The Looe Valley Line is one of those scenic branch lines that used to exist all over the country until Dr. Richard Beeching got his hands on them.
The less said about that the better, but at least here in the West Country we still have several that are still in use including the one that runs from Liskeard to Looe.
At Liskeard it’s necessary to leave the main line platform and cross over to the separate station that exists purely for the train to Looe. The train times are a bit haphazard but they run on average every hour to an hour and a quarter, and the seven-mile journey takes about half an hour.
The ride down the wooded valley to the coast is one of my favourites and an absolute delight. As the train leaves Liskeard, it travels steeply under the main line viaduct to the secluded Combe Junction Halt.
It cracks me up every time we stop here because the train manager has to jump out of the train and manually change the points over. He or she then has to change ends with the driver who then takes us in the opposite direction. When the train driver decides on which way he wants to go I recommend sitting on the right-hand side facing forward.
Just as you’re getting comfortable, the train might make another stop at St. Keyne Wishing Well Halt. I say might because if you want to get off at any of the three intermediate stations you need to let the train manager know otherwise it’ll go straight past.
The next station is Causeland, where if you’re lucky Sue will get off. You would have already met Sue at Liskeard because you will hear her chatting in a thick Cornish accent to anybody who makes the mistake of listening to her.
She travels up and down the line all day, every day – and has done for years. She used to buy a day return ticket to cover all her journeys, but the train company tried stopping her using it, so she bought a weekly ticket instead. The trouble is that Sue isn’t quite the ticket herself and so my next tip is to recommend that you get a seat at the opposite end of the train to Sue. She’s harmless enough, but to be honest you’d be better off looking out of the window at the scenery rather than listening to her.
Sandplace is the final intermediate stop and for the last couple of miles the East Looe River opens out and the train travels alongside the estuary where there’s plenty of bird life to look out for.
The Beeching cuts were just two weeks away from tearing up this line but Barbara Castle, the incumbent transport minister, stepped in and saved the day for future generations to enjoy.
The Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership oversee the line these days (as they do with other branch lines) and the numbers of passengers are increasing year on year, so we owe it to them – and ourselves – to leave our cars behind and give ourselves the best introduction to this wonderful part of Cornwall that, I’m sure, even Dr. Beeching would be envious of – and you’ve still got the return journey back to Liskeard to look forward to.