Good evening from a soggy Newton Abbot. It’s been another interesting day (for me at least) and I’ve seen an awful lot of the Cornwall and Devon countryside. I’ve been keeping notes as I’ve travelled and the slightly tidied up version of them is what you can read below…
I was up at the first beep of the first alarm, but through catching up on world events (meh!) I was a little later out to breakfast than I planned. It’s a buffet style affair, and a commendable one at that, so I whizzed through that and was back on track. Having settled up my food and bar bill from last night I was out on the road in good time. A very pleasant stay in Truro (well Highertown!) and the County Arms gets a solid A rating from me.
It’s a lovely sunny morning – a remarkable overnight turnaround. The (downhill!) walk to the station took no time at all and the 08:44 HST appeared smack on time. The Truro station staff are red hot in making sure everyone is in the right place on the platform – presumably not wanting delays put down to station duties. A much more pleasant journey than coming down – this time in splendid isolation in First Class and the wonderful sunny Cornish scenery rushing past my window. At Par the branch railcar was waiting on the opposite platform and after a few snaps of the station I jumped aboard.
The Newquay train was not as busy as I expected. I thought there would be many more bucket & spaders on day trips. We picked up a few more passengers en route and dropped off a handful of hikers. Only two of request stops were passed though without stopping. There was a small contingent from Cornwall CAMRA so I’m guessing there’s a beer festival on in Newquay. It was a gorgeous journey – often travelling through a tunnel of foliage on the single line, but also some special views. I had no chance to get out at Newquay if I wanted a seat when I reboarded — special or otherwise. There were hoardes of folk on the platform waiting to board; returning holidaymakers and their cases in abundance and several locals travelling to a rugby match. So many that it took the conductor almost the full duration of the journey back to Par to sort out everyone’s tickets.
The local powers-that-be really like to name their branch lines round here in order to promote them. This is the Atlantic Coast Line and yesterday it was The Maritime Line. What I was most pleased about were the clean windows. Actually I have to say the Class 153 single car unit (derisively known as “dog boxes”) was very smart in its GWR green. I’m told by my previously mentioned ‘eye-in-the-sky’ who is watching my progress on TRUST that this is a former Derby Etches Park unit. Retirement in Cornwall suits it.
The return working was three minutes late at Roche. I wouldn’t worry except for the fact it’s only a four minute connection back at Par. Missing it wouldn’t completely derail the day (sorry, unfortunate turn of phrase here) but at the least would require a long wait somewhere and/or some replanning. Of course I needn’t have worried – thanks to the miracle of recovery time it was a Right Time arrival. It was a busy train at Par, as I suspect all the trains for the rest of the day will be.
At Liskeard I availed myself of the waiting facilities which appear very modern and are well appointed. Crucially there’s a kiosk as, after my lovely but salty breakfast, I was more than a bit dehydrated. Ah, the blessed relief of ice cold proprietary cola. I then went and waited on the Looe platform – with quite a few others already. Out of the mouths of babes: A little girl, probably about 3, as the rail car arrived; “Oh No, it’s only a little train”.
The rather unimaginatively named Looe Valley line, while definitely enjoyable in its own way, isn’t really spectacular. It’s a deep wooded valley for most of its length – lots of greenery and wild flowers to look at – but it’s not until reaching the estuary at the bottom that it opens out into something more to look at. In the beautiful sunshine that last mile or so really was worth coming for. At Looe I broke with tradition and rather than reboard the same train (or even not get off!) I have the luxury a 1hr 20min lunch break in which to explore a bit of the town. Lunch was procured in the form of a sandwich from the local Co-op and — snapping pics all the way — I embarked on the challenge of finding somewhere to sit and eat it. Finding somewhere scenic was no problem, the whole town qualifies there, but given it is a working fishing port, a lot of the limited space is necessarily given over to the motor vehicle. I eventually found an unoccupied bench (beating the law of supply & demand) and began to scoff under the watchful eye of a huge gull. There are many signs imploring people not to feed the gulls “because they’re viscous” – and I believe it! Having filled up I wandered back to the station to await the arrival of the service back to Liskeard. I can think of many far worse places to wait than Looe station in the sunshine.
Back to Liskeard where a brace of Class 150s formed the Penzance – Plymouth service I needed to take me back into Devon. Other than to say Filthy Windows I’ve nothing to report about this leg of the journey. My Devonport connection had the potential to be quite tight if changing platforms was at all convoluted. It wasn’t and it wasn’t.
On to the Tamar Valley Line service to Gunnislake, again formed of a 150 unit (with much cleaner windows, thankfully!). This train is obviously part of the GWR crèche service as it was full of kids of assorted ages, all on full volume! A typical quote, said with incredulity and in mid-conversation with her cohorts; “Why Has My Music Stopped. Why Is There No Service?”
