The South West of England: Pt 27 – Buckfastleigh (For South Devon Railway)

Leaving the beautiful surroundings of Buckfast Abbey, we made the short 1 mile journey to the next village along, Buckfastleigh, which is also the home of the South Devon Railway…


Status: Teignbridge District, Devon, Town, England

Date: 10/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: The Valiant Soldier, South Devon Railway etc

Leigh 1

We drove through the town of Buckfastleigh itself on the way towards the railway, and there are a few landmarks to look out for as you pass through, but the one that stuck out for me was “The Valiant Soldier”. It’s got an interesting history, which began in the 1700′s, when it was built as a house. By 1813 it was registered as a pub, owned by Norman & Pring Ltd, from the nearby city of Exeter. It became a popular local inn over the next 150 years, until one day in 1965…

The story goes that the local brewery decided there were too many pubs in Buckfastleigh, and withdrew the license from the “The Valiant Soldier”. When that happened, everybody left, the patrons, the staff, the customers, but there was no tidying up, no closing down. Everything stayed the same, from the dust to the change in the till, and time almost stopped in the pub. Even though the Roberts family, who were running it at the time, bought the pub from the brewery a few years later, they never opened the doors again. Mr Roberts passed away 4 years after the pub closed, and his wife Alice stayed on the top floor as a resident until the 1990′s, but since then the pub is still in it’s 1965 state, and visitors can come in at certain times of the year to view this unique building. You can find out more about this piece of history here.

Leigh 2

We moved on to the railway, where there are two different car parks you can stop in. We parked up in the far one, and to access the platform you have to cross an old footbridge which crosses the rails themselves. Unlike many of the other heritage railways we have been too, this is standard gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 inches) which is in common use on mainstream Railways as well as in other countries like the USA and Australia.

The line starts in Buckfastleigh, and runs around 6.5 miles to the town of Totnes, which is interesting as the Dartmouth Steam Railway, another local heritage railway, also runs into Totnes. We haven’t been to many places where two heritage railways terminate in the same town. Like most heritage railways, it was originally built as a public use train line, between Totnes and Ashburton, past Buckfastleigh, which opened in 1872. It joined the GWR (Great Western Railway) in 1897, and then British Rail when the various different lines were nationalised and came under government control. Thanks to the Beeching cuts in the 1960′s, the line closed in 1962. It was quickly bought and re-opened as a tourist line by a group of local businessmen. You may have noticed that I said originally the line ran to Ashburton? In 1971 the A38, which runs from Buckfastleigh to Ashburton, was widened and the line past Buckfastleigh was cut off, reducing the line by 2 and a half miles to it’s present length.

Leigh 3

Just after we reached the platform, the train pulled into the station, with one of the old Great Western Railway locomotives from the early 1930′s at it’s head. It’s a beautiful locomotive, and it’s been a while since we have seen a full size steam engine, seen as we volunteer at a narrow gauge steam railway.

Leigh 4

Behind the platform and the main station building is a storage yard, where a number of other loco’s can be found. This particular one is called Lady Angela, built in 1936 by Peckett & Sons in the city of Bristol, Gloucestershire. For any train spotters out there, it’s operation number is 1690, and in the 1970′s was moved to Shackerstone Railway, until 1976 when Dennis Braybrook, part of the South Devon Railway, bought the engine. He sadly passed away and his wife gave the engine to the railway for safe keeping. At the moment is isn’t actually running, but is on proud display to all visitors.

It’s name comes from Angela Mariota Tollemache, the 2nd wife of the 3rd Baron of Belper, Algernon Strutt (1883 – 1956) as the owned the estate where the engine originally worked, a Gypsum mine in Kingston-upon-Soar, in the English county of Nottinghamshire.

The Lady Angela is but one of an impressive collection of engine’s kept on the railway, which includes Diesel engines, which we would see later. Some of the smaller engines in it’s collection however, are shown below…

Leigh 5

Inside the railway shop to the left of the Lady Angela, they have a fantastic OO Gauge model railway, which is amazingly detailed and kept in a large glass case, for customers to marvel at as they browse. They do have Hornby stock in the shop, from trucks to engines to rolling stock, along with the scenery and building materials to go along with it. We also found a brilliant map that shows most of the other Heritage Railways in the United Kingdom, totalling around 160, which Gemma bought and hung up in the shop at the West Lancashire Light Railway (WLLR, where we volunteer) when we got back home. It has captivated visitors to the WLLR and its amazing how spread out all the railways are around the country.

Leigh 6

Moving further round the back of the platform and station buildings, you will find the other locomotives I mentioned earlier. This diesel is a class 37, No.37275 which was previously operating on the mainline routes with a company called Harry Needle. The South Devon Railway made a deal with Needle and had it transferred to them, and in return they sent a Class 20 No.20118 back for use on the mainlines. It has been much restored, as when it arrived it was in a sorry state.

Leigh 7

One of the many steam engines on show includes this one, called the “Dumbleton Hall”, No.4920. It was built in 1929 in Swindon, Wiltshire, for use on the Great Western Railway (GWR), and is a member of the “Hall” class, designed by Charles Benjamin Collett (1871 – 1952, Engineer on the GWR) and a further 258 models were built.

The locomotive is named after an actual house called Dumbleton Hall near Evesham in Worcestershire, which dates back to 1830. Like the Lady Angela, 4920 is out of use at the moment and by the looks of it is a good candidate for some extra restoration work.

Leigh 8

We moved onto the platform, and into the museum building, where a number of artefacts from the history of both this railway and many others reside. My favourite piece of the collection is called Tiny, No.2180, which is unique as it is apparently the last surviving GWR broad gauge locomotive left. When the GWR was originally built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859, English Engineer who also built the Clifton Suspension Bridge and SS Great Britain in Bristol), it was done in Broad Gauge, or 7 ft 0.1/4 Inch, and it was later converted down to standard gauge, pioneered in Britain by George Stephenson (1781 – 1848, English Engineer), in 1892.

