Bike ride: Camel Trail, Cornwall
Cycle alongside the River Camel, a route once traced by whistling Victorian steam trains
Doctor Beeching has not been forgiven for taking the axe to much of Britain’s rural railway network in the 1960s. As Britain fell in love with the motor car, rural stations were demolished, railway track was sold for scrap, and steam trains were consigned to museums and heritage railways.
Nature moved back in, undoing the hard graft of those Victorian navvies and many of the old railways were lost forever in a jungle of undergrowth, beneath the plough or urban development.
Not everywhere though. Some far-sighted county councils saw the opportunity to protect these routes and a network of cycle paths on old railway lines has spread across the country, making use of that Victorian engineering.
Passage of old
The last train left Padstow on 28 January 1967. Happily, you can now hire a bike from Padstow Cycle Hire or Trail Bike Hire at Padstow (where the station building survives) and still enjoy those same wide estuary views of the River Camel that would have been so familiar to rail passengers.
Race across the box girder bridge over Little Petherick Creek, where the Atlantic Coast Express once thundered by, bringing holidaymakers from London Waterloo to the Cornish coast. The verges are lined with foxgloves, red valerian and early purple orchids as you enjoy sweeping views across the rolling countryside to Tregunna Hill. Herons and little egrets stalk the estuary fringe. On arrival in Wadebridge, seek out the old railway station with its quaint heritage centre dedicated to poet laureate and rail enthusiast John Betjeman, a vociferous opponent of Beeching’s cuts.
Pedal off the pounds
From Wadebridge, the route dives into woodland where overgrown station platforms still stand. Stop for lunch at the Camel Trail Tea Garden in Nanstallon where you can relax in the sunshine of the orchard and savour the moist apple and custard cake with clotted cream. You may need to pedal faster on the return leg to work off those calories.
Before long, the whistle and clank of a steam train will signal your arrival at Boscarne Junction on the Bodmin & Wenford Railway, where you can enjoy the sight and sounds of heritage steam trains that still connect with the mainline network at Bodmin Parkway.
Chris Gee is the author of Walking the Yorkshire Coast: A Companion Guide.