North Cornwall Railway
The North Cornwall Railway was a railway line running from Halwill in Devon to Padstow in Cornwall via Launceston, Camelford and Wadebridge, a distance of 49 miles 67 chains (80.21 km). Opened in the last decade of the nineteenth century, it was part of a drive by the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) to develop holiday traffic to Cornwall. The L&SWR had opened a line connecting Exeter with Holsworthy in 1879, and by encouraging the North Cornwall Railway it planned to create railway access to previously inaccessible parts of the northern coastal area.
"There are few more fascinating lines than the one which leads to North Cornwall from Okehampton" says T. W. E. Roche in his popular tribute to the network of railway lines operated by the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) in North and West Devon and North Cornwall.
|North Cornwall Railway|
In the 19th century, Padstow was an important fishing port, but it was hampered by lack of land communication with markets. The L&SWR had reached into West Devon by the 1880s, and was prevented by agreements with the Great Western Railway from approaching southern Cornwall. The L&SWR had purchased the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway illegally in 1846 and connection of this with the remainder of the LSWR was desirable. By encouraging a nominally independent company, the North Cornwall Railway, the L&SWR planned to develop the northern part of the Cornish peninsula and to this end the new North Cornwall Railway's line was to form a junction with the L&SWR's unfinished Bude line at Halwill and push towards Wadebridge. The prospectus of the North Cornwall indicated that a further extension of 24 miles (39 km) would be required to bring the railway from Wadebridge to Truro.
The North Cornwall Railway obtained an Act of Parliament for construction of its line on 18 August 1882, but money was very tight and construction was slow, so it was not until 21 July 1886 that the first section of 14 miles 57 chains (23.68 km), from Halwill to Launceston was opened. At Launceston the North Cornwall Railway station was built exactly adjacent to, but completely separate from, the GWR station; this originally having been built by the Launceston and South Devon Railway and opened in 1865. This situation changed in 1943 when wartime circumstances caused a connection to be laid allowing trains from the GWR line to run into the North Cornwall station in the down direction. It was intended to be temporary for wartime goods movement, but when the GWR station was closed on 30 June 1952 GWR trains were diverted over it and used the North Cornwall station as a terminus until closure of the GWR route ten years later.
The remainder of the North Cornwall Railway was opened gradually in stages; Launceston to Tresmeer (7 miles 75 chains (12.77 km)) on 28 July 1892, Tresmeer to Camelford (9 miles 26 chains (15.01 km)) on 14 August 1893, Camelford to Delabole (2 miles 29 chains (3.8 km)) on 18 October 1893, Delabole to Wadebridge (10 miles 68 chains (17.46 km)) on 1 June 1895, and finally Wadebridge to Padstow (5 miles 52 chains (9.09 km)) on 27 March 1899. At Wadebridge, the line joined with the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway, which had opened in 1834, just outside the town and ran into the rebuilt station there, finally being extended over the main road to Padstow four years later. This railway connection quickly enabled Padstow to gain further importance in the fishing trade and also to become a seaside resort of some significance.
While Padstow proved to be the furthest extent of the L&SWR line the original ambition to extend further into Cornwall continued to arouse interest and in 1894, with rapid progress being made in building the line, a parliamentary notice was issued for a line from the North Cornwall to Newquay and Truro, and thence with running powers over the GWR to Falmouth and Penzance. While this came to nothing, the GWR were still concerned and in 1905 were granted powers to provide a line to Newquay diverging in the vicinity of Bodmin Road. Proposals for light railways in the country between Padstow and Newquay continued until 1911, but none came to anything.
However apart from Launceston and Wadebridge the very long single-track line served only small rural communities, and never achieved the importance that its promoters had hoped for. Fish traffic and ice for the ships were always important commodities on the line, as was the seasonal holidaymaker traffic for Padstow and several resorts served indirectly by the railway. Closure as part of the Beeching Axe took place on 3 October 1966 for the section from Halwill Junction to Wadebridge. After this date the section from Wadebridge to Padstow remained open to trains originating in Bodmin and approaching Wadebridge via the Bodmin and Wadebridge route until this finally closed 3 months later on 30 January 1967.
From Halwill the line describes a loop turning from north to south west, and rounding a shoulder of the hill behind Halwill village runs downhill at gradients of 1 in 74 and 1 in 82 to join the valley of the River Carey, following this down for nearly 10 miles (16 km) to the River Tamar at Launceston. Both L&SWR and GWR stations at Launceston were set in the bottom of the Tamar valley well below Launceston Castle and ran together side-by-side for over 2 miles (3.2 km) until the stations were reached. While the GWR line terminated here, the L&SWR line climbed, following the Kensey valley in a generally westerly direction through the sparsely populated farming country of the North Cornwall/Devon border to a summit near Otterham.
From Otterham the line descends into the upper reaches of the Camel valley, passing through Camelford Station over 2 miles west of Camelford town and then leaving the valley for a gentle climb to the coastal uplands.
