Car-free holiday adventure in Cornwall

16 January 2021

By guest blogger, Madeleine Sugden

Join Madeleine as she reminisces about a previous year's car-free holiday with the family, to Cornwall. Follow her adventures on Twitter where she shares weekend train walks and trips, providing inspiration for when non-essential travel is allowed.

Before the children, we had a few memorable trips to Cornwall by train. We had holidays in Newlyn, Fowey (inspired by reading Daphne Du Maurier's Sands of Time), St Germans and once got a creaky sleeper train from Paddington to St Erth for a winter visit to St Ives.

We'd never thought of going with the kids. It just felt too far even though they are used to long train journeys and car-free holidays.

For October's half-term something clicked and we decided it was the right time. Now we are in lockdown, with no opportunities to go on trips, I am so glad we have this to look back on. Through lockdown I have been reliving some of our train walks and holidays. This trip was definitely a big highlight of the year.

We got a morning train from Paddington and settled back in our booked seats for the journey transporting us out of London all the way to Penzance.

Unfortunately, the trolley hadn't got any tea or food other than biscuits. With the prospect of six hours without food for the kids, it was going to be a hard journey. We'd got to Paddington with minutes to spare so there was no time to get supplies – not very good planning. Luckily, the train paused at Taunton so I was able to sprint to the café on a different platform!

Once fed, we were able to enjoy the journey. Our seats were on the good side so we could fully enjoy that special bit of the journey alongside the River Exe towards Dawlish and then the sea. The sea was calm and there were people walking along the path we could wave to even if they couldn't see us.

The train emptied out as we crossed the Tamar into Cornwall. Our windows gave us spectacular views of Truro Cathedral and St Michael's Mount. It felt like we were on a proper adventure, crossing into distant lands.

Travelling to Cornwall by rail

We were staying at the Penzance YHA, three miles from Penzance Railway Station. Tired and hungry, we lugged our bags up the hill, past the shops and out of town. The staff there were great and gave us such a warm welcome. We settled back into our green bunkbeds to recharge our batteries for the adventures ahead.

The Youth Hostel was a great base. It had food on-site so we didn't have to cater for ourselves, which can be a logistical challenge on car-free holidays. There were bus stops close by and the train station was only a 25-minute walk away. Even so, when checking in and adding all our details, we got funny looks when we said we hadn't come by car.

Travelling by bus

Our top-deck bus journeys were spectacular (and sometimes hair-raising). We zoomed along at speed past fields with standing stones and with the sea in the distance.

The weather that week was perfect even though it was late October. The light at the end of Cornwall is so strong, that the greens of the grass and the blues of the sea feel so much more, than in other places. That week we definitely got the best of Cornwall.

We walked to Newlyn and Mousehole one day along the sea, enjoying an ice cream on the beach before getting the bus back to the youth hostel.

Another day we got the train to St Ives where my daughter had her lunch stolen by a very crafty seagull – right out of her hands from behind!

St Ives Gulls

We got a replacement sandwich and found a safer place to eat! The kids loved the beach and playing games in the arcade.

Telegraph Museum

One big highlight was a trip to Porthcurno. We loved the Telegraph Museum and exploring its WWII tunnels. One room had been set up as a Morse Code listening station.

The sound installation recreated the machines whirring away and someone gently stirring their tea. It was very atmospheric.

The kids had a brilliant time playing on the empty beach while we waited for the last bus.

We found a stunning walk on our last day in St Just, past disused tin mines, following a stream down to the sea. There was no one around. Just the sound of the crashing waves and seagulls.

Walking in St Just

It felt like time had stopped. If I could preserve just one moment of our family, it would be that one. Everyone happy, sitting on the rocks, watching the crashing waves, eating our sandwiches with a flask of tea in the warm October fresh air.

I really hope we can all go back again one day. The long train journey is part of the adventure, part of the transition from the noise and intensity of London to the green and emptiness of the end of Cornwall.

The children loved it. Doing it car-free with them was easy.

Follow Madeleine Sugden's adventures on Twitter where she frequently shares weekend train walks and trips.

Right now we encourage you to #StaySafe and use public transport for #EssentialTravelOnly.

In the meantime, you can explore Cornwall's scenic railway lines from home:

St Ives Bay Line

Looe Valley Line

Maritime Line

Atlantic Coast Line

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