Lelant Saltings is the newest station on the line. It opened in 1978 and from day one was intended as a park and ride facility — Cornwall County Council paid for the station, car park and subsidised train fares.
As a result, the car park is disproportionately large, which made its emptiness on the morning of my visit all the more obvious. Just one lonely car sat in the pay & display. I’m sure it’s a different story during the summer, but on this rainy March morning it felt rather deserted.
My final day in Cornwall and I aimed to capture the St Ives Bay Line. This short (4¼ mile) line branches off from the Cornish Main Line at its penultimate station, St Erth, and winds its way up to the town of St Ives. Although the end-to-end journey time is only about 15 minutes, it has a reputation as one of the most scenic lines in Britain, and I was keen to see for myself.
I arrived at Penzance on Thursday morning, to find another Sprinter simmering away under the cavernous roof. This was the 0857 to St Ives, one of a few trains on the line that start at Penzance rather than St Erth. During the summer the branch trains are rammed with tourists, but on an overcast Thursday morning in March I had the carriage more or less to myself.
I had wanted my entrance to Penzance station to be suitably grand, but my train was the local service from Plymouth, rather than one of the expresses from London. As a result, it was a Sprinter rather than an HST. Shame.
That’s not to say it was an unimpressive experience. After many miles travelling through open countryside, we rounded a curve, passed under a bridge – and suddenly there was the Atlantic Ocean. For the last mile or so the line hugs the coast, so I got to enjoy the sea view for a short time before my train pulled in to Penzance station.
Having sampled Falmouth’s delights, it was time to head back to Truro, starting from the terminus of the Maritime Line – Falmouth Docks.
I headed into the eastern end of town, slavishly following the little blue dot on my iPhone Google Maps display. I was a bit concerned that all the road signs seemed to point to dead-end dock access roads, but a row of terraced houses labelled “Railway Cottages” showed that I was heading in the right direction, and a few minutes later I found Falmouth Docks station, tucked away down an unassuming side street.
A narrow footpath ran between the station and a prefabricated metal building (which turned out to be, somewhat incongruously, an amusement arcade). From this path, by leaning precariously over the railway fence, I was able to get a good shot of the station.
There is a definite sense of faded glory here. At one time, Falmouth Docks boasted three tracks and two platforms, with refreshment rooms and a hotel – not bad for a branch line terminus. Passengers would stream off the trains and onto the packet ships docked in the adjacent harbour. Now, there is just a single track with one platform. The only passenger facility is the canopy, which looks grand but is ridiculously out-of-scale with the two-coach Sprinters that use the station these days.
After Penmere, any station was going to be a let down, and the plainness of Falmouth Town certainly brought me back down with a bump.
This station opened in 1970, when British Rail noticed that the terminus at Falmouth Docks was in a poor position to serve much of the town. This station, therefore, is the upstart newcomer to the line, a modernity which is reflected in the station architecture. There is a basic waiting shelter on the platform and… that’s it. I do like the “wave” motif on the railings, though.
There was precious little of note in the station itself, so I wandered down to the car park where an elderly couple were harrumphing at the lack of facilities (no toilets). I got the required self-portrait, hindered by the sun facing in completely the wrong direction. I was on a busy road with plenty of passers-by to make me feel like a complete tit.
I hopped off at Penmere and watched my train disappear into the distance.
Penmere station is right on the edge of Falmouth town itself. At first glance the station is another faux-retro effort, with the old style running-in board and shelter. I’d seen this combination many times already during my brief time in Cornwall, and frankly it was starting to get a bit repetitive. Then I reached the station car park…
A man on the train was eating breakfast. Not a croissant or even a bacon butty, mind you, but a full bowl of cereal with milk. There were no tables on board, so he balanced his meal on his lap. As we reached Truro, he neatly packed it all away in a little liquid-proof bag. Full marks for creativity – although personally, I would just get up ten minutes earlier and eat at home.
If he wasn’t embarrassed about eating cornflakes, I wasn’t going to be embarrassed about my station-spotting exploits – even if this included (a) doubling back on myself, travelling back to Truro and staying on the train while it reversed at the terminus, and (b) encountering the same guard whom I’d met at Coombe Junction the previous day. She recognised me, and I ended up having a pleasant (if slightly awkward) conversation with her, where I tried to explain what I was doing. It was difficult because I’m not sure I understand my obsession myself. I didn’t mention the blog specifically, but if she does happen to stumble across this site: hello!
The next station on the line is Penryn – the most important intermediate stop on the line, serving a population of 7,000 people and thousands of students at the nearby Tremough Campus.