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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
A perfect Sunday afternoon in Cornwall! Time to plan our next adventure on the British rails!
Gary Grady – Photographs and text Copyright 2018
Complete information on the Bodmin & Wenford Railway, including making reservations, is available at bodminrailway.co.uk