This stunning piece of engineering was built in 1868, by a company called Sara & Co based in the major Devon city of Plymouth. It began life as a shunter in the town of Newton Abbot, until the GWR purchased it in the 1880′s and it began running on the line. The machine has been here at Buckfastleigh since 1980, on display for the public to enjoy its amazing design. The rest of the museum is full of detail and incredible old items, so if you ever get to visit spend some time in the museum and see what you discover.

Leigh 9

Sadly we didn’t have time to actually ride the train as it was still a bit of a distance back to the Caravan in Stoke Fleming near Dartmouth, so we set off. On the way, we passed the line and as it happened we met the train, with the D7612 at the front. This is a diesel engine which is a class 25 engine, also known as a Sulzer Type 2. It was built for use in Glasgow in the 1960′s but by 1967 it had moved down towards the English Midlands, and ended up in Bescot, part of Walsall in the West Midlands, in 1973. It remained in service in a variety of locations over the next few decades, including a maintenance depot at Kingmoor in the Northern city of Carlisle, until 1987 when the whole class was taken out of service. Harry Needle then took possession, before it was bought by the East Lancashire Railway, which runs from near Bury in Lancashire up to the town of Rawtenstall. It arrived here in Devon in 1999 and is currently running passenger services on this line.

The South Devon Railway is a great place to visit, and a trip on the line must be even more incredible. As I said it terminates in the town of Totnes, where you could get another steam train to the village of Kingswear on the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which lies opposite the larger town of Dartmouth, accessible via the Dartmouth Ferries. You can find out more info about visiting the South Devon Railway, on their official website here.

The South West of England: Pt 26 – Buckfast (For Buckfast Abbey), Devon

I unfortunately missed two trips we made in Devon a few days before we went to Cornwall, so I shall recap an interesting visit to the beautiful Abbey at Buckfast…


Status: Teignbridge District, Devon, Village, England

Date: 10/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Buckfast Abbey Cafe

Attractions: Buckfast Abbey, Buckfast Methodist Church etc

Buck 1

This magnificent Abbey is one of those things you really don’t expect to find when exploring the pleasant countryside of the South of England. Despite it’s modern appearance, the site itself dates back to 1018, when the original Monastery was founded here by Benedictine Monks, similar to various other locations in the UK. King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) sealed the original buildings fate in 1539, as he instigated the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 – 1541) which was a direct consequence of his split with the Pope in Rome, when he created his own Church of England. The buildings were abandoned, and eventually destroyed, although one portion did survive, in the form of a 14th century Abbot’s Tower. The whole site was turned into a large stone quarry by Sir Thomas Dennis, until 1800 when the area was bought by Samuel Berry who built a large mansion and a woollen mill.

Happily the site eventually came back into the possession of a group of French Benedictine Monks, exiled from France in 1880. They hired an architect called Frederick Arthur Walters, who designed the present Abbey, which was then built between 1907 and 1938. The Abbot’s Tower was included in the rebuild and forms part of the new guesthouse from the 1990′s.

Aside from what you see above, there is a large series of Monastic buildings to the right of the main Abbey building, and it is a functioning Abbey as the Monks themselves reside here.

Inside, the building is no less spectacular. Despite it being an operational Monastery, the public are welcomed in by the Monks, many of whom you will probably spot going about their daily business. You enter via a small door at the front left of the building, into the stunning Nave, which stretches almost the length of the building with towering arches on either side of you as you pass through. Passing between the immaculate rows of pews, you reach the beautifully crafted choir, with stalls on either side leading you towards the high altar when you arrive in the Chancel.

Between the Choir and the Chancel you will find the two transepts, one to the right (2nd picture) and one to the left (3rd picture). Behind the Chancel is a dedicated prayer room, with a fabulous stained glass window in the far wall, complete with a large figure of Jesus. Whilst I got a photograph through the outer glass wall, it is a place for quiet reflection so don’t enter if there are people inside.

Buck 2

Outside the main Abbey, as you stroll around the grounds, there are a number of points of interest, the 1st being the quaint old Methodist Church from 1881. It’s mere presence here struck me as quite odd, due to the fact that the Benedictine Monks are in fact Roman Catholic, but as it turns out the Methodist Church predates their arrival here, in 1882. When it was built, this area was a main road leading through the village, and was eventually swallowed up by the new Abbey and its buildings, but happily it has been left alone and exists in harmony with the Abbey.

Buck 3

This is the main entrance into the complex from the visitors car park, and to the left of the archway is the Abbey Shop. Around to the right out of shot is the North Gate, a 12th century Gateway which is now part of the Tearooms, where you can sit and have lunch in the shadow of the imposing form of the Abbey.

Buck 4


Turning left to look past the Methodist Church which faces the Abbey, you will see the Abbey Farmhouse, shown at the back of the picture. The Farmhouse is an extra wing which was added to the Abbot’s Tower/Guesthouse, shown behind the tree to the left, in the 15th century. It now contains another shop, after spending a period of time as a Farm after the original Monks had left the 1st Abbey. Reconstructed in the 20th century, it features a slate roof from the 1990′s and stone walls. The Abbot’s Tower is now a Guesthouse and you can even stay here, as it has it’s own facilities.

There is plenty to do at Buckfast Abbey, you can explore the incredible Abbey itself, marvel at the fine interior and decorations, then take a break for lunch at the Abbey Cafe across the way, browse the shops, and enjoy the pleasant nature of the local Devon countryside. For us, it was time to move on, and we passed through the nearby village of Buckfastleigh, on our way to the South Devon Railway…

The South West of England: Pt 25 – Saltash, Cornwall

Our next stop was the Cornish town of Saltash, home to the two fantastic landmarks that span the divide between Cornwall and Devon, the Tamar Bridges…


Status: Cornwall Unitary District & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Tamar Road Bridge, Tamar Rail Bridge, Brunel Statue, River Tamar, Union Inn etc

Saltash 1

We pulled up by the riverside, on the North side of the Tamar Road Bridge, which sits in front of the Rail Bridge, which we would move round to later. As soon as we arrived I had a flashback to our visit to North Queensferry in Fife, Scotland, where the Forth Road and Rail bridges arrive from Edinburgh on the other side of the river. The Tamar Bridges, whilst slightly smaller and shorter, are no less spectacular, and I something I had very much been looking forwards to seeing.

