The sleeper train from London gets you in and out of Penzance while you snooze, and provides an excellent starting point to explore Cornwall’s South West Coast path.
It’s 10pm at the end of the working week, and instead of being holed up in a pub, we’re infiltrating the first class lounge in Paddington station.
This is because at 11:45pm, we’ll be setting off on the overnight service to Penzance. It’s not the cheapest way to get around, but it’s certainly more glamorous than your usual eight-hour train journey. We settled into our tiny cabins, complete with bunk beds, and let ourselves get rocked to sleep by the train.
We are woken up around 7am with a bacon sandwich and two generous pots of coffee, and then we’re off.
The fishing boats and tiny terraced houses of Penzance disappear quickly, as we pass through Mousehole to reach the more wild section of the path. It’s a gorgeous route; switching from rugged, sea battered cliff paths to lush woodland in a flash.
The most striking thing is the plant life. Cornwall has a sub-tropical climate, which means succulents, palms and ferns run rampant here. It was blooming with colour when we visited in July; from purple sprays of fuchsia to fluffy blue hydrangea clouds.
For the most part, the path is a relatively easy route. There are fun (but tricky) sections in Lamorna, clambering up and over rocks to the top of the cliff face, while some parts were ominously cordoned off after having collapsed.
We were knackered by the time we got to Porthcurno, and stopped off for fish and chips and a pint of cider at the rather mediocre Cable Station Inn. We slogged it out the rest of the way following the coast line, which dipped in and out and tricked us into thinking we were closer to Land’s End than we were. This last hour was a struggle; trying to avoid scary looking bulls while we trudged through the rain.
By 7pm we had arrived. A bath, a few beers and a burger later, and we were restored.
The best thing about staying in a hotel when you’re doing a mammoth walk? Complimentary breakfast, of course. We filled up on a mean fryup, took a short stroll to Sennen Cove, then spent the morning lounging on the beach, eating ice creams and watching people learn to surf. Then it was time to get going.
The coast line changes after Land’s End. Rather than rocky scrambles and sheer cliff faces, sandy inclines take you away from the beach before approaching old school jetties and navigating shallow waterways. This section is short and sweet.
We kept walking until we reached St Just, where we stopped for a few beers and some snacks; we’d originally planned to stay a night here too, at the Duke of Wellington hotel, and I’d certainly recommend at least a drink there. Then, it was on the bus to Penzance, so we could get back to London bright and early on Monday morning.
The Night Riviera service departs from Paddington at 23:45pm, arriving in Penzance at 8am the next morning. Return trains depart Penzance at 21:15, arriving in Paddington at 5am.
You need to book a return ticket plus a sleeper supplement. We paid £325.90 in total, with a two together railcard. More information on the GWR website, and I would advise calling to book if you are unsure.
Penzance: Either the Crown (which brews its own ale) or the Longboat Inn.
Porthcurno: Skip the Cable Station Inn and go to the Logan Rock Inn, which has better food options.
Sennen Cove: The Old Success Inn.
St Just: The Wellington Hotel – which also has good reviews on the rooms.
We stayed overnight at the Land’s End Hotel in a Superior Seaview Room.
Day 1 (Penzance to Land’s End): 26.6km / 16.5 miles
Day 2 (Land’s End to St Just): 9.7km / 6 miles
Day 1: 9 hours, including a pub stop
Day 2: 3 hours, without stopping
Moderate. Some parts are a bit of a scramble, but the path is consistently well marked and maintained.