Money Where Your Falmouth Is

Photo of Falmouth Town station nameboardAfter 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.

Photo of Falmouth Town station platformFalmouth Town station shelter

Photo of Robert standing under the Falmouth Town station signThere 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.

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Penmere Mortals

I hopped off at Penmere and watched my train disappear into the distance.

Photo of train leaving PenmereSign reading "Penmere Platform"

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…

Penmere station

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P-p-pick up a Penryn

Station nameboard: "Penryn for Tremough Campus"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.

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Truro stationCompared to the ambling Looe Valley Line train, the Cornish Main Line express was positively Shinkansen-like in its speed. The train was running late due to problems in the Exeter area, but we made up a few minutes and 45 minutes later we were nearing Truro.

The approach to Truro is great – the line is on a viaduct, giving a bird’s eye view of the town. With houses and roads far below you, it’s almost like you’re on a plane coming into land. It’s a genuinely impressive sight – so impressive, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture. Oops.

Truro station is fairly standard for an intermediate station on a main line. It’s a functional structure, with two through platforms and a single bay platform at the western end of the station, for the branch line services. There’s a full quota of cafés and shops which seemed to be doing good business.

The station buildings are a bit of a hodge-podge, with a modern frontage bolted on to something much older.

Truro station platformTruro station frontage

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Playing the Liskeard

Photo of First Great Western sign "Welcome to Liskeard"The train ambled back north along the Looe Valley Line, taking me back to my starting point, Liskeard (pronounced “Lis-card”, obviously).

No calls at any of those lovely little halts on the way back: Sandplace, Causeland and St Keyne all passed by unnoticed. Then we reached Coombe Junction – no stop at the station this time, the driver and guard donned their high-vis vests, operated the points, changed ends and set off again.

As we headed for the end of the line, the single-coach train had to work hard for the first and only time on its journey. The noise and vibration from the underfloor diesel engine increased noticeably as we attacked the steep gradient. The wheels too, complained bitterly – squealing as they followed the tightly curved track. Finally the din subsided and the train rolled up to the buffers of the branch platform at Liskeard.

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A trip to the Looe

Photo of "Looe" spelled out with rocks at the stationI decided not to wait for the next train at Sandplace, instead setting off for Looe via the most obvious and direct walking route – the A387 road. This decision turned out to be a slightly life-endangering one, for the road has no safe haven for pedestrians – no pavement, and not even a grass verge for parts of its length. I was forced to walk on the road itself – remembering, of course, the Highway Code’s stern warning to keep on the right so I face oncoming traffic.

The road is quite narrow and features a few blind bends, which didn’t seem to trouble the numerous buses, lorries and the occasional tractor, who zoomed past as quickly as possible. At one point, I saw a police car approach, and I’m pretty sure it slowed down to let the officers inside get a good look at me. Perhaps they had received a report of a lunatic on the road (not altogether inaccurate).

Photo of narrow road leading to LooeThe railway line runs parallel to the road, but at a lower level, and it is largely hidden by trees, greenery, and (according to signs at the roadside) Japanese Knotweed.

I saw a sign declaring Welcome to Looe, and thought my ordeal was at an end, but no – there was another good mile or so of trudging before I finally reached the actual edge of town and the relative safety of an actual, clearly delineated pedestrian walkway.

Roads and walking are bad, kids. Stick to the train.

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Stone the Crows

Welcome to Stone sign at entrance to platformTo get from the desolation of Norton Bridge to the nice-but-trainless Barlaston, Ian, Scott and I had to travel via Stone. This small market town is halfway between Stafford and Stoke, so we had to get the bus back to Stafford for a train onward.

Yes, an actual train. Stone lies on the same stretch of line as Norton Bridge, Barlaston and Wedgwood, but there is a happier story to tell here. While Stone lost its trains in 2004 along with the other stations, the bustitution here was short lived, as London Midland included the stop on their new Crewe to Euston stopping service which launched in December 2008.

Travelling from Stafford we passed through the weed-encrusted platforms of Norton Bridge again, this time at track level, arriving in Stone just a few minutes later. A good number of people got off the train with us. The station has already regained its popularity – over 48,000 people used it in 2009, the first year of the new service.

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A Hebden Bridge too far

Hebden Bridge Station NameboardMission creep is a terrible thing. There’s nothing worse than a successful project going awry because the original parameters of the mission change for no valid reason. That’s why, with this blog, I was determined to stay on-topic, and visit only those stations that fit within my original brief: namely, the limited service stops (the “Parliamentary” stations), leaving the more glamorous locations to the likes of Michael Portillo and Victoria Wood.

Now, however, on only my second Station Master excursion, I found myself creeping all over the place. My initial plan for the day involved two limited service stations (of which more later). However, neither of them seemed particularly inspiring locations and could be bagged in just a couple of hours. I wanted something a bit more interesting to fill up my day and extract the maximum value possible from my Lancashire Day Ranger ticket.

Therefore, I found myself at Lime Street station at 10.30am on Saturday morning with an initial target of Hebden Bridge. I have visited this station previously (in fact, the header image of this blog is a photo of the station taken by me in 2006) and fell in love with its charmingly retro look. Back then I didn’t have much time then to explore the place, so this time I deliberately set aside a couple of hours in my itinerary to explore the station and a bit of the town itself.

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