Car-freeAdventures in Cornwallwith Great Western Railway

Cornwall makes a perfect car-free destination. Not only are the bus and train rides beautiful and the cost of getting around the county very reasonable. But you can also get out into some wild and rural parts of Cornwall on the scenic branch lines that lead off towards the coast from stations along the spectacular main line. Here are mini-guides to Penzance, at the end of the the main line railway, and to four beautiful branch lines. These are just some of the things you can see from the window as well as when you get off at a station.

  • County: with Great Western Railway
  • Great for: art galleries | beaches | castles | coastal walk | Picnics | scenic train |
  • Refreshments: lots of fabulous restaurants, pubs and cafes
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 3. The Maritime Line - Truro to Falmouth

    Through towns and Cornish countryside, the Maritime Line links Truro and Falmouth, both offering lots of interesting sights for visitors. There are a lot of great places to eat along the line too.

    • Try a walk from stations along the line like this 3-mile ramble past Falmouth’s three beaches from Penmere. From Falmouth Docks station, walk around the nearby headland to visit Pendennis Castle. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • If it’s a rainy day, head to Falmouth’s Maritime Museum, purpose-built from slate and green oak in the early 21st century. It’s a ten-minute stroll from Falmouth Town railway station. A hanging fleet of yachts, kayaks and dinghies float in the three-floors-high central hall. The museum café looks out across sail boats and grey water to the wooded Roseland peninsular.
    • Ferries cross the wide Fal River all year, taking foot passengers from Falmouth over to St Mawes. Or you can take a bus to the National Trust’s Glendurgan garden with its winding laurel-hedged maze.
  1. 4. The Atlantic Coast Line - Par to Newquay

    Between sandy seaside Par and Newquay, 45 minutes’ train ride away on the North coast, you can catch the Atlantic Coast Line. From each end, there are great stretches of the South West Coast Path to walk. Between the two coasts, the railway crosses cotton-grassed Goss Moor and passes the UNESCO-listed Luxulyan Valley.

    • Sample the lovely seven-mile walk over the undulating headlands from Par to Fowey with its clifftop castle, through Daphne du Maurier country. Look out for hidden coves and beaches, clumps of pink thrift flowers on the clifftops, banks of wild garlic and wooded paths through purple rhododendrons. Bus 24 and bus 25 run regularly back again to Par.
    • One of four seasonal request stops on the Atlantic Coast line, Luxulyan is the nearest station to the Luxulyan Valley. Ask the guard to stop there and wander past the village church, through mossy oaks and fern-fringed waterways to the monumental Treffry viaduct, an energetic mile from the station. Towering thirty metres over the wooded path, this huge granite bridge is the centrepiece of an extraordinary post-industrial valley turned fairytale glen, where foxgloves sprout beside old tramlines and forgotten cascades.
    • The well-signed Saints Way trail leads through the valley, which was once a huge copper mine, all water wheels and steam engines. Now the only sounds are birdsong, rustling beech trees and the River Par, cascading past banks of bluebells. You can even walk from here to the Eden Project. Or get bus 28 from St Austell station, five minutes from Par along the main line. See Good Journey’s directions.
    • At the far end of the line, Newquay has eleven different beaches, a zoo, lots of pubs and cafes, and some great coastal walking with handy buses along the spectacular north coast all the way to Padstow.
    • Spend the afternoon on one of Newquay’s varied beaches. Learn to surf on stormy Fistral or explore the caves and rockpools around Whipsiderry. For a taste of the spectacular Coast Path, hike 1km from Fistral, past craggy Lewinnick Cove to the steep-sided River Gannel for crab sarnies and homemade cakes at the Fern Pit café above the tidal ferry. Or just relax on the sheltered sand of the tiny, surf-free Harbour Beach and eat fish and chips as the sun sets.
  1. 5. The Looe Valley - Liskeard to Looe

    At high tide, there’s a wide blue estuary outside the train window in the wooded Looe Valley. At low tide, herons and egrets pick their way across the mudflats and cormorants hold their wings out to dry. This is another beautiful trip where there’s always something to see.

    • Break your journey at Liskeard and catch the branch line to Looe for brunch at the riverside Lookout and a swim from the sandy beach. Crabbing is so popular along the harbour that the town recently launched a scheme to recycle crab lines.
    • In school holidays, the beach and car parks fill up fast so it’s far more relaxing to take the Liskeard to Looe branch line.
    • You can also ask the guard if you want to get off the train at Causeland in the middle of the woods and walk ten minutes up a quiet lane to visit the Looe Valley Vineyard with 6000 vines in south-facing fields. You can book for a hands-on experience of the whole winemaking process from pruning to corking plus a tutored tasting.
    • Leaving the vineyard, you could walk on to the next station, twenty-minutes up another deep-sunken lane with walls of crumbling slate held together by dripping moss and tree roots. On the way, there’s a little granite wellhouse dedicated to St Keyne, a fifth-century holy woman.
    • At St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, look out for summer swallows flying in and out of the station pillars as you wait for the train.
    • The Looe Valley Line also has a Real Ale Trail with two fabulous pubs to visit in Liskeard, five in Looe and the whitewashed Plough about half an hour’s walk from Causeland station near the Duloe stone circle. Visit all eight and get a tee-shirt!
    • Wherever you go in Cornwall, travelling by train will make it much more fun.