The Road Bridge is the newer of the two, and until construction began in 1959, the Rail Bridge stood alone. The Bridge connects Saltash with the Devon city of Plymouth, and before the bridge was built the nearest road crossing for the Tamar was in the village of Gunnislake, nearly 15 miles away. Overall, to cross from Saltash to Plymouth this was a detour of almost 30 miles. In 1961 the Road Bridge was completed, and opened to traffic, providing a direct link between Devon and Cornwall for mainstream traffic. When it opened, it became the longest suspension bridge in the United Kingdom at 335 metres, a title it retained until the Severn Bridge was completed in 1966.

Whilst it was actually opened in 1961, it was officially opened a year later, by HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (1900 – 2002) on the 26th April, 1962. It wasn’t until we walked underneath it however, that we noticed what made the bridge so interesting, at least from an Engineering point of view.

Saltash 2

This is the underside of the Road Bridge, and one was thing was immediately obvious. The Bridge is wider than it should be. A series of cantilevers on either side of the Bridge hold an extra carriageway, easily visible to the naked eye. Some quick research soon told us that the Tamar Road Bridge was in fact the 1st suspension bridge in the world to be widened using cantilevers, back in 2001. This was no mean feat, and it had the overall effect of increasing the number of lanes from 3 to 5. 3 of these are for the A38 (Exeter – Bodmin), 1 is a pedestrian lane and the final one is for local traffic which can dodge around the busier A38 lanes to cross to the other side.

Saltash 3


Reaching the South side of the Rail Bridge, we spotted this rather colourfully painted Pub, called… yep you guessed it, the “Union Inn”. The building must predate at least 1873, as it was before this year that William Odgers (1834 – 1873, a famous Sailor from the town who was awarded a Victoria Cross in 1860 for his bravery and savvy during the 1st Taranaki War between the Maori and the people of New Zealand) retired to Saltash and took over as Landlord of the Inn.

In 1995 the Inn’s signature Union Jack mural across its front facade was painted, to celebrate 50 years since Victory in Europe Day, 1945. It was painted by a man named David Whitley, and despite some opposition after its inception, it has become a well known local landmark, along with the pub itself. On the right hand side wall of the pub is another mural, presumably of events in the towns history, and the message at the bottom of it reads “Burgus de Saltashe et libertas aquae de Thamer” although I am unsure exactly what that means. It just shows what amazing things you can find in the strangest of places, as already we had been distracted from one of the most impressive Rail Bridges in the South of England, by a lovingly painted pub.

Saltash 4

Turning to look at the Rail Bridge itself, we marvelled at its construction, a triumph of Engineering and another piece of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s (1806 – 1859, famous English Engineer) extensive portfolio. It sits alongside his revolutionary SS Great Britain, stunning Clifton Suspension Bridge and perhaps his crowning legacy, the Great Western Railway from London to South Wales/Bristol/Exeter which now runs into Cornwall over this very bridge.

The Bridge is commonly known as the Tamar Rail Bridge, however its official title is in fact the “Royal Albert Bridge”, named after Prince Albert (1819 – 1861) Consort of Queen Victoria, and it was in fact he who officially opened the bridge upon its completion. Construction began in 1848, with a contractor called Charles Mare, who also worked on the Britannia Bridge between Anglesey and the Welsh Mainland, carrying out the work. He eventually went bankrupt a year later, so Hudson & Male took over. By 1857 the Cornish half of the bridge, including the approach pillars and the 1st central span had been completed. The 2nd and final span over to the Devon side was added the following year, with the approach pillars on the Plymouth side finished in 1859. Both central spans are an impressive 455 ft long, with space for a 100 ft tall ship to pass beneath them.

In May of 1859 Albert himself arrived to open the bridge, although unfortunately Brunel was ill and couldn’t attend. Tragically Brunel passed away just a few months later in September, so a slight addition was made to the Bridge. Above either end of the bridge as you enter one of the central spans from either Devon or Cornwall you will spot the words “I.K. Brunel, Engineering, 1859″.

You can just see them on the picture above, at the far left where the Cornish span begins. Various upgrades have been carried out since 1859, with the track being replaced with Standard Gauge in 1892, and the replacing of some of the small spans between the landward pillars being added at the start of the 20th century to allow wider trains to cross. It’s a marvel of Engineering, and one of a series of incredible railway bridges across the country, including the Forth Bridge, Britannia Bridge, Tay Bridge and the various famous rail bridges in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Saltash 5

After admiring the bridges, we caught up with the man himself. A statue of Brunel stands on the riverside not far from the Union Inn, and I pointed out a few interesting features of the bridge to him! We eventually left Brunel to it, and made our way over the Tamar Road Bridge back into Devon, to the caravan we were staying in near Dartmouth.

Thanks to its proximity to Plymouth, Saltash enjoys good transport links. There is a regular bus to and from the city, and the local train station opened in 1859. Trains run South to Penzance via Truro and other main Cornish towns, as well as North/West to Plymouth. Travellers can change at Plymouth for destinations all over the UK as well as ferry services to Mainland Europe, France, Spain etc.

Saltash itself if mainly a small dormitory town for neighbouring Plymouth, yet it still has some incredible landmarks and river views, and it was a fitting place to end our epic road trip from Land’s End, to Penzance, Truro, Fowey, Lostwithiel and Saltash. Despite the day being over, there were many more adventures ahead of us the next day…

The South West of England: Pt 24 – Lostwithiel, Cornwall

Moving on from the quaintness of Fowey, we passed through Lostwithiel, a charming Cornish town 7 miles North…


Status: Cornwall Unitary District & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Lostwithiel Free Methodist Church, High Street, St Bartholomews Church, Moorswater Viaduct etc

Lost 1

We were only passing through the town, but on the way we saw a few things of interest. We started on Edgcumbe, which, along with a number of other roads forms the A390, the main road through the town which runs on towards the A38 near Liskeard.

