Riding a steam train through Cornwall, England

Traveling in England, Scotland, and Wales for over 25 years has given my wife and me numerous opportunities to ride the extensive rail system in the United Kingdom. On our latest trip, in May of 2017, we were finally able to check off something that has been on our bucket list a long time—ride the Bodmin & Wenford Railway, pulled by an historic steam locomotive. The Bodmin rail line was one of the first railways in the world to use steam locomotives, certainly the first in Cornwall, and it is Cornwall’s only full size railway still powered by steam.

The original name plate from the first Bodmin steam train, The Cornish Belle, is on display in the station.
The logo of the British rail system remains the same and is proudly displayed on the side of the steam engine.

The original line was three and a half miles long and opened in 1887. A second line, three miles long, was opened a year later to connect with other existing rail lines. Steam passenger services ended in 1963 and the Bodmin Railway Preservation Society was formed in 1984 to purchase the line. Opening day for the restored Bodmin & Wenford Railway was in 1986 with a former Devonport Dockyard steam locomotive pulling out of Bodmin General Station. The Railway continues to operate steam trains over the six and a half miles between Bodmin Parkway and Boscarne Junction, offering a great family experience. In addition to the regular excursion, they offer traditional afternoon tea excursions and evening dinner excursions.

The outside looks as it would have originally, and the modern changes needed to make it functional today have been done in a way to make it so you still feel you have stepped back in time when you pass through the doors.

The steam train excursions originate at Bodmin General Station, about half a mile from the center of Bodmin, an historic Cornish town. The exterior of the station building is largely as it was when originally opened, with a single platform and traditional semaphore signals. The station has a ticket office, refreshment room for light meals, gift shop, and an exhibition coach with displays, models and artifacts about the history of the line. A small picnic area is located along the platform towards the signalbox.

Work cans on the station platform cart hint at the busy role the train played in commerce.
The station platform maintains a lot of its original details, including some of the original fire buckets, filled with sand.
Original luggage scales are still on the station platform, complete with a hint of what travel would have originally looked like. Today’s day passengers bring much less luggage with them than the original passengers would have.

The station also has a fully equipped workshop and locomotive running shed with a viewing area, to watch the work necessary to keep the steam engines running.

The Bodmin Motive Power Depot houses classic engines where they are stored and restored.
The workshop can be explored, but caution must be used as you cross the tracks to reach it.
The crew for the steam engine stays busy preparing for the journey, maintaining safety, coordinating the turn-around, and interacting with passengers.

…the traditional afternoon tea excursion had its own coach on the train. It was like stepping into a Hercule Poirot movie set.

Our adventure began with returning to Cornwall and staying in one of our favorite Bed & Breakfasts, The Old Mill House B&B, outside the quaint harbor village of Padstow. That is the perfect base for exploring all of Cornwall, from Land’s End to Dartmoor National Park, and is a short fifteen mile drive to Bodmin through beautiful countryside. We recommend both Padstow and The Old Mill House be part of your adventure.

The 16th century Old Mill House Bed & Breakfast in Little Petherick is a short drive from the train station and where we always stay when we explore Cornwall.
The harbor village of Padstow is the quintessential Cornish village. Just down the road from the Old Mill House Bed & Breakfast, it is filled with restaurants, shops, and history. Be sure to give at least a full day to exploring it, in addition to riding the train.

Extensive road work around Bodmin caused some detours but we finally found the station and still arrived in time to find a parking space at the station. That gave us time to explore the small but interesting station, part of the fun.

#4247 is pulled into the station, with passengers making their way down the platform to their coaches.
The dining coach is ready for boarding via the single platform of the Bodmin & Wenford Train Station. First Class accommodations await those with reserved seats in the dining car.
Those with dinner or tea reservations are directed to the dining car by the hanging banners that have served this purpose for decades.

We had made reservations for the traditional afternoon tea excursion which had its own coach on the train. It was like stepping into a Hercule Poirot movie set. Individual, high-back, tufted seats were arranged facing tables, either for two or four people, with white table cloths and lamp. Scones, jam and clotted cream were all waiting for us at our table and tea service began almost immediately. The tea trolley continually rolled the aisle the entire ride, with a steward who could have been a character in the Poirot movie.

Passengers step back in time when they board the steam train, with high-back plush seats and table cloths.
The friendly steward will keep your cup filled with tea and engage you with interesting banter about the train, its history, and the Cornish countryside.
The tea and scones, complete with clotted cream and jam, are the essence of a British experience.

The leisurely pace of the train gave plenty of time to take in the ambiance of the coach and the Cornish countryside outside our large window. Passengers were allowed to disembark at the turn-around station and watch the steam locomotive be maneuvered by the crew. It was turned 180 degrees on the rail and taken to what had been the back of the train. Once hooked up, the locomotive pulled us back to the original station.

Having eaten her scones, Yvonne Grady sits back and enjoys the colors outside the window, including the Bluebells that grow next to the tracks. The leisurely pace of the train makes it easy to take in all of the beauty of the Cornish countryside as it passes by.

A perfect Sunday afternoon in Cornwall! Time to plan our next adventure on the British rails!

Gary GradyPhotographs and text Copyright 2018

Complete information on the Bodmin & Wenford Railway, including making reservations, is available at bodminrailway.co.uk

2 thoughts on “The Bodmin & Wenford Railway

  1. Gary, terrific article, thank you for the introduction to the Bodmin & Wenford. We lived in Peterborough for four years, very near the Nene Valley Railway. Time to plan a trip back to England!

  2. Bodmin was a great place to visit. In 2002 our friends Alice and Ron Tither of Wadebridge brought my wife Christine and I on the railway. Ron Tither’s cousin/brother Don Hopkinson and my uncle Frank Garbas of Hamilton Canada perished on the Dambusters Raid in Bill Astell’s AJ-B. We became good friends.
    Best wishes,
    Paul Morley
    Hamilton,Canada

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