Following the ancient tracks of the St Michaels Way you find yourself imagining the journey taken by those original pilgrims many years ago.
History, folklore and an atmospheric landscape combine in this cross country coast to coast way-marked route. It is believed the route was originally used by pilgrims travelling to the Cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain from Cornwall, Ireland and Wales. European funding and the combined efforts of Cornwall County Council saw the route ‘reopened’ in 2004 with new signage. All of the new signs on the route have the symbol of a stylised scallop shell making it easy to tell if you are on the right path. A decade later the route is still well marked. However I would not recommend attempting the full route without a map as there are a few places where the signs have fallen down or are missing. There are also plenty of other footpaths that traverse the route (which are all worth exploring on a trail run) however without a 1:25000 OS map you may find you significantly add to the distance of your run if you don’t know the area (OS Explorer Map 102 Land’s End available on Amazon Weatherproof version also available!).
This morning’s run starts at the charity car park at Marazion Cornwall. While most tourists make a beeline to the iconic mount, we followed an unassuming trail at the back of the car park into the reeds of Marazion Marsh. This as the weathered wooden sign proclaimed was the start of the ‘St Michaels Way’. A 12 mile cross country coast to coast route from Marazion on the south coast of Cornwall to St Ives and Lelant on the North Cornish Coast. This turned out to be a fascinating trail run full of variety.
At Marazion Marsh the route is flat. The high reeds limit the view a little, but the moving sea of reeds make for a different running experience. Occasionally boardwalks take you over the marshier sections. I ran the route at the end of a dry summer and the path was nice and firm underfoot. I haven’t yet run it in the winter, but I can imagine some sections would be soggy.
The Marazion Marsh section of the trail is short, less than a mile. Halfway along this section a small wire fence and a stile with the words STOP LOOK LISTEN, alert you to the fact that you have to cross the Penzance to Paddington mainline.
The line is very straight here so you can get a good view down the track to see any approaching trains.
A short distance later you have to cross the A394 and the A30, these are a lot harder to cross than the railway line.
Once past the main roads the route climbs up to the village of Ludgvan. A beautiful, but rather imposing church and very inviting pub greet you as you enter the village. The St Michaels Way loops around the church and heads out across the open countryside to St Ives. From here on the route follows ancient tracks and field boundaries. Following these ancient tracks at times there is no sign of the modern world and you could easily imagine the journey taken by those original pilgrims.
Neolithic axe heads dating to 3500 BC have been found at Trencrom Hill Fort, the trails and land around the St Michaels Way have been in continual use for thousands of years.
Folklore mixes with history on this beautiful way-marked trail. This rounded bolder is the height of two people or the size of a small cottage.
Many fields along the route are full of cattle. Personally I recommend walking through these sections until you get a feel for the mood of the livestock. 40 cattle and a herding instinct combined with the excitement of a runner in the field can easily result in you leading a stampede. Luckily by midday most of the cattle were ready for an afternoon nap and less interested in the strange runner in their field.
The urge to build large phallic objects by men of wealth has led to several monuments across Cornwall. This one gives a lovely view of Carbis Bay and a great place to sit and eat a picnic, so thank you to the Knill’s.
What a fantastic route for a trail run. Thanks to the original pilgrims and Cornwall County Council for way-marking this route.
If you like this route you might also like Cape Cornwall to St Ives: The Cousin Jack Classic Trail Run.