28 April 2020
Leaving Torquay the following morning to begin planning the Cornish part of the eventual tour, I had one final thing to do before leaving the ‘English Riviera’. From Totnes station it’s a pleasant enough 500 yard walk along the paths to Totnes Riverside station, one of the termini of the South Devon Railway, another jigsaw piece of the preserved sections of the Great Western Railway, a branch line built in 1872, closed to passengers since 1958, but saved for future generations. The South Devon Railway has operated a scenic steam and diesel railway for tourists through the deeply-wooded Dart Valley between Totnes and Buckfastleigh since 1969.
After chatting with the volunteers at Totnes, we departed on the seven mile route, recreating the glory pre-war days of the GWR. The first point of interest is the Royal Mile. Apparently here they used to stable the Royal trains bound for Dartmouth Naval College. We join the beautiful valley of the River Dart, which flirts in and out of view as the loco gently chuffs through the woodland through Staverton and onwards to Buckfastleigh, where the railway has an excellent museum in its old engine sheds and refreshment rooms. For passengers with more time to spare than I had, Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies are nearby attractions to make a full day out in bonny Buckfastleigh.
Back in Totnes and onto the mainline heading westwards through Devon towards Cornwall, the next point of major interest actually spans those two counties. Literally. The Royal Albert Bridge is an icon of the Victorian age of engineering and, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was opened in 1859 by Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert. It still carries the Cornish mainline from Plymouth to Saltash across the Tamar.
Lostwithiel, Par, St Austell, the names begin to trip off the tongue, memories of a childhood holiday a long long way from Yorkshire, before Britain’s southernmost city, Truro, with its impressive cathedral, looms into view on the left from the train’s vantage point. From Truro I changed onto the first of our Cornish branch lines, the Maritime Line, which descends through a green, rural idyll, via charming little Cornish towns like Penryn on its way to the sea at Falmouth, a maritime port and resort that boasts two stations, Falmouth Town and Falmouth Docks. I decided to drag my bag around the town for a while before taking a taxi to my next hotel visit, facing the prom (and just round the corner from Docks station). “The Royal Duchy?” said the taxi driver, “That’ll be the best address in town!”