All Line Rover trip Day 1: Falmouth, Truro, St Ives & Tavistock

In September 2022, I travelled around Britain for a week and a half using an All Line Rover train ticket. This is the second of eleven special posts giving a day-by-day narration of my trip. I also wrote an introduction to the trip, discussing my plans and goals, before I left; and will follow up my day-by-day narration with standard posts about the nineteen individual map areas I visited on the trip which are new to the blog. [1]

Interactive map

Here’s an interactive map of my All Line Rover trip! By default, all 11 days of my trip are shown: press the icon in the top left to see the route for individual days of the trip only.

Key to colours: Purple = train, dark blue = metro/underground, pink = tram, green = bus, orange = walking, medium blue = ferry

Day 1: Night Riviera sleeper to Tavistock, via Truro & St Ives

My previous post told you of the first evening of my trip, as I explored South London’s trams after work, before getting on the Night Riviera sleeper train down to Cornwall. I had a good sleep, and awoke to sunny views out of the window, before receiving my ordered vegetarian breakfast, which turned out to be a very strange mix – freeze-dried kiwi and banana, a pot of pineapple segments in juice, a coconut protein bar thing and some lemon biscuits.

My odd vegetarian breakfast on the Night Riviera sleeper train

I was intending to get off right at the end of the sleeper journey at Penzance or St Erth, to then head up to St Ives, but as it turned out, the train was 45 minutes delayed. I’d finished my breakfast by 7:30am and felt impatient to start my day rather than waiting another hour to get to Penzance, so I got off early, at Truro, switching around my plans for the day a bit. I didn’t leave the station – I’d be returning to Truro later – and instead got straight on the waiting connecting train to take me down the branch line to the seaside town of Falmouth.

Now, there are a lot of branch lines in Devon and Cornwall, so I’d had to be judicious with which ones I’d go down. I’d picked the Falmouth branch because it enables a fun little multi-modal loop: after getting the train down to Falmouth, I’d take the regular passenger ferry to St Mawes across the estuary of the River Fal, and then get a bus back to Truro. Arriving in Falmouth, it was still a great blue-skied, sunny-but-not-too-hot day, which was a good sign for the ferry journey!

I walked through Falmouth to get to the pier the ferry would be going from, and the town seemed very nice, though it was very quite at 8am on a Saturday morning. The pier, by contrast, was heaving: the ferry itself looked pretty small, and I wasn’t at all sure how the eighty or so people who seemed to be waiting were going to get onto it, but in the end, we all boarded comfortably – it was a rather Tardis-like boat! I stayed outside at the front during the 20-minute crossing, which was a good decision, as the views were great.

The Fal estuary at this point is very wide, with a lot of little subsidiary inlets, so first I could see back towards Falmouth, more and more of the town becoming visible, but then views would open up in other directions: to new little btis of shoreline, out to sea, and then eventually to St Mawes with its interesting little castle.

At St Mawes, which was a pretty enough little village, I had a fifteen-minute wander up to the castle and back, and quickly made use of a very high-tech public toilet – which not only allowed me to pay the 20p via contactless card, but also gave me regular voice updates on such matters as “door is now locked” – before getting on the #50 bus to Truro.

The sea wall at St Mawes

Boarding the bus, I was very pleased with the Cornwall Dayrider ticket I got – £5 for unlimited bus travel throughout Cornwall, all day and on any operator. Cornwall is generally doing extremely well on bus services at the moment, I believe, being a current winner of one of the government’s rather silly grant lotteries for bus funding: while I got a £5 paper ticket since I wanted to be able to keep it as a souvenir, I could have paid via London-style “tap-and-cap” on my normal contactless debit card, and been automatically charged the lowest amount for my actual journeys up to the £5 daily cap. They also have this great whole-county bus map, which is printed large-scale and very solidly installed in a lot of their bus shelters. Now we just need to get the same thing in the rest of the country!

The bus journey was nicely scenic, with views both out to sea and of nicely hilly rolling countryside, and after a little under and hour we arrived in Truro, where I had a wander around town. There was a big market on and the town centre was bustling with shoppers. There was a service on in the cathedral, so I only poked my nose in rather than having a good look around, but still enjoyed mself – Truro would be a nice place to come back and spend a little longer in on a later date.

Truro Cathedral

After a brief wander, I made my way over to the train station, and got on a GWR service in the Penzance direction, to go to visit St Ives as I’d originally planned to do as the first thing in my day.

Now, to get to St Ives, I’d need to take the St Ives Bay Line. Watching this bit of this All The Stations video a few years ago, I enjoyed finding out this fun piece of railway trivia: a single-track line with no passing loops, the St Ives line’s signalling system is “staff working“, whereby a train is only allowed onto the track if the driver has the single wooden staff conferring access to the line – in that video, Vicki is appropriately delighted at being handed the staff, which is likely the same one that’s been in use since the line opened in the 19th century! However, being a single line, if I travelled by rail, I’d need to go to St Ives and back again on the same line, but it’d be more interesting to do something different in each direction. For this reason, I got off on the main line a stop early, at Hayle, and caught a T2 bus to St Ives, to get the train back.

