Our journey commenced one August day from the sunny seaside town of Paignton in Devon (lodgings for the week kindly provided by our friends Jo & Roger). In search of family adventure, we decided to head out for the day on the rattler & at Paignton station we bundled aboard the waiting Crosscountry service. Ten minutes following departure we debunked at Newton Abbott & alluring as it was, we decided to head in a south-westerly direction towards the home of one of the greatest delicacies known to man, woman & some, not-so-fussy children. Approx forty minutes later & like an excited child, I squashed my face up against the glass, to gaze in amazement as the GWR Hitachi trundled over one of Brunels’ iconic masterpieces, the Royal Albert Bridge, the magnificent structure that spans the River Tamar connecting Devon with Cornwall.
Our destination for the day was the picturesque harbour town of Looe, which is situated not far from the county border & although reachable by road, without a doubt, the most spectacular way to arrive is by rail. The Looe Valley line, operated by GWR, connects mainline Liskeard to Looe town via a 8 ¾ mile single track. While the Hitachi slithered off like a dark green snake towards the pointy end of the country, the four of us stood like lost souls on Liskeard’s deserted platform. Finally, Harry, my son, (AKA ‘The Boy’) noticed a sign saying ‘Looe – this way’ on the platform opposite & in a procession, we all trapsed over the footbridge, down a footpath, over a road & onto platform number 3. Like many scenic railways, a keen bunch of volunteers take great delight in maintaining & supporting the facilities. As we waited patiently on the immaculate platform, an elderly chap offered snippets of information about the photos & memorabilia in the information room, whilst at the same time issuing ‘I travelled on the Looe Valley Line’ stickers to my kids. I duly did my bit to support their cause by buying a replica Looe station sign fridge magnet.
After twenty minutes the 2-car, diesel-powered Turbo-star arrived at Liskeard’s platform 3 & we joined the masses, well the other 5 passengers, to embark. As the loco revved & shuddered into action, we descended into a narrow wooded valley which arced downhill, passing directly underneath a tall iron bridge which supported the mainline many feet above. A few minutes later we stopped at the first station – Coombe Junction Halt. Here the train reversed its direction to descend the gradient, much to the annoyance of my kids as they had eagerly ‘bagsied’ the forward facing seats. Trundling off again, further stops were made at St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, Causeland & Sandplace, but it was from this last stop, where the view from the carriages suddenly altered. The steep wooded valley gave way to an open estuary as the line meandered around the banks of the River Looe – although as the tide was out we had great views over a mudflat. Nevertheless it was pretty impressive. Slowly the train pulled to a halt at Looe station & we all piled out, keen to explore the town.
Now I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man & I know places like this have to make a living, but one thing I do detest is what I call the ‘theme park’ effect – the overly twee-ing up of places for the benefit of tourists. Structurally Looe is lovely – quirky little side streets & quaint harbour, but it is the ‘tourist tat’ that gets on my pip. Can a visitor not see that the all the pastel-coloured, wooden ornaments & metal sculptures that most of the shops seem to sell was actually made in China? As I dodged the crowds, I imagined a factory in Xandhu piled high with cardboard boxes being packed full of Scarborough, Swanage & Salcombe ‘authentic’ works of art. Surely someone can employ local people to paint local reclaimed wood without the need to chug it accross from Asia? Just a thought…..
Anyway, we finally made it through to the beach & found ‘the spot’ – that perfect place where you are comfortably far enough away from all the other beach utilisers & in a matter of minutes the kids were in their swimmies & splashing in the water. Lovely I thought – not too crowded, nice & warm, I can relax & chill-out for a bit. Then it happened. Or rather, they happened. The family that ‘owns’ the beach came & parked right next to ‘our spot’. Wife looked at me & I looked at wife – our eyes narrowing simultaneously. Within minutes, their ‘staffie’ was off visiting every picnic blanket in the area & the pot-bellied male of the tribe, was bellowing ‘Oi, get your f**king arse back here you stupid dog’ in a delightful Brummie brogue. (I must apologise to all the decent people of the Midlands. I know people like this are not a regional problem, more of a national one & we have plenty of similar chavs where I come from as well). At the same time, Pot-belly’s son started to launch one of those whistling rugby ball things, over my head towards his sister, who instantly started shrieking like a banshee. As the child wailed, the pulse in my temple pulsated & the wife suggested why didn’t I go for a wander in the harbour – funny how she can read the signs.
As the sun disappeared into some clouds, we decided to have a mooch around the town in search of somewhere to eat. Pausing briefly at a gastropub down an alleyway, we decided against selling one of the kids in order to be able to afford to eat there, so we settled for visiting a pie/pastry shop instead. It was here that number one daughter, Holly (AKA The Girl) spotted a chap braiding hair & although he charged 80 pence per inch (I admit not a great deal of money until you consider The Girl has hair marginally shorter than Rapunzel) I eventaully succumbed to her demands. The braider was actually a fellow ‘dawdler’ & whilst he twizzled the coloured strands on my daughters locks, I enjoyed hearing his life story about bimbling around the planet, as he learnt & honed his craft.
Time was ticking by & we decided that we should make our way back to the train. Rattling back along by the estuary, the tide was now in & deceptively appeared to lap at the carriage wheels as it squealed along. And as we retraced the rails back to Paignton, (with changes at Plymouth & Newton Abbott) we all agreed that our day trip to Cornwall, was indeed a fine family adventure.