for Penzance which is the most westerly major town in the United Kingdom, the rest of the journey runs almost parallel to the railway line.
The town’s location gives it a temperate climate making it milder than the rest of Britain. Flowers bloom early in and around Penzance along with exotic palms. The town does battle with nature on winter days when the storm driven seas lash over the promenade, sometimes rearing as high as a three storey building. The beautiful sub tropical Morrab Gardens lie between the promenade and the town. A walk through the gardens will lead you to the town which besides having the usual retail outlets also has quirky little craft and antique shops, along with the ever present galleries. The town has a lively artists’ and writers’ community.
Penzance is the end of the track as far as trains go and although my bus journey finishes at Penzance bus station there is ample opportunity to get on another bus to traverse some more of the wonderful Cornish countryside.
Marilyn changed city living for a rural retreat in 2003. She now lives in Helston, Cornwall.
The above piece was written for the Bradt Travel Guide published in October 2011. The book is called 'Bus Pass Britain: 50 of the Nation's Favourite Bus Journeys'.
Take a look at some holiday cottages in the West Cornwall>