All aboard the Looe Valley Line!
Deep in the heavily wooded valleys of south east Cornwall. Along every twist and turn passengers are left to marvel at an array of stunning scenery passing close by the window. It may only be short, at little under 9 miles from Liskeard to the bustling fishing port of Looe, but what it lacks in travel time it more than compensates for with a front row seat of nature at its’ finest; befitting of any great railway journey.
Romance, Riding the Cornish Express, Scenic Travelling
The first trains ran to Looe in 1860, replacing the Union Canal. To mark the 150th anniversary a steam train travelled along the line recreating a bygone era.
Upon departing Liskeard, logic and basic geography dictates travelling in a southerly direction towards the coast. So why then does the line heading in virtually the opposite direction? There are scenic routes; and there is this route! Baffled by the recommendation to seat travelling backwards; here’s where you tell the difference between the first timers and the colourful regulars who frequent the line. Backwards it was to become engulfed in an array of autumnal forna hugging the route.
No sooner had the journey started the screeching of breaks filled the normally tranquil tree line. The guard was now curiously walking past the window, maybe he too had had enough of such barmy directions? Alas his role was to change the line forks so off in another direction, seaward bound I secretly hoped this time. In rail terminology we had now completed a horseshoe curve…
The Looe Valley is shaped by agriculture, at one time every farm had a cider orchard.
- One for the romantics: legend has it by stopping at St Keyne Wishing Well Halt the first of the newlyweds to drink from the well shall dominate the marriage.
- One for the love of bizarre: Paul Corin’s Magnificent Music Machines, where visitors can take a step back in time to an era of 20th Century Wurlitzers and Player Pianos. Participation is actively encouraged; those of a tone deaf nature will feel right at home, as in this remote wilderness it isn’t likely to offend any close neighbours…
- One for antiquity: Those with a good eye, sitting on the correct side of course, will be able to view remains of the old Union canal linking Liskeard and Looe.
- One for the twitchers: Passing through Causeland and Sandplace, the train journey now enters a new leg of the journey where woodlands make way for the estuary as the line hugs the East Looe River. Low tide allows for some easy spotting of egrets, curlews, and gull species; although on this occasion the grey herons proved rather more elusive. It is a truly unique environment where bird calls (and the odd train creaking by) are the only distractions from the awe-inspiring scenery.
The estuary is an important feeding and roosting area, especially in autumn, winter and early spring.
The End of the Line
The journey may have finished but there was still plenty to discover around Looe, home to more independent shops than pretty much anywhere you could name. With blinkers firmly set on sampling the local delicacies, resisting the lure of traditional Cornish pasties around the maze of narrow streets is a challenge in itself. Famished from a lethal concoction of salty sea air and addictive weathered scenery it was by almost by accident that The Courtyard was stumbled upon. Stepping inside was akin to a family home, sofas and a guitar provided the furnishings alongside seating which could have been the family dining table. The sandwich sampled should have been re-named as a doorstop topped off with a slab of ham: high praise indeed but possibly not the most appealing name to have on your menu. All future bread related servings should quake in the presence of this scrumptious monster.
You can earn yourself a souvenir t-shirt by collecting stamps along the Rail Ale Trail.
Visitors are encouraged to make use of the stops along the route to engage in an array of activities suiting every energetic level. For those who enjoy sampling the finest liquid produce then the Rail Ale Trail provides ample opportunity, 11 to be exact. Work up a thirst and combine horizontal activity with something rather more vertical: “Trails from the Track” – a selection of self-guided walks in the Looe Valley. Time your visit really well and there is even the rare opportunity to walk out to Looe Island on the low tide, don’t all rush at once though as the next opportunity is not until spring 2012!
Looe is actually divided into two towns, East and West Looe, each offering their own distinctive beaches.
Taking the return journey provides the opportunity to learn from any seating mistakes on the outward. Remember to choose your seat wisely, or be prepared to look on in envy at those who are on the right side of the track.