ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

An English Train Journey

Updated on January 30, 2014

The Hayle Estuary Near St Ives

The Devon and Cornwall coastline can be seen from the coastal footpath that takes you the entire length of the south west coast line
The Devon and Cornwall coastline can be seen from the coastal footpath that takes you the entire length of the south west coast line | Source

A Railway Adventure

A while ago we went on a trip to St Ives. In common with many English people, we have both been making this trip since we were children but this time we decided that, as car drivers, we had missed out on the train travel experience for too long. Following the original route of the Victorian Great Western Railway, the line that Brunel built was an experience we had neglected for too long. The coastal section clinging to the edge of the cliff and buffeted by waves had been particularly recommended as a must-see. In addition the very narrow roads in St Ives were less than ideal for cars and there were major roadworks.

So swept up on unaccustomed wave of enthusiasm for public transport we bought our tickets and prepared for our holiday to start at our local train station rather than at the end of a four hour road trip.

A Typical Station in a Small Market Town

Many stations in the smaller places en route look much as they did in Victorian times.
Many stations in the smaller places en route look much as they did in Victorian times. | Source

The 1847 Sea Wall

On reaching Devon in the far west we were travelling along the extension to the Great Western Railway that Brunel built in 1843.

This was a particularly challenging section and Brunel overcame the obstacles posed by the landscape by building five tunnels through the cliffs and four miles of sea wall.

In total the line follows the water down the river Exe and along the coast for thirteen miles.

Building inevitably over-ran and the line eventually opened in 1847.

The Atmospheric Propulsion System

Brunel originally used a method of propulsion called the atmospheric system to operate trains along the South Devon Sea Wall.

In this pre-steam method a pipe with leather flaps was positioned along the middle of the track. A steam powered exhaust was connected to the track which expelled air. Pistons attached to the trains fitted into the pipe and alternating air pressure moved the train by ‘suction’.

However this was difficult and expensive to maintain and steam locomotives took over after just a year.

Life on an English Train

Life on an English Train

The trip down was very promising, sitting back with coffee and the sunday papers rather than bombing down the motorway, especially when we could see the traffic trapped in the roadworks from our vantage point riding the rails.

As time went on I became very interested in the concept of first and second class coaches that the train company tied itself up with and the imaginary this brought to mind. I could imagine the fashionable Victorian elite in Brunel’s time out for the day to see and be seen safe in the superior carriages while the servants bumped along on the wooden benches in third class.

On our train the first class accommodation had a trolley service which was unfortunately out of action. The train manager kept making desperately apologetic announcements to the effect that first class passengers could have anything they wanted from the buffet car for free. They also had their own coffee maker and higher quality paper cups. It was all fascinatingly hierarchical and reminiscent of a time when the British social classes knew their place.

Heading purposefully towards holiday spots, it had a different array of characters to the standard commuter train. Executives and their laptops were replaced by outdoorsy folk stowing bicycles and teenagers setting up entertainment apparatus to while away the journey. Watching the ebb and flow of passengers boarding, settling, unpacking snacks and then gathering their belongings and heading off, it was easy to imagine how Agatha Christie set a whole novel on a train. The elderly ladies travelling alone were particularly diverting. The more practised could get virtually the whole carriage involved in stowing their luggage and helping them find a seat.

The South Devon Railway Sea Wall

This precarious line hugging the foot of the cliff is the main line for all trains heading for the south of Devon and Cornwall
This precarious line hugging the foot of the cliff is the main line for all trains heading for the south of Devon and Cornwall | Source

The South West 'Foot' Of England

Places To Stay Heading West

Towns & Cities
Small & Picturesque
Dawlish Warren
St Budeaux

The Royal Albert Bridge

Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge is the Gateway To Cornwall
Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge is the Gateway To Cornwall | Source

St Ives, Cornwall

For those who don’t know the West of England, St Ives is a charismatically picturesque town clinging to the rocky tip of Cornwall.

Called Porth La in the original Cornish, it received it’s Royal Charter in 1639. It’s full of amazing views, windy lanes with names like ‘Teetotal St’ and fishing boats bobbing in the harbour.

The particular quality of the light means it has had an established artists’ colony for over a hundred years and is always well worth a visit.

Home to The Tate Gallery St Ives and The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden it's an import stop-over for art lovers.

Highlights of the Great Western Line

The coastal section through Devon certainly showcases the boldly creative problem-solving skills of the Victorian Great Western Railway at its best and indeed the west of England is dotted with the engineering achievements of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. On route we passed through the 2,950 metre Box Tunnel, Temple Meads 1840 terminus, saw Clifton Suspension Bridge in the distance and finally traversed the majestic Royal Albert Bridge over the Tamar into Cornwall. Appointed as Chief Engineer to the Railway in 1833, he also found time to build the SS Great Britain, which was the world's first iron-hulled, screw propeller-driven, steam-powered passenger liner. This is restored and has pride of place on Bristol Harbourside but that would have to wait for another trip.

St Ives Harbour


The Journey Home

The trip back was, quite frankly, less idyllic. It was very crowded as some coaches had been removed resulting in a five hour trip with not enough seats for everyone. We had to change trains twice as there were no through trains on weekdays and we were delayed with braking problems near Exeter causing us to miss our connection. We eventually found ourselves on a train operated by a different company. The inspector murmured something about our tickets not being valid but I was so annoyed by this time he thought better of pursuing this.

Notwithstanding the humdrum pitfalls of public transport, this line is definitely in the top ten man-made attractions in the West of England and a feat of engineering easily missed by us car drivers.

Seals Around The South West Coast

Seals can be found all around the coast, like this one begging for fish
Seals can be found all around the coast, like this one begging for fish | Source


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Allyson Cardis profile imageAUTHOR

      Allyson Cardis 

      4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England

      Thank you. I think it's always interesting anywhere. We took a train from Poland to Germany last year and that was amazing.

    • Emily Richey profile image


      4 years ago from Florida

      What fun Allyson! I love taking the train in the UK, it is such a fun way to see the countryside. Love this piece.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)