It’s a pleasant street in the centre of town, with well painted buildings and green spaces. Outside the short cream building at the end of the row of buildings, which is currently a Health & Beauty Salon, is a small stone monolith (out of shot) which is called “The Milestone” making the distance to both St Austell, VIIII (9 Miles) and Truro, XXII (22 Miles) from the town.

In the distance, the spire of St Bartholomew’s Church dominates the skyline. The Church, crafted out of slatestone rubble is made up of various sections constructed at different points in the last few centuries. The main tower is the oldest features, from the 13th Century, followed by the Nave, Aisles and Porch from the 14th. The final addition was the Vestry in the 19th Century, although various windows in the building have been replaced over the years.

Fowey 12 

Moving further down the street, after it had become Queen Street, one of the standout buildings was the local Methodist Free Church, which dates back to 1900. Aside from the main Church building to the left of the picture, which consists of the tall facade with a tower either side, one circular and one topped by a copper spire, there is a Sunday school building to the right of the Church. It’s a shame that that was all we saw in Lostwithiel, as we had one more stop on our epic journey from Land’s End back to Dartmouth, as there is more to see in the town. The River Fowey passes through the town, and enters the sea at the town of Fowey, which we had just visited. Elsewhere in Lostwithiel you could visit the War Memorial on the banks of the river, or the Lostwithiel Bridge, a 15th Century stone bridge which crosses the river. It consists of a number of arches, at least 2 of which are flood relief arches from the 18th Century.

Lostwithiel does have a train station, which opened in 1859. Trains run Southwards to Penzance via Truro, and Northwards to Plymouth and London.

Whilst our time in Lostwithiel was at an end, there was one more landmark on this section of our route. We had left the town and joined the A38 near Dobwalls. As we followed the road around the outskirts of the town of Liskeard, we spotted the spectacular figure of Moorswater Viaduct, which runs close to the road at this point. I apologise for the 1st picture which is slightly blurred, but the camera takes a few seconds to save the picture, and in the next shot I got the Viaduct was mostly obscured by trees. Even so, you get the idea of what it looks like, and it of course carries the Cornish Main Line, which, just 13.3 miles further East, would cross the border into Devon, across the river Tamar, into the city of Plymouth. The train was mostly likely running to London, as it was a First Great Western service, and they operate most of the local services in the area, aside from long distance services to Scotland handled by Cross Country.

The Viaduct was originally completed around 1867, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859, English Civil Engineer who also built the Great Western Railway which runs over the Viaduct). It would be replaced just 20 years later, as by 1881 a new viaduct with 14 pillars (8 arches) was built with stone arches and an Iron parapet across the top. It is this version that still stands today, which was built a few metres further across than the original, and some of Brunel’s Viaducts piers still stand there today, side by side with the new version.

It’s quite a site, but there were two other bridges on the horizon, including one of Brunel’s even more famous creations, the renowned Tamar Bridges, in the town of Saltash, which was our next stop…

The South West of England: Pt 23 – Fowey, Cornwall

After departing the impressive city of Truro, we arrived in the small town of Fowey, and were soon greeted by some impressive views…


Status: Cornwall Unitary District & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: River Fowey, Quayside, Fowey Parish Church, St Catherine’s Castle, Readymoney Cove, Fowey Cannons, River Views, Working Mens Club, The Ship Inn etc

Fowey 1

When we arrived, we followed the signs for St Catherine’s Castle, which lead us to a small car park at the top of a small hill above the town. A path came off the Car Park, sloping downwards, so we followed it to see what we could find. This is the view we got at the end of the path, looking down into Readymoney Cove, which its lovely sandy beach. It was a nice unexpected find, and a pleasant way to start our exploration here.

Fowey 2

And atop the rocky outcrop on the far side of the cove, we just spotted the top of the ruins of St Catherine’s Castle peaking out between the trees. Built by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) in the 1530′s, the Castle has guarded the entrance to the river mouth, protecting Fowey from sea faring invaders. It saw active use numerous times throughout it’s history, from the English Civil War (1642 – 1651), to the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815), at which time it was armed with a number of cannons. After a period of decline, the Victorians rearmed the Castle and created a battery here, which were rebuilt during World War II. A lot of places along the South Coast were particularly vulnerable to attack by the Germans, but a number of them such as Kingswear/Dartmouth already had Castles which had protected them for centuries, so these were reinforced. The same happened with St Catherine’s, and it was disarmed after the war.

Fowey 3

We left the Cove, and started making our way down into the town centre. En route, we found a fantastic vantage point to look out over the river, and Fowey’s accompanying village, called Polruan, located on the other side of the river. It turns out St Catherine’s has a sister fort, which is visible in the centre of the picture, in the shape of a ruined, short square tower. The fort was built around the same time as St Catherine’s, and together they form an impressive defence network for the two settlements.

The view from up here is incredible. Polruan looks like a pleasant little fishing village, and behind it the English Channel stretches far into the distance. Fowey itself wasn’t visible from this vantage point, hidden below the brow of the hill we were stood on.

Fowey 4

We pulled up opposite “The Ship Inn”, a fine 16th Century Inn, most of which is still original. The Inn is located at the end of Market Street, and indeed this small area of the town that we had arrived in appeared to be an enclosed Market Square, with buildings on all sides. Just around the corner was the Tourist Information Office, but unfortunately it was already closed as it was quite late in the day when we arrived.

