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Sentimental journey

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Today I take the train to Cornwall. No, scrub that, I actually take the train to Plymouth. I won't write about the first bit of the journey because it's boring. For me. Anyway the train buzzes along till it gets to Exeter (the county town of Devon) and just beyond Exeter slows down and stops for a bit.

Mixed reviews for this situation. On the one hand, we are sitting looking at the sea and it's gorgeous. On the other hand, how much delay are we getting exactly? Those of us getting a connecting service in Plymouth, the Penzance train that goes the length of Cornwall, know that the timing is pretty tight for catching this one.

But then again, there's that view. This photo doesn't do justice to it. I thought my camera was packed in the middle of my luggage then belatedly found it in a pocket, so you get this one, taken through the window of the train. A large part of the journey between Exeter and Plymouth goes right along the coastline. I mean literally RIGHT along the coastline. At one point there's the track, a low wall, a public footpath and a sheer drop of about 10 metres with the sea underneath it. And this is where we sit and wait while the driver explains about a problem I don't catch with the line. People on the path wave to us. The sea has red sand in it so it looks pinky, and when we start to move again, we go past a tiny cafe called the Red Rock. I want to get out and explore, and the journey's only half done.

You can read about this bit of railway here:

Just look at the sea splashing up there! Which I'm guessing is the problem with the track today - I've just had a look at the tide tables and sure enough we had a spring tide yesterday and I'd guess the sea's been over the tracks and left some debris. Spring tides, for all the landlocked Americans, occur once a fortnight in line with the moon's cycles. Instead of an ordinary high tide you get a much higher tide. If it coincides with strong wind (and there's a stiff breeze today) you get Trouble.

The train proceeds with caution. It is capable of going at 125 mph, but not on this track. The track is actually one of Brunel's fantastic feats of engineering, built in a place that everyone said was impossible. And that's the issue. It's the only track into and out of Cornwall and it could use upgrading but if it were to get updated it would be out of action for months and months. So, beyond Exeter the trains crawl but we get to admire the scenery.

I'm trying here not to go too far off on my own personal hobbyhorses. One hobbyhorse I cannot avoid however is my 'Cornwall is God's own country' hobbyhorse. There is nowhere like it. Nowhere. It's fantastic. A wonderful place. Being relatively inaccessible (one railway line in and out, one motorway in and out, six hours' train travel from London to Penzance at the end of the line.) means it is also less developed than most of England. This is good if you want somewhere picturesque for a holiday, bad if you need a job. Unemployment is high down here.

Where was I? We get to Plymouth. Plymouth is where Sir Francis Drake was allegedly playing bowls when he was told the Spanish Armada had been sighted on the horizon and finished his game before going off to polish off the Armada. This was 1588. Brits are proud of his sangfroid. He was in fact a pirate who got away with a lot because he was good mates with Liz I, but history is written by the victors and we won the war against the Spanish so you don't get taught the pirate bit at school. Plymouth was bombed flat during WWII and is utterly hideous now, a complete concrete jungle.

The driver gives us a message, the gist of which is 'If you want the connecting train for Cornwall, we're holding it for about two minutes at Plymouth station so head for platform 4 as if you were greased lightening.' This we do. I'm the first person off the train and the third person on the connecting train in spite of the fact that I'm wearing a backpack weighing between 40 and 50 pounds. It has already occurred to me that this is about the weight I have lost this year (I lost some before joining SP). So I used to carry it about all the time. Now, although I am much fitter, I am buckling under the weight.

How on earth did I manage to do anything at all?

Beyond Plymouth is some fabulous scenery again, and the river Tamar.

Once you cross the Tamar, you are in Cornwall.

I think this is the Tamar but I must confess that we cross about four river estuaries in 10 minutes so it's confusing! In summer, there are masses of boats on the water which is bright blue and glittery.

Today it's raining. I don't care.

For those of you who are still awake, an hour or so later, I hop out the train at St Erth, and on to the branch line that goes to St Ives. You thought the bits you've seen so far were scenic? Well they are on a good day, it was cloudy today. But this last little branch line, a ten minute journey, has scenery that belongs in a mirage.

Get to St Ives, nip down the steps at the side of the station car park, take more photos of the sun setting

walk along to my B&B. Dump back pack. It's practically dark but I want to wander round and have a look.

More about St Ives tomorrow. I'll leave you with the Christmas lights.

Late addition: this one's for Lexie. Brunel's bridge over the Tamar (I think anyway), taken over my shoulder after we'd crossed it:

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