Trains to Looe

Liskeard railway station, Cornwall:  platform 3

Liskeard railway station, Cornwall: platform 3

The train-ride from Liskeard (rhymes with “hard” not “heard”) to Looe is one of the most bizarre as well as attractive journeys on the British rail system.

Trains to Looe start from a platform at right angles to the Cornish main line, and the train sets off northwards, which is disconcerting because Looe is due south.

In the course of two miles the route drops 205 feet by turning 180°, diving under the main line at the 150-foot Liskeard Viaduct, then turning another 180° to face north once more at Coombe Junction Halt, the second least-used station in Britain.  This spectacular loop has a maximum gradient of 1 in 40 and a minimum-radius curve of eight chains (160 metres).

At Coombe Junction the train reverses and trundles down the East Looe valley, a particularly picturesque route past remote little stations, Causeland, Sandplace and St Keyne Wishing Well Halt [], until the river opens out into a wide estuary that divides the towns of East and West Looe.

It’s an idyllic piece of railway with a complex history.

The Liskeard & Looe Canal was opened in 1827-8 to develop a traffic carrying copper and tin ore down the valley, and lime and sea-sand for agriculture upstream.  In 1844 the canal linked end-on with the Liskeard & Caradon Railway, a mineral line serving the mines and granite quarries around Caradon Hill.

There was so much traffic that the canal was replaced in 1860 by the railway down the valley, which handled freight only and remained isolated from the Cornwall Railway main line above.

Passenger services began in 1879, running to the now-closed Moorswater station, a long walk and a stiff climb to the town of Liskeard.

The great loop up to Liskeard was installed in 1901, facilitating a boom in passenger traffic and enabling the development of Looe as a resort.

Somehow this eccentric train service has survived the decline in rail travel, probably because bus services to and from Looe are patchy and it’s not an easy place to reach by car:

It’s a delightful part of the Cornish coast, though, and there’s a particular satisfaction in leaving a main-line express at Liskeard, hiking over to Platform 3 and riding down the valley to the sea.

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