Fowey 5

Moving down South Street, which runs in front of the Ship Inn, and following it round to the left, we found Fowey Parish Church, a beautiful old stone Church tucked away in the dense suburban streets. We were at the East End, the back of the Church, with the tower at the West End at the front. Whilst it is locally known as the Parish Church it’s official title is the Church of St Fimbarrus or St Nicholas, and originally dates back to 1336. Like most Churches that have traversed the seas of time, it has been extensively refurbished and restored over the years, such as a new roof being added in the 15th Century and a full restoration of the building being carried out in 1876.

Clad in Slatestone Rubble, the building makes fine use of various other materials, such as Slate on the roof and Granite around the edge of the windows. It is also one of a number of Listed Buildings, and looking at the large concentration of them in the town centre it shows how well the town has been preserved historically.

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One notable feature of the Churchyard is the Fowey War Memorial, erected sometime prior to the conclusion of World War I. There are photographs available that show it completed by 1920, placing its construction date between 1918 and 1920. It honours the war dead of both World Wars, and is a quite place for reflection on days past.

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Fowey in itself is a very compact town. There was no such thing as a car when the town was 1st conceived, and the tight winding streets between the buildings illustrate this perfectly. There are of course a few main thoroughfares such as around the Market Square and the Church, but they are still quite tight, especially for larger cars. Fowey is almost like a snapshot back in time, a beautifully preserved, historic town.

Fowey 8

Moving on, we passed one of the more obvious recent additions to the town (of course I use the term recent quite lightly, referring to the Victorians onwards) in the form of the “Working Mens Institute” of 1868, build out of typical Victorian Redbrick on the site of the old Fish Market. It does look slightly out of place in a town like Fowey, yet at the same time its fascinating to see the different additions of eras long gone.

Fowey 9

With Fowey being at the mouth of a large river, and so close to the English Channel, it was of course an important port in previous centuries. The area where we were now stood was once a bustling harbour, where goods were imported from all over Europe. When this industry eventually declined thanks to new thriving ports like Plymouth, the industry in Fowey garnered more towards fishing.

The River Fowey, which runs between the town and neighbouring Polruan, as well as the small village of Bodinnick located immediately upstream of Polruan, began its journey at Fowey Well on Bodmin Moor, before running around 8 miles through to Fowey itself. The town is connected to both Polruan and Bodinnick by ferries, as the nearest physical crossing over the Fowey is in the town of Lostwithiel, 7.5 miles North.

Fowey 10

In keeping with the defensive position of the town, a number of cannons are located on the waterfront, although I am unsure if they are original or not.

Fowey 11

You get some stunning views out across the river and into the surrounding countryside . It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and made the water glisten, with some of the tightly packed buildings of the town by this time in the day reduced to shadow, silhouetted against the the scenery.

Fowey is only a small town, and it was a great stop on our Cornish adventure. It is slightly off the beaten track, and lacking a train station, although there is one at Lostwithiel for local services in Cornwall. Fowey is also reasonably close to the A390 main road which runs from Truro eastwards towards Devon. We moved on from Fowey, and found ourselves driving through the small town of Lostwithiel…

The South West of England: Pt 22 – Truro, Cornwall

Travelling back from Land’s End at the tip of Cornwall, we stopped in a number of places to explore the county. Our 1st stop had been in the town of Penzance, and now we were heading for Truro, Cornwall’s only city and administrative capital…


Status: Cornwall Unitary District & County, City, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Truro Cathedral, Truro County Hall, City Hall, Coinage Hall, Lander Column, Assembly Rooms, Drummer Statue, Hall for Cornwall, Phillpott Library, Lomen Quay, River Allen, Truro River, Passmore Edwards Public Library etc

Truro 1

Driving into the city on the A390 (coming from the A30 South), we passed Cornwall County Hall on the outskirts of the city. Completed in 1966, the building was designed by F. K. Hicklin, originally as the home of Cornwall County Council, in overall charge of the districts which at the time made up the county. Unlike most counties, Cornwall had no county boroughs (equivalent to today’s Unitary Authorities) so it was a simple 2 tier system. After the Local Government changes in 1974, all previous local government areas in Cornwall were abolished and replaced with 6 districts:

1) Caradon

2) Carrick

3) Kerrier

4) North Cornwall

5) Penwith

6) Restormel

These lasted until 2009, when they too were abolished, and the entire county became one large Unitary Authority. County Hall then became the HQ of all local government in the county, and the County Council were renamed “Cornwall Council”, or “Konsel Kernow” in Cornish. The Hall is therefore also known as Lys Kernow.

Truro 2

As we continued, before we reached the city centre, we spotted another landmark, in the form of the “Lander Column”, which towers above the South end of “Lemon Street”, which leads into the city centre. The Column was built in honour of Richard Lemon Lander (1804 – 1834, Explorer from Truro) who traversed West Africa in the 1820′s and 30′s, starting off as part of the Clapperton Expedition of 1825, headed by Hugh Clapperton (1788 – 1827, Scottish Explorer) who was killed during the expedition. Lander then mounted a few of his own expeditions, which traversed the 160 kilometres of the River Niger from Guinea to Nigeria, paving the way for new trade links, which remain in use today. He was sadly killed in 1834 when his expedition was attacked and he was shot, later dying of his wounds. The column was erected a year later, in memory of one of Cornwall’s most famous sons.

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We eventually arrived on one of the central streets in the city, paved with traditional cobbles, and home to a number of the cities most notable buildings, including Truro City Hall, visible on the left with the short Clock Tower and the 5 Arches around the entrance. This stunning building was designed by an architect called Christopher Eales in the 1840′s, and was completed by 1846. Large blocks of granite make for an impressive facade, which would eventually be home to the local Parish Council, who act as Truro City Council. The Tourist Information Centre can also be found in the building, and provides useful information for the surrounding area as well as attractions throughout the city.

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Moving left from the City Hall, right in the centre of the street (which splits off into 2 separate ones either side of it) is the cities War Memorial, constructed just after World War I, standing in memory to the brave soldiers from the city who lost their lives during the war, as well as subsequent conflicts. Atop the main plinth stands a bronze statue of a soldier, lifting his hat in a salute (and I think the Seagull is joining in too!).

