Cornwall’s Maritime Branch Railway
A Scenic Train Route in Southwest England
The line opened in 1863, originally intended as a terminus for trains linking London with the regular “packet” ships carrying mail from Falmouth to Africa, Europe, and across the Atlantic Ocean. However, in practice, it has served as a branch from the main London – Penzance line.
Cornwall’s administrative centre and mainline railway junction, Truro, has retained much of its original character. Specialist local shops and Georgian-fronted houses line narrow, winding streets and mews. The Royal Cornwall Museum has historical records and displays, a fine mineral collection, and paintings by Cornish artists. For genealogists, Truro is home to the active and ever-helpful Cornwall Family History Society.
Truro Cathedral was completed as recently as 1910. Its cobbled forecourt lined with hanging flower baskets serves as an attractive haven at the centre of the town, and its spires dominate local views from all directions.
The 11.75-mile ride to Falmouth takes 20 minutes, and services operate throughout the year for local shoppers, schoolchildren and commuters, and visitors. The route passes around a nature reserve just outside Truro, through wooded countryside, tunnels, railway cuttings lined with wildflowers, over and under stone-built viaducts and bridges, with glimpses of the Helford estuary as it approaches Penryn.
Though now dwarfed by nearby Falmouth, Penryn was the main medieval port on the Helford estuary and prospered from trading in tin and granite until the 19th century. It remains an attractive little town with some fine 17th century Georgian buildings.
Penryn is one of four places along the line where visitors can take advantage of the Rail Ale Trail. The town’s King’s Arms, Three Tuns, and Famous Barrel are among 14 pubs that serve “real ale” within walking distance of the line. Visitors can claim free souvenirs if they enjoy a tankard at five of the 14 participating establishments.
Trains stop at two stations in Falmouth. The Falmouth Town platform is a short walk from the cobbled main street with its pretty pubs, cafés, galleries, the old fishing harbour, the Prince of Wales Pier with its pleasure cruisers, the modern marina, and the world-class National Maritime Museum.
The National Maritime Museum
Well worth a visit to Falmouth in itself, the museum presents a mix of static and interactive exhibits explaining navigation, meteorology, boat handling, the stories of historic and more recent maritime adventurers. You can discover how, over the centuries, Cornish people have designed and constructed boats and made a living from the sea. There are great views of the harbour and estuary from the top of the tower and two large underwater windows. For the more academic, the Bartlett Library has a fine collection of maritime reference material.
From the end of the line at the Falmouth Docks station, there is a scenic 15-minute walk to Pendennis Point with its historic castle and beautiful views across the estuary to the St Anthony Head lighthouse and the attractive town of St Mawes.
And if that 15-minute stroll is not enough, a Trails from the Track leaflet lists nine scenic walks of up to seven miles to and from the Maritime Line stations.
Community Rail Partnership
The Maritime Line is one of five similar branch lines in Cornwall supported by the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership, one of 40 Community Rail Partnerships in the UK. Beyond the Rail Ale Trail and Trails from the Track programmes it manages, the Partnership has helped lobby and secure financial support for upgrading the line. A continuous welded track installed early in 2008 has made for a smoother ride, and to the delight of regular travellers, a new passing loop will allow more frequent services from 2009.
Rail Ticket Promotions
Trains are operated by First Great Western, which offers various discounted rover and ranger tickets: both the Truro – Falmouth Cheap Day Return and the Maritime Day Ranger tickets are great value at £3; the Cornwall Day Ranger allows off-peak train travel all over the county, at £10 for adults; and Ride Cornwall tickets, at £12, combine train and bus travel within the county.