The Tamar Valley line may not be the winner in the scenic stakes (though it is worthy of an honourable mention, the bit along the Tamar Estuary and crossing the River Tavy especially), but the line is hugely impressive for its mountain climbing! An elderly bloke who was evidently also on the train for the ride up and back asked the driver, while changing ends at Gunnislake, why the railway came this far: “I think somebody important once lived up here” was the reply. By any measure, the end of the line at Gunnislake is almost on Dartmoor. In any event, our service made it up here with a few minutes to spare. A group whom I guess are the Friends of Gunnislake Station or some such outfit, are busy painting the station fencing. Good for them. Given the ongoing engineering challenges of this line – both from a permanent way and traction perspective – it is a miracle it remained immune from the decades of cuts. The line surely must have to generate a lot of business to earn its keep?
To say the train proceeds gingerly down the gradient is an understatement. I understand why, of course — I imagine it must be really tricky on a wet day during leaf fall season. As it happened, the rain arrived as we reversed at Bere Alston. The forecast is for “showers” for the rest of the day and, but for a well timed interlude while I was on the platform at Plymouth, proved accurate.
Plymouth station is a bit of a time capsule. Much of the signage is straight out of the BR Style Guide and there’s even what looks like an original surviving enamel Platform 3 sign. The power box retains its 1960 faux Art Deco lettering.
My next leg eastward was by another Paddington bound HST. First Class was again virtually deserted so it was no surprise there was no attempt at any special catering service. There was a buffet somewhere on the train according to the most garbled PA announcement ever, but I felt no inclination to go and find it. There was a slight drama leaving Totnes. I was able to hear the Guard’s buzzer where I was seated. The driver was given two beeps which was repeated. We’d been moving about three or four seconds when there was a long single beep and the driver stopped dead — then acknowledging the signal with a single beep of his own — which while surely required by the rules seemed a little redundant to me! A minute or so later, another two beeps and we were away for real.
It was absolutely peeing it down at Newton Abbot, confirming in my mind that the walk to tonight’s accommodation is far better deferred to later. Newton Abbot station was busy but of course being a Saturday evening all the facilities were shut. The Exmouth – Paignton train was shown six minutes late; the robot voice declaring it due to Congestion Caused By Earlier Delays. The ride down to Paignton was a little like dejavu from last night’s trip to Falmouth. The weather and a packed train being the most obvious similarities. Ironically, if I’d have looked at the timetable properly I’d have been able to do the Newton Abbot to Paignton journey in a little more comfort as a CrossCountry Voyager from Manchester followed the Exmouth train — arriving in plenty of time for the connection. As it was I rode most of the way on a folding seat in the cycle store!! Oh well.
The run back was, conversely, not nearly as busy as I expected. The day-trippers must’ve all been sent home early by the weather. An uneventful trip back to Newton Abbot and a 10 minute walk to my digs. And, yes, it was up a hill — though thankfully far from a big one! The proprietor let me in and showed me to my room. Clean comfortable and value for money. So far so good. Those of you paying attention may have observed a dearth of coffee consumed during the day. I certainly noticed. I felt obliged to brew up a mug of good old Nescafe while thinking with the words you are reading now.
Off out to find some supper and some beer.
I stepped out into a veritable monsoon. I couldn’t leave it any longer for reasons you can easily work out. Amazingly, as I walked along East Street the rain abated, so I was only half drowned when I burst through the doors of my destination: Teign Cellars. This place is the sole reason I’ve ended up in Newton Abbot, the only establishment in the target area to be GBG listed. The fact that where I am stopping is equidistant to here and the station is not an accident, either. First impressions suggest my choice is vindicated. I was just in time for food and so ordered the obligatory burger which I enjoyed.
Beer choice is…
- Moor – So’Hop (4.1%)
- Imperial Brew – the Platinum Blonde (4.0%)
- Exeter Organic – Avocet (3.9%)
If I have a minor quibble, it is that their real ale range was limited — all four percentish blonde/pale beers. There was a fourth real ale line which was ‘off’. Their repertoire extends to craft beers, but the stereotype of a premium price is certainly borne out… two of the real ales are £3.50/pt and the other an exceptionally reasonably £2.80. The craft beers are all £4 plus, up to Hopcraft Blackberry Stout at £4.20. If cider is your thing then you are really well catered for. While I’m on the subject of beer prices, I meant to mention this yesterday… Hootenanny is the leader so far at £4.10/pt, but the Lower Red Lion wasn’t so far behind. Don’t tell the landlord of my local, but his prices are looking decidedly reasonably by comparison, and they are one of the pricier places in the area.
If I have a further minor quibble it is that the place is a victim of its own success (and I’m of course bearing in mind it’s Saturday night as I say this). It’s quite a small bar so only one person can practically work it. This leads to a bit of a wait for each round… especially if you time it badly! I was quite content in my corner as the place got busy though, so I hung around for a few more. Indeed, the rush had well & truly died down when I called it a night.
And the Red Sox won.