Behind it stands the Cornish Bank building from 1848, built on the site of the original Coinage Hall, which dated back to 1351. You may be wondering what exactly a Coinage Hall is? In 1305 the city became known for its tin production, and ingots of tin were produced, weighed and sold on. Twice a year the tin men congregated in the Coinage Hall, and one corner of the ingots were removed and weighed, before they were certified and sold. The term “Coinage” comes from the French word for Corner – Coin. This lasted until 1838, and the building was demolished a decade later. The present building is now a Pizza Express, although it retains its beautiful Victorian exterior. On the British Listed Buildings website it is officially listed as 1, Prince’s Street, although when it was built it was known as No. 1 Boscawen Street. This is interesting as the main road running through here is Boscawen Street itself, and it continues down the left side of the building, whilst Princes Street begins on the right side, so the building has actually changed roads, although I feel its status has been slightly diminished now it has moved onto the side road off the main road. Its previous position obviously reflected its important to the community, with it at the head of the main street in the city.

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The next landmark on our list in the city was down a small side street coming off Boscawen Street, called Cathedral Lane. That, along with the stunning building that loomed ahead of us, should give you a clue where we were going…

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Truro Cathedral, one of the buildings I was most looking forwards to seeing during our trip down South. Its three spires rise high above the city, and actually are visible from most points around the city, making it the standout landmark in Truro. It is also notable for being one of only 2 Cathedrals in England with 3 spires, and only of just 3 across the whole of the UK, the others being Lichfield Cathedral, and St Mary’s in Edinburgh.

Despite its Gothic appearance, Truro Cathedral is one of the newest major Cathedrals in the UK, as construction began in 1880. There was a building already on the site, St Mary’s Church which featured a 128 ft tall spire, but it was demolished in 1880 to allow for the new Cathedral. The architect for the project was John Loughborough Pearson (1817 – 1897, Architect from Durham who also restored Lincoln Cathedral) and this explains the Gothic aspect of the Cathedral, as he was a leading architect in Gothic Revival. It took until 1910 for the entire building to be completed, although small sections opened in stages during the 30 years of construction, such as the Choir & Transepts (1887), the 250 ft Central Tower (1905) and finally the 200 ft Western Towers at the front in 1910 to finish the project. Sadly Mr Pearson passed away in 1897, long before the building was in a recognisable state, so he wouldn’t see his creation complete.

Various materials have been employed in it’s construction, from the Interior Granite (St Stephens), Exterior Granite (Mabe) and the stone of the spires themselves. Inside the building is absolutely stunning, and we spent a long time exploring its depths. It will make a great addition to my “Faith & The British” saga of posts which I shall continue after I have written up all our recent trips.

Outside the front of the Cathedral is a small cobbled square, where a tall, 9th Century stone Celtic Cross stands. Looking past it (located about where I was stood) you get this view up towards the cities main pedestrianised shopping street, which leads past the local Library towards Circuit House, the former home of Carrick District Council. Carrick covered Truro as well as the surrounding area, and as the 6 Cornwall Districts have been abolished the building stands empty, and there are plans to redevelop it. There is another building showing up nearby on the map called Carrick House which is also labelled Cornwall Council so I assume this had something to do with the old district council as well.

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On the far side of the square sits the former Assembly Rooms building, completed in either the 1770′s or 80′s. Its a lovely little building, with a series of stone plaques part way up the building. The one in the centre features two griffins, sat either side of an urn. To the left of that is a plaque of David Garrick (1717 – 1779, English Playwright), and on the right is a plaque of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616). Above all of these, the top central plaque features a picture of Minerva, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom and the Arts, which makes sense as the building was also in use as a Theatre.

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We left the area round the Cathedral, and made our way back past the City and Coinage Halls, up Prince’s Street onto Quay Street, heading towards the riverside. On the way we passed a number of interesting buildings, including the one shown above, which is made up of two listed buildings.

The 1st is on the right, and was opened as a joint Library, Masonic Hall and Meeting House in 1869. The Library section was named the Bishop Phillpott Library, after Henry Phillpotts (1778 – 1869, Bishop of Exeter from Torquay in Devon) which he helped to fund in 1856. A shield bearing the mark of crossed keys resides above the main entrance, and the words “Bishop Phillpotts Library” surround it.

The far end of the block to the left is called the “Britannia Inn” dating back to the 18th Century. It is still open today, and together the block of slate buildings make for an interesting set.

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We soon reached one of the two city centre rivers, which, for most of it’s route through the city, is called the River Allen. Just past the Britannia Inn is the A39 Main Road, and on the far side of that the River Allen merges with the Truro River, to form one large River. South of Truro, the Truro River then merges with the River Fal and the Fal continues on until it reaches the English Channel. The change in the tidal level of the river is quite incredible, as at low tide the boats are stranded amongst a sea of mud, however when the tide comes in the trench is completely filled. The walls that bank the river above are 18th century, and like the Cathedral they are made out of granite.

Before it is joined by the Allen, the Truro River flows down through the quay area of the city, known as Lemon Quay, which we would encounter next.

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We entered Lemon Quay, and this area is a great example of how well the Cathedral stands out from different areas of the city. You can also see the 4th tower from this angle, which is a short bell tower with a copper spire on the top on the near side of the main tower. It strikes me as a rather odd feature, it may be a touch of OCD, but I am quite used to most Cathedrals being fairly symmetrical, at least as far as the main standout features go.

We entered Lemon Quay, a large open space which the Truro River seems to run more underneath than through. It is uncovered further through the Quays past Lemon Street, and heads towards the Royal Cornwall Museum on River Street. This area was once a thriving port with the river exposed for the whole length of the quay, and whilst there were still a number of boats moored up on the river, trade had almost dried up (excuse the pun!) and the area was eventually covered over.

