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.
1. The main line - Plymouth to Penzance
With miles of shining sea, bird-haunted estuaries and rugged rolling hills just outside the train window, the railway line to Cornwall, engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the mid-nineteenth century, is one of the UK’s great scenic journeys. Unlike the gridlocked main road, the railway hugs the pink-rocked Devon coast with its grass-topped red cliffs and intricate wave-sculpted stacks of sandstone.
- Public transport in Cornwall can be a real bargain. Book ahead for the cheapest train tickets, use railcards, try a family ticket or other ways to save. And there are also currently day tickets for unlimited bus travel across the whole county.
- The main line through Cornwall is studded with great holiday destinations. You can read more about them in our other guides, including this one about car-free holidays in Cornwall.
- Pilgrims and traders have visited Penzance, Cornwall’s most westerly big town, for centuries and now these years of history and legend make it a fascinating tourist destination. Ride the Land’s End Coaster bus through some breath-taking scenery, including top-deck views of stone circles, ruined tin mines and St Michael’s Mount. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
- Swim in the elegant Jubilee Pool, a seawater-filled lido with a geothermally-heated section and popular sea-view café. Pick up a peppery pasty from the Cornish Hen deli on Market Place and head off along the three miles of coast path to Marazion to visit St Michael’s Mount. 85 new sculptures bring to life the submerged fossil forest under the waves.
- Art lovers should also check out the Penlee gallery in Penzance, featuring Cornish lives and landscapes as painted by artists of the Newlyn School plus a great café and subtropical gardens to explore outside.
2. The St Ives Bay Line - St Erth to St Ives
For more art, sea views, coastal walking and cafés, take the mainline to St Erth and change onto the branch line to St Ives. This is Cornwall’s most spectacular short train ride – among some fierce competition!
- Sights from window include thousands of wading birds among the mudflats and reed beds of the Hayle estuary. Then the long sweep of Carbis Bay with dune-backed beaches and wooded cliffs.
- There’s a view of sand and palm trees from St Ives railway station and, across misty blue water, you can see Godrevy lighthouse on a little rocky island.
- Stroll through the pretty town and past the sandy harbour to visit Tate St Ives, facing Porthmeor beach, with changing exhibitions in its cool white halls and curving corridors. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
- Five minutes’ walk away is the Barbara Hepworth museum and garden. Cornwall’s sea-warmed air means palms and bamboos flourish among the sculptures with their towering bronze arcs and hollows.
- The railway runs parallel to the South West Coast Path so you can walk to Carbis Bay or Lelant and then hop back on the train. There are several great walks from stations in the area. Or why not try a pub crawl along the line with its many town taverns and historic country inns on this Rail Ale Trail – visit ten pubs and get a tee-shirt!