Perfect weather was forecast for our walk on Saturday 8th June, however on waking up we were faced with thunder & lightning in West Cornwall. This had been forecast for Friday, however the local news did say early on Saturday morning that things would improve. The Falmouth Branch had received a lightning strike knocking out the signals at Penryn, which reduced the branch to an hourly service throughout the day.
Leaving Penzance on the 08.28 service to Glasgow the train soon began to filled up and was full and standing by Truro. On departure from Truro sunshine was evident and remained so for the rest of the day. From Liskeard to Plymouth we had a very quiet ride, floating along as our carriage underfloor engine had shut down. By this time the train was extremely full including bicycles, prams, and luggage blocking exits from the train. We were pleased to escape at Plymouth!
On arrival at Plymouth we joined the 83 Bus to Yelverton where we met up with Trevor and Barbara Tremethick this brought our party up to 13. After a short break at Yelverton we caught the next bus to Horrabridge where we were joined by Tony & Sue Wright.
The station at Horrabridge has been completely swept away except for a couple of former railway building converted into dwellings. We noticed many houses named after the railway which closed 50 years ago on 31st December, 1962 during a great blizzard, that night the last train never made it, being marooned at Bickleigh, 4 miles south of Yelverton, where some train passengers spent the night in Bickleigh Signal Box before being rescued the next day. That was the end of the branch line though now the Plym Valley Railway has brought life back to the lower end. The level crossing at Horrabridge closed in 1952 was a very wide crossing as the line was originally broad gauge.
Leaving Horrabridge on Drakes Trail we were on a downhill track for most of the way to Whitchurch except for the rise to Grenofen Tunnel. We soon came to the Magpie Viaduct rebuilt in stone in 1902 from the former timber viaduct of 1859, some of us descending to look up to the viaduct from the valley floor.
Next came the impressive Gem Bridge built at a cost of 2.1 million and 24 metres high. This replaced the even more impressive Walkham Viaduct which was blown up as an army exercise, however, remains of the original cut granite can be seen around site. The original viaduct was 367 yds long being reconstructed in 1910. Today’s viaduct is at a much lower level. We paused for our lunch break and photographs by an information board giving details of the former viaduct. After lunch we climbed on a gradient of 1 in 60 to Grenofen Tunnel this is 374 yds long and 18 feet in width. Another group photo was taken, before entering the tunnel. Walking through the tunnel we noticed reflective shields up in the roof, possibly designed to help the cyclist as it was unlighted until the far end, it was rather wet and spooky. Maurice Dart spoke of a well in the tunnel but owing to complete darkness we were unable to find it. Leaving the tunnel the trail soon parted company with the former branch line. Nothing remains of Whitchurch Down Platform, there is, however, a former bridge is still in situ nearby.
We returned by bus to Yelverton where as’ icing on the cake’ we had a short guided walk by Trevor Tremethick on Yelverton Common to a section of the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway with sleeper blocks still in situ and a piece of rail. This lies alongside the Plymouth and Devonport leat.
Returning home from Plymouth we travelled on the 16.26 service behind the HP liveried HST 43148.
Thanks go to everyone who supported this trip, the fine weather made all the difference.
Footnote – as we waited for the bus back to Plymouth who should we see but Maurice Dart on his way to Tavistock to walk the line from the far end – he was going home on the last train.