One of the main features of the Quay is the Hall for Cornwall, which looks very similar to the City Hall, and has the same number of arches along the exterior. Looking at the building from above, it adjoins directly onto the back of the City Hall, and it soon became obvious that both the City Hall and the Hall for Cornwall are either end of one large building. The Hall for Cornwall section was turned into a large auditorium with regular performances in the 1980′s, which it still holds today.

Outside the Hall is a statue called “The Drummer” which shows a nude man playing a drum stood on top of a large sphere. It was installed in 2011, and sculpted by Tim Shaw.

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At the end of the Quay area we found the River again, as we arrived on Lemon Street. The River is located behind the small Public Toilets behind the row of Phone Kiosks. The Kiosks are themselves quite interesting, as they are of the K6 Variant, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960, English Architect who also designed Liverpool Cathedral) to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V (1865 – 1936) in 1935. There have been 8 different types of Kiosk through the years but the K6 is the iconic Red Phone Box Design, and thousands still sit on Britain’s streets, including these 4.

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Lemon Street is a beautiful area of Truro, and almost every building on both sides of the street for most of its length has listed status. An example is the building which is now a shop called “Hendra Health Store” which inhabits Numbers 8 & 9 Lemon Street, and were built in the early 19th Century. Number 9 is to the right and has kept the 19th Century front it was built with, whilst the left hand side is Number 8, which has an Edwardian frontage. There are flats above both shops, and the next building along is Numbers 6 & 7 Lemon Street, built around the same time as 8 & 9, the major difference being that it was originally a Town House and became shops later on. The actual shop fronts are 20th Century, which may be an indicator of its conversion date.

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As Gemma headed off to do a bit of shopping, we ended up back outside the Cathedral, going up the pedestrianised shopping street. Whilst she was in the shops I had a wander down to the cities Library, on Pydar Street. It is named the Passmore Edwards Free Library, after John Passmore Edwards (1823 – 1911, British Journalist) who put funds towards its construction. Designed by Sylvanus Trevail (1851 – 1903, Cornish Architect) it was completed in 1896, and extended by 1899 (again to plans by Trevail).

Truro is an amazing city, and one that we thoroughly enjoyed exploring. Transport wise it is well connected, as the local train station lies on the Cornish Main Line between Penzance further South through to Plymouth across the Tamar and the Royal Albert Bridge which joins the Cornish town of Saltash with the famous Devon city. Aside from connecting the length of Cornwall, trains also run through to London via Plymouth, Totnes and Exeter in Devon, Taunton in Somerset and Reading in Berkshire, as well as a long distance service from Penzance to Scotland via Truro, Devon, Somerset, the West Midlands & Birmingham, Derby, Yorkshire, Durham, Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh/Glasgow. Local buses serve the city, and the nearest airport is at Newquay, around 20 miles away. Flights are available from here to Ireland and other cities in the UK, as well as Europe.

Truro is a fascinating place, and has some beautiful buildings, pleasant streets and a truly Cornish feel. It was a pleasure to visit, but for us it was time to move on, as our next stop on the way back to Devon was the Cornish town of Fowey…

The South West of England: Pt 21 – Penzance, Cornwall

After leaving the famous Land’s End, we made our way back towards Dartmouth in Devon via a few places in Cornwall, starting with the nearby town of Penzance…


Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: St Michael’s Mount, Penzance Harbour, Egyptian House, St Mary’s Church, Dry Dock, Wharfside Shopping Centre, Old Lifeboat House, The Battery, War Memorial etc

Pen 1

Our journey began in a Car Park we found near the main Harbour, where we could gaze out at the various boats awaiting the return of the tide. The Harbour is open to the sea, but a series of Sea Walls help to shelter it. The town is a thriving fishing port, and boats also regularly sail from here to the Isles of Scilly out past Land’s End. We set off around the inner Harbour wall, made up of Wharf Road, which becomes the Quay further round, to explore the rest of the town.

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Across the road from the Car Park is the Wharfside Shopping Centre, taking its name from the quayside it inhabits. The centre opened in 1999, and contains all of the major high street shops you would expect. It fits in perfectly with the rest of the quayside, with an old style stone entrance, and the remainder of the building looks similar to some of the original buildings here at the front.

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On the way out of the Car Park we passed the “Old Lifeboat House Bistro”, which, as the name suggests, is based in the Old Lifeboat House, constructed in 1884. This made the town the 1st in Cornwall to have it’s own lifeboat, and you can still see the 2 terracotta roundels either side of the upper window, which both bare the crest of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) who owned the building at the time. Sadly by 1913 the boat had been moved to Penlee in the next town along, called Newlyn, which we would get a great view of further around the seafront. The Lifeboat Station then closed 4 years later in 1917, having been bought by the local Council. Today it is of course the Bistro,and the historic building is the perfect place to stop for a meal. You can visit the Bistro’s website here.

Moving further along, we got a great view of the stone bridge that crosses the smaller Harbour which leads into the towns Dry Dock. The Dock is the oldest in both the UK and Europe, dating back to 1834. Just to the left, out of shot, is the rest of the bridge, where traffic is stopped and the bridge rotates to allow access for boats. The Dock is open 365 days a year, and regularly services boats, tugs and ships. The Dock was empty when we visited, and the water level had been dropped, exposing the stilts that the various boats are set down on for maintenance work.

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Thanks to our current position by the Dry Dock, we were opposite the main Harbour entrance, in between the large sea walls. Beyond it lies Mount’s Bay, which stretches from just west of Penzance near Newlyn, round to Lizard Point, nearly 28 miles away. Lizard Point is situated past the end of the outcrop of land visible in the distance past the sea walls on the above picture.