I had 20 minutes or so to wait in the centre of Hayle, which sits in the shadow of a great big viaduct carrying the main line. There was a nice little public garden under the viaduct, behind which was a rather spaceship-like branch of Asda! The bus to St Ives interestingly had a cluster of four seats around a table on the upper level.

St Ives harbour

St Ives was really lovely! It does have rather a reputation so I was expecting it to be nice, but even given that it was pretty great – I enjoyed walking through the narrow streets past fun little shops, and along the harbourfront then up to the little St Nicholas’s Chapel, from which a view opened up down along the other side of the isthmus that I’d been walking along below, to the very photogenic Porthmeor Beach. In the middle of town, I stumbled into a crowd who, were watching a cèilidh band play and dance in the street: to my surprise, it turned out to be the Cambridge University Ceilidh Band out on a trip – I knew a few people who were in that a few years ago when I was a student!

Porthmeor Beach & St Ives

After exploring the town a little, I bought some mussels, chips and mushy peas from an unusually posh fish-and-chip shop for lunch – mussels being an exception to my vegetarianism – and sat down outside the railway station to eat them. They were really nice: I know some people like their chips crispy and look down on anything that would cause that to be lost, but I’m a big chips-(cheese-)and-gravy or chips-(cheese-)and-curry-sauce fan, and in this case, chips-and-the-creamy-salty-sauce-that-the-mussels-came-in was very good.

I just about finished my meal in time to get onto the train that would, at last, take me along the St Ives branch line to St Erth. The short journey took me past yet more pretty beaches, and I was sat behind a Francophone couple, where the woman seemed French herself, but the man had an interesting combination of seemingly very fluent French but with a comically strong English accent. At St Erth, I changed onto a mainline train, which I rode back past Truro and all the way out of Cornwall, to Plymouth.

My end point for the day was Tavistock, a way north of Plymouth on the edge of Dartmoor, which doesn’t have a train station. I’d therefore be taking the Gunnislake branch line as far as Bere Alston, where I’d catch a bus to Tavistock. Since the Gunnislake trains only run every couple of hours, upon rarriving in Plymouth I got on the one leaving soon, rather than exploring the town – I’ve never visited Plymouth before, so will need to come back sometime for a look around!

Bere Alston station – the flash of orange at the left is the driver changing the points!

The ride to Bere Alston was fairly quick, taking me back out of Plymouth in the same direction as I’d entered it, before the branch line split off the main line and circled under the Tamar Bridge that I’d crossed less than an hour before. At Bere Alston, there was the second quirky train thing of the day: the driver had to get out of the train to change some points manualy using a lever. You see, Bere Alston was once the point where lines from Plymouth and Gunnislake met, to then continue on towards Tavistock and beyond. The Tavistock route was closed decades ago, so trains from Plymouth to Gunnislake have to enter Bere Alston, wait for the points to be changed, and then reverse out the same way to go on to Gunnislake. Given that this is a sleepy branch line there’s never been a need to adopt a more efficient system than the driver climbing out to change the points manually.

Spying Dartmoor in the distance from the 87A bus to Tavistock

The 87A bus to Tavistock, admirably scheduled to meet the trains, was waiting at Bere Alston when I arrived, and I enjoyed seeing Dartmoor peep out between the trees occasionally during the journey. In Tavistock, I was staying in an Airbnb room very close to the bus station, which was very nice but had rather an unconventional setup: instead of renting out a bedroom in their house, this host rented out the sitting/dining room, which had an attached bathroom and a cute little conservatory. My bed was a very prettily-made up sofabed, looking rather incongruous in front of the dining table and sideboard!

My night’s accommodation in Tavistock

It was still fairly early when I arrived, so I went out for a brief walk before buying dinner. Tavistock’s town centre is dominated by a disused railway viaduct, built as part of the aforementioned closed route that once came through from Bere Alston, continuing to Okehampton (which I’d visit tomorrow) and on to Exeter. The viaduct has been converted into a walking/cycle path, so I went up onto it and looked down onto the town.

From there, I went down to the Co-op and bought a wrap, salad and a brownie, and went back to my accommodation for a quiet evening and early night – I needed it after my late night last night and busy day!

Looking back up at the viaduct from Tavistock’s town centre


[1] The individual map area posts will duplicate the contents of the special trip posts, but unlike the latter they won’t form a continuous narrative, since they’ll skip things I did in map areas I’ve already posted about. They will, though, newly contain narration of anything I did on previous visits there – since some of these are areas which are new to the blog, but which I visited before starting my blog in 2017.

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