At Delabole the line skirts a slate quarry, once claimed to be the deepest in the country, and then descends to the Allen valley, diving briefly through Trelill Tunnel under the village of Trelill, before returning to the Camel valley and running parallel to the Bodmin and Wadebridge line into Wadebridge station. The geographical junction of the two lines was a mile or so to the east of Wadebridge, but no railway connection was made there, and the two lines ran as single lines, with the appearance of a double track, to Wadebridge East signal box.
Once past Wadebridge the character changes as the line hugs the tidal River Camel until crossing Little Petherick Creek over a three-span iron bridge and rounding Dennis Hill, it reaches Padstow station which was located on a narrow strip of reclaimed land with the Atlantic Ocean visible in the distance. The station site is now given over to a car park.
The difficult single line route with severe gradients could never offer fast transits, and a typical journey from Halwill to Padstow occupied 90 to 100 minutes. Until the mid-1940s this was exacerbated by the weight restriction over Meldon Viaduct which prevented anything heavier than a 2-6-0 from working over the line.
The 1938 Bradshaw's Railway Guide shows five down and six up trains a day (Monday to Friday) on the line, plus a first up train from Launceston to Halwill and a last up train from Padstow to Launceston, and a last down train from Halwill to Launceston. All the trains called at all stations with the exception of the Atlantic Coast Express, the 11:00 from Waterloo, which ran non-stop Exeter St Davids to Halwill, then Launceston, Otterham, Camelford, Delabole, Port Isaac Road and Wadebridge, arriving in Padstow at 4:24 after a 260-mile (420 km) journey. The train conveyed a restaurant car throughout. The Saturday service was similar, although congestion earlier in the journey meant a slightly slower journey. There was no Sunday service.
While the GWR could easily serve major Devon and Cornwall resorts on its main line and branches, the rugged North Cornwall terrain prevented this. However Southern National omnibus connections gave journey options: Tintagel and Boscastle had good connections from Camelford, Newquay from Wadebridge, and Bedruthan and Trevone Bay from Padstow. Otterham is marked in the timetable as being the "Station for Wilsey Down and Davidstow (2½ miles) and Crackington Haven (5 miles)".
By 1964 the passenger service had declined to four trains a day plus a Halwill to Launceston short return journey.
Motive power in later years had been the T9 4-4-0 Greyhounds and the N class 2-6-0s but with Bulleid Pacifics, often on uneconomically short trains, putting in an appearance.
Following the valley of the River Carey for a further 3 3⁄4 miles (6.0 km) south from Ashwater, the line arrived at Tower Hill ( the station name being taken from a nearby farm. Locals had favoured a station at Boldford, 1½ miles nearer to Launceston, ), whereas St. Giles on the Heath, ½ mile to the west, was the only village in the area chosen, having a population of just 258 in 1901.
The original station layout was identical to Ashwater, but after the First World War the crossing facilities were removed. From 15 June 1920 the Down loop was taken out of use and the signal box closed. The Second World War was to bring a reversal of fortunes when in 1943 the loop was restored and extended by a further 150 yards to enable the servicing of U.S. ammunition dumps in the surrounding countryside. At the same time the signal box was moved from the Down platform to a position in front of the booking office on the Up platform.
The station was oil lit throughout its existence, services being withdrawn in February 1964. The signal boxed closed on the same date as Ashwater's, 7 November 1965, and thereafter the 12 1⁄2 miles (20 km) from Halwill to Launceston was run as a single line section. Today almost uniquely there is almost no trace of the station at Tower Hill, having been demolished after closure. A row of L&SWR cottages does survive close to the site and a single mileage marker.
Egloskerry station ( opened on 3 October 1892, and had the simplest layout with only 4 points. There was a )passing loop, and the station building and signal box were both located on the up platform, with a siding behind serving cattle pens. There was a level crossing at the down end of the station immediately at the platforms' end. The population of the surrounding area dropped between the building of the railway in the early 1890s and closure in the 1960s although it was always sparse and revenue poor. The goods facilities closed on 9 May 1961 and tracks were removed the following year. The passing loop and signal box remained to the end, although the block instruments had been moved to the station building in 1930. The line closed on 3 October 1966; the former station building is now a private dwelling and Bed & Breakfast, the platforms, and cast concrete S.R. name signs survive in the garden. On the 9th April 1998 the then present owners had a PMV - Parcels and Miscellaneous Van lifted into place on a short stretch of rail which had been reinstated between the platforms.
Tresmeer station ( was located not in the village of that name, but in a nearby hamlet called 'Splatt', ) and was the closest station to Crackington Haven; this kept passenger numbers up until a bus from Launceston started running in 1935. The station was due to open on 1 July 1892 but a landslip in an adjacent cutting delayed this until 28 July,. As at all stations on the line there was a passing loop here, with the station building on the down platform and signal box on the up platform. A single siding behind the down platform gave access to a goods shed and loading dock; goods facilities officially ceased in September 1964 although the line to the loading dock had been removed three months earlier. The siding and passing loop were officially taken out of use on 14 November 1964, with the station becoming unstaffed on 6 January 1965. The station, which closed on 3 October 1966. The Station is now a private dwelling. The original station nameboard and waiting room foundations are still extant.
