Plymouth’s railway station is 10 minutes’ walk from the city’s main shopping centre
After a couple of minutes trudging uphill to North Cross roundabout it’s an easy downhill stroll into town along Armada Way which is all pedestrianised and rather pleasantly landscaped. The inevitable line of black cabs awaits arrivals outside the station and buses both into and out of town stop within yards of the main entrance.
The London to Plymouth train takes between three and four hours, with hourly First Great Western services between Plymouth and Paddington. If cheap train tickets between Plymouth and London are your top priority, make sure you book well in advance as that can make a huge difference to the price.
When you reserve a seat with your advance ticket, try to get a seat on the right on the London bound journey and on the left when you’re travelling westbound – because you don’t want to miss one of the most breath taking sights that you’re ever likely to see on an English train journey. The journey of more than an hour between Plymouth and Exeter frustrates many commuters but the stretch between Teignmouth and Dawlish Warren is truly spectacular. The train runs right along the sea wall and via tunnels cut through the red sandstone cliffs – the views are simply jaw dropping, no matter how many times you travel along this route.
At times of exceptionally high tides and stormy weather, massive waves crash right over the trains and sometimes cause services to be cancelled. As you approach Exeter from the west, the magnificent sea view gives way to a gentler but nonetheless picturesque scene of the Exe estuary, peppered with boats and wading birds and fringed with riverside homes to die for.
From Plymouth there are direct rail services to Scotland, the north of England, the Midlands and Wales. The train from Bristol to Plymouth takes from two to three hours and the journey to Penzance, in the far west of Cornwall is around two hours. Plymouth to Exeter is just over an hour by train – though the cities are only 40 miles apart, sections of the track are unsuitable for high speed rail travel.
Plymouth train station is a good starting point for some wonderful days out by rail. If you’re visiting the West Country in high season you’ll avoid the tourist traffic, travelling through some gorgeous areas of the Devon and Cornwall countryside, some of which are inaccessible by road.
Here are a few ideas for exploring the best of Plymouth’s surrounding countryside by train:
The Looe Valley line
Take the train from Plymouth to the Cornish market town of Liskeard where you board another train to the picture postcard fishing port of Looe via the achingly pretty Looe Valley line. This nine-mile long branch line follