Halwill to Bude (Walk: 21 miles)
The next morning, I am back at Beeching Close standing at the entrance to the Halwill Junction Nature Reserve. The reserve covers the area where three lines diverged north of the station. Today, footpaths replicate the position of the old lines; one path turns sharp left following the line to Launceston and Padstow, another, the one I am following today, goes straight for a while before gently curving left following the line to Bude. After a short distance the course of the third line, to Torrington, branches off to the right.
Back in 1962, with a fresh locomotive, possibly a smaller 2-6-2T, now at its head and now attached to a couple more coaches that were just starting from Halwill, the Bude coach of the A.C.E. would have left at 3:35pm, soon after the Padstow part of the train had departed.
I walk through the reserve and then out into woodland beyond. Here I am following the actual track bed or walking directly alongside it. This is a working forest plantation and occasionally the path is crisscrossed by forestry access roads. In contrast to yesterday, there are plenty of people about, mostly dog owners but a few cyclists and walkers too.
Unfortunately, after a couple of miles the forest track terminates at a bunch of railway cottages. Once again I am forced to revert to the road that is fast becoming my nemesis: the A3079. I spend about a mile dodging more fast traffic before coming to another set of railway cottages. I then arrive, having walked 3 miles in total, at the site of the first station on the Bude branch.
Dunsland Cross (213 miles from Waterloo)
There is an estate agent’s sign at the corner of the lane that leads to the station building and a little further on there is a small planning application notice from the local council attached to a telegraph pole. The proposal is to use a vacant building as a dwelling which, the sign claims, will affect the setting of a listed building.
Looking from here, the building seems to be still empty. It also seems as though it has been heavily modified already, but it is still recognisable as a station. I would like a closer look, but there is no one around and I don’t want to trespass. Back in July 1962, the Bude portion of the A.C.E. would have arrived here at 3:43pm.
I endure another mile or more walking alongside A-roads before branching off on a delightfully narrow back road towards Hollacombe. Just before the village I pick up the track bed once more and I am now able to follow it for a couple of miles or more into Holsworthy.
This is part of the Ruby Way, another multi use trail that is named for “Ruby Country”, the area of rural hinterland of north-west Devon that I am passing through. The aim is to have the Ruby Way stretch from Halwill all the way to Bude one day, but there are serious issues with resistance from local residents and landowners standing in the way.
As I reach the outskirts of the market town of Holsworthy, the sort of problems facing the Ruby Way become apparent, the way ahead is blocked, and I am forced back on the A-road. Dead ahead is Cole’s Mill Viaduct, a nine-arch structure that took the railway across a small valley to the town on the other side. It is in private hands and, so far, it has been impossible to incorporate it into the trail.
As I walk around it, I can just about see the viaduct through the trees. It seems a much grander way of entering the town than scrambling at the side of this busy road. The bridge that carried the railway into Holsworthy over the main road is also still in place. Just off to the left is the old station site which I reach at around 12:30pm having covered 8 miles from Halwill.
Holsworthy (218 miles)
In 1962 the Bude portion of the train would have arrived here at 3:52pm. The station buildings have long gone and the site, after being derelict for several years, has now been redeveloped with an attractive Waitrose supermarket and a little housing estate where one of the roads is named Station Close. I am pleased to see they have saved some space for the Ruby Way eventually to run past here on its own way to Bude.
I pop into the centre of Holsworthy in search of lunch and enjoy a sandwich from the local Co-op whilst sitting on a bench in the main square. The town has just celebrated its annual St Peter’s Fair and is looking very attractive. On the way out I spot a shop selling second hand washing machines with an amazing selection displayed outside. I wonder if they just leave them there outside all the time.
The railway arrived in Holsworthy in 1879 but the extension to Bude wasn’t built until 1898. Changes in building methods in the intervening years meant that whilst the earlier-mentioned Coles Mill Viaduct was made using granite, Derriton Viaduct, which the line used to exit the town, was constructed using concrete blocks.
Unlike Coles Mill, Derriton is open for access, and I make my way over it, thankful that I don’t have to walk down to the base of the valley it crosses. The track bed walk continues the other side, but sadly it doesn’t last long, and I am soon back on a road heading towards Pyworthy. Nevertheless, the road is nice and quiet, and I look forward to stopping in Pyworthy for a pint at the pub.
Pyworthy turns out to be a nice little place but the pub has a notice about July opening hours on the door; they don’t include Tuesday afternoons. I continue via the little hamlet of Hopworthy, meeting the old line again at an over bridge. It is getting quite hot again as it approaches 3pm, so I am hoping that the pub in the next village, Bridgerule, will be open.
I arrive in Bridgerule and cross the River Tamar in the centre of the village. The Tamar is the traditional boundary between the counties, so I expect to have arrived in Cornwall on the other side. I am surprised to see a sign on the Bridge Inn, which is sadly closed, explaining that it is the only pub west of the Tamar that is still in Devon. Thirsty and a little confused, I decide to have a rest on a bench overlooking the river.
There is a woman playing with a dog and eventually she comes over to sit next to me. The explanation she gives me is that they didn’t want the village to be in two different counties, so they moved the border a bit. It all sounds reasonable, but she can’t quite explain why the pub is shut.
We chat for a bit; she tells me how she moved down to the village from London 20 years ago. It is a nice enough place but of course it is isolated with limited public transport options. I don’t mention that the village once had a station with a daily direct rail service to the capital. I bid her farewell and then walk more than a mile to intersect the railway again. I have now covered 13 miles from Halwill.
Whitstone & Bridgerule (223 miles)
It is getting on for 4pm by the time I reach the station itself. By coincidence, the A.C.E. would have arrived here back in July 1962 at almost the same time: 4:02pm. The station building, which is also west of the Tamar but still in Devon, is now a residence.
I now head west along Tackbear Road towards Budd’s Titson. Here, the boundary between Devon and Cornwall goes down the centre of the road. I stay on the righthand side, Devon, enjoying lovely views of wheat fields and beyond. The old railway here is on my right and just at the point it comes close to the road there is the boundary; I have finally entered Cornwall.
From Budd’s Titson I head north and cross the old track bed again near Trelay. It is being used as a farm track here and the usual jungle of trees and foliage blocking the line is unusually absent. For once, looking down from the bridge it is very easy to imagine the track back in place and a train steaming towards me.
I continue to shadow the line and then cross it again near Helscott, I walk up the A39 a short way before branching off onto the multi-use trail after Helebridge. Both the A- road and the trail are built on the old track bed here and I continue to walk on the course of the old line as it winds its way alongside the River Nest towards its terminus.
Just before I reach Bude there is a junction. A footpath diverges and heads over an old railway bridge. This was a branch to the canal basin and this structure is perhaps the only clue left that the railway was ever in Bude. The main path heads into the grounds of the local rugby club and a camping site. I skirt around the club to eventually find, 21 miles from Halwill, the site of Bude Station.
Bude (228 miles)
In 1962 the Bude portion of the A.C.E. would have arrived here at 4:12pm, the end of a journey of more than five hours from London. There is nothing at all left of the old station site. It has been completely flattened and turned into a housing estate, at least there is a better choice of road names here than at Halwill, Bulleid seems more appropriate than Beeching.
Almost imagining I have just alighted from the train; I now wander the short distance into town and quickly find the pub where I will stay. It is almost 6pm. I allow myself a celebratory pint to mark the end of my first branch line and reaching my first terminus, before heading out to explore the town.
I have been here once before, very briefly, on the way back from St. Ives more than 20 years ago. I found it unremarkable back then, so I am pleasantly surprised to find how nice it looks now. Perhaps it is all the effort I have put in to get here, but in the hour that I spend exploring Bude grows on me even more.
There is a fair number of tourists in town too, and I hear quite a lot of Northern accents as I walk around. I talk to some lads from Sunderland eating fish and chips in the central gardens and then go off to buy some for myself. As I sit eating my dinner on a bench, I am feeling pleased with myself. If I had been deposited by train and had to spend a week somewhere, Bude wouldn’t be a bad place to be.
Eventually, I settle on a bench at the end of the breakwater and admire the view as the sun begins to go down. It is quite spectacular. I christen it the “228 miles from Waterloo Sunset”. Back at the pub I am tempted by another pint, but mindful that I have a bus to catch tomorrow, I decide to get an early night.