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We kept going, and arrived on the promenade, where we got a spectacular view of what is perhaps the most famous inhabitant of Mount’s Bay, which also provided it’s name, St Michael’s Mount, a large tidal island around 366 metres off the coast towards the small town of Marazion, further around the Bay. When the tide recedes it uncovers a man made causeway that provides a direct link to the mainland. Atop the rocky outcrop on the island itself stands a large Castle, the most recent addition to which was completed in 1878. Prior to the present building, the history of the Mount goes back to 1070 when it was gifted to the monks of Mont St Michel, over in France. By 1135 they had built a stone Church here, and it was in regular religious use by the Monks until 1535 when Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) began the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the Monks had left the Mount by 1548, although ruins of the Abbey did survive.

Due to it’s obvious tactical position, it played a part in a number of conflicts, from use as a beacon to warn of the advancing Spanish Armada in 1588, to 4 years worth of siege during the English Civil War, starting in 1642. It soon passed into the possession of the Aubyn family in 1659, when Colonel John St Aubyn (1613 – 1684) purchased the Mount and made it his home. The St Aubyn Barony (of Clowance) was later created around 1645 and inhabitants of the Mount held the title until 1830 when Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet (1758 – 1839) passed away. Interestingly, all 5 Barons had the same name, John St Aubyn. The title was later revived in 1887, this time as Baron St Levan, and still exists today, with James Piers Southwell St Aubyn (born 1950) being the 5th and present Baron.

The family do still live on the Mount, in the new Victorian Wing of 1878 that I mentioned earlier, although the rest of the Mount was gifted to the National Trust in 1954. The Mount, along with the Castle, makes for an incredible site, and it is open to visitors all year round, via the Causeway.

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Continuing to move around the Seafront, there are a number of landmarks easily visible. The 1st of these you may have spotted already on the Harbour picture at the start of this post, and is of course the tower of the Parish Church of St Mary. It rises high above the town, and is one of the standout features of it’s skyline. Construction began in 1832 to designs by Charles Hutchens, and was completed 3 years later. New areas were subsequently created inside the Church, with an area below the West Gallery converted into a lobby by 1986, leading to a Chapel at the far end of the North Aisle also created around this time.

The exterior of the building is clad in Penwith Granite, Penwith being the name given to this area of Cornwall, made up of a large peninsula and extends from Land’s End, past Penzance and further East. In 1974 Cornwall was split into districts with councils, governed overall by the County Council. One of these districts was Penwith. The districts were later abolished in 2009 and Cornwall became one large Unitary Authority, under control of the County Council.

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The 2nd landmark is the Jubilee Pool, a large swimming pool which opened in 1935. It was built out over a popular bathing point on the shore, in honour of King George V’s (1865 – 1936) Silver Jubilee, celebrations of which were sadly cut short when he passed away a year later. The pool remained popular in the town until the 1990′s, when it was found to be in a bad state of deterioration, leading to a revamp in 1994, when it was re-opened for all to enjoy. When we visited it was shut, mainly due to the damage done to the promenade by the storms in late 2013/early 2014, but it is still a popular public amenity.

To the left of the Pool is the 18th century Battery, built out of Granite. The Battery was built after war with Spain became a real possibility in 1739. The Penzance Corporation was worried that invasion by sea could happen, and petitioned the Government for defensive guns, with the Battery to house them. It also had a dual role, protecting the town from rough seas. A number of cannons were installed, 5 of which remained as late as 1910.

In 1922 the Battery was given a new addition, in the form of the town’s War Memorial, designed by Sir Edward Warren (1856 – 1937) and built by W.H. Snell & Sons, in honour of the fallen of Penzance during World War I. During World War II the Battery would again became a defensive stronghold, with larger modern guns placed there in case of attack by the Germans. All of these landmarks can be found on Battery Road, built in 1923 to enable better access into the town.

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The rocks below are accessible from the Battery, so we wandered down to take in the views. This shot was taken looking from the Rocks at the base of the Battery back towards the 3rd Harbour, another smaller one that sits near the opening of the main Harbour, and along with the Dry Dock Harbour makes a trio along the front, although they all share one large entrance to the sea.

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Looking West up the beach, we spotted the town of Newlyn in the distance. The town also has a large Harbour, the outer walls of which you can see above. At the edge of the walls is a small lighthouse, and a similar one sits in Penzance harbour as well, warning ships approaching the shore. This is also the town I mentioned earlier where the Penzance lifeboat was moved to, RNLI Penlee.

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We started heading back towards the car, using Battery Road, and on the way we passed a Gold Post Box. For anyone who isn’t resident in the UK, normal British Post Boxes are painted Red. In 2012, London held the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, and in honour of every British athlete who won in a gold medal, Royal Mail painted a Post Box in their home town Gold. This particular one is for Helen Glover, who won Gold in the Rowing: Women’s Pairs. You can find out more about the Gold Post Boxes, and others that we have found, by checking out Gemma’s dedicated post here.

That was the end of our trip to Penzance, and as we left the car park, we passed the Train Station, located at the other side of the car park. It is notable as one of the terminus’s of the longest direct train journey you can make in the United Kingdom, from Penzance, through Cornwall towards Bristol, Birmingham and the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East of England, finally arriving in Scotland via Edinburgh, at it’s final destination, Aberdeen. This service leaves daily, and takes in most of the major towns and cities in the UK as it goes. Penzance station is also the most Southerly train station in the UK. Aside from the long haul services heading North, trains also run to London, local destinations in Cornwall, as well as places like Plymouth in Devon. Local buses also run to various places, including regular buses to Land’s End itself. Land’s End also has a small airport, where you can fly out to the Isles of Scilly, or of course you can take the Penzance ferry to the islands. Although we didn’t have time to do everything in the town, if you visit you could also go and see the famous Egyptian House in the centre of town, as well as the fabulous old Market Hall, now inhabited by a branch of Lloyds TSB.

Penzance is a pleasant town, and the most Southerly major town in both Cornwall and the UK. It has plenty of history, beautiful sea views, and some splendid architecture. If your planning to visit Cornwall, Penzance, along with the local area which includes Land’s End should surely be on your list. For us, the next stop was Cornwall’s only city, and administrative centre, Truro…