Otterham station ( was situated in sparsely populated country at the junction of the )A39 and the B3262. At 850 ft (260 m) above sea level it occupied the most exposed section of the line, open to the fury of Atlantic gales in winter and subject to sea mists in summer. A footpath linked the station with the village, which was more than a mile away: by road the distance was 2 miles (3.2 km). (Otterham Station was also the name of a hamlet which grew up near the station and of a telephone exchange.)
The down platform was provided with a waiting shelter while the station building and signal box were on the up platform; all three were built of local stone. A single siding on the up side provided access to a loading dock, but there was no goods shed. A second siding parallel to the first was added later. In 1928 Otterham returned the lowest ticket sales on the line and although sales continued to decline, it was at a lesser rate than at other stations. Following the withdrawal of goods facilities on the line on 7 September 1964, the passing loop, sidings, and signal box were officially taken out of use on 7 February 1965, and the trackwork was removed that October. The station was unmanned from 6 December 1965 and closed on 3 October 1966. For many years after closure the station operated as a caravan site. More recently a new road of houses has occupied the trackbed at the eastern end of the old platforms.
Camelford station ( was situated more than 2 miles (3.2 km) from the town "at a road junction in wild country almost devoid of trees". ) The station had a passing loop with the station building and signal box on the up platform, the former unusually sporting a short canopy. Like the waiting shelter on the down platform, the buildings were substantially constructed out of local stone. No footbridge was provided anywhere on the North Cornwall line, and access to the down platform was by barrow crossings at either end of the platforms. Cattle pens were provided on the single siding, with the goods shed on a loop between the siding and headshunt.
The station opened on 14 August 1893, with station signs proclaiming "Camelford for Boscastle and Tintagel". Camelford was the busiest intermediate station between Launceston and Wadebridge, but distance from the town kept the passenger numbers low, 1928 returning an average of just over 20 tickets per day issued with 35 collected, and this number steadily declining with improved road transport. No alterations were made to the station layout throughout its life; the sidings were officially taken out of use on 30 November 1965 after the end of goods traffic the previous year, but the signal box and passing loop remained operational until closure on 3 October 1966.
The small settlement of Camelford Station grew up around the railway and the station site was for a time occupied by the British Cycling Museum (subsequently closed). More information about the area can be found in the article on Slaughterbridge.
Due to the proximity of the Delabole Slate quarry, Delabole station ( had the largest number of sidings of any intermediate station between Launceston and Wadebridge. The station opened on 18 October 1893 with a passing loop and two platforms. A single siding was provided behind the up platform, which was where the signal box was sited. On the down side the platform had the station building and a short loading dock with the goods shed on a further siding running behind the platform. A single road through engine shed with a turntable beyond sat between the goods shed and a line extending to the quarry. As it was situated in the village itself, the station was better used than many on the route, and the proximity of the quarry ensured that freight receipts remained healthy. Goods services were withdrawn on 7 September 1964 and the loading dock was removed while the siding on the down side had been removed some time previously; no other changes were made until the closure of the station, and of the line, on 3 October 1966. The station building is now in use as a private residence, and houses have been built on the site of the up platform. )
Port Isaac Road
The station ( some three miles (5 km) from ),Port Isaac itself, opened on 1 June 1895, and had a passing loop and a single siding with headshunt that served a goods shed and loading dock. All buildings were of local stone; Station building and signal box locking room on the up platform, the small waiting shelter on the down platform, and the goods shed. Ticket sales were low, with nearly 4500 annually in 1928, this dropping to under 2000 in 1936; freight dropped in a similar way over the same period. The station layout never changed; the station siding was taken out of use in December 1965. The station was unmanned from 6 December 1965 and closed on 3 October 1966. The station buildings are the best preserved example on the line.
St Kew Highway
The station here ( opened in 1 June 1895, and had a passing loop and a single siding with headshunt that served a goods shed and loading dock. Both lines through the station had platforms although the down platform had no buildings and was only accessible via a foot crossing at the down end of the station. The station building itself, like the goods shed, was substantially constructed out of local stone, as was the locking room of the signal box. The passing loop was extended in 1939, but the up loop, sidings and signal box were taken out of use on 21 November 1965 as goods services had ceased on 7 September the previous year. Traffic was never very heavy and by the late 1930s was averaging 5 passengers per day, less than a third of that ten years earlier. The station was unmanned from 6 December 1965 and closed on 3 October 1966, although the building functioned for some time as a guest house but is now a private residence. It is partially visible from the A39. )
Wadebridge Station today survives as "The John Betjeman Centre"
"The emptying train, wind in the ventilators,
Puffs out of Egloskerry to Tresmeer
Through minty meadows, under bearded trees,
And hills upon whose sides, the clinging farms hold bible Christians
Can it really be that this same carriage came from Waterloo?
On Wadebridge's platform what a breath of sea scented the Camel valley!
Soft air, soft Cornish Rains, and silence after steam...."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to North Cornwall Railway.|
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- Roche, T. W. E. (1977). The Withered Arm: Reminiscences of the Southern Lines West of Exeter (new ed.). Bracknell: Forge Books.
- St John Thomas, David (editor) (1966). Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain; Volume 1: the West Country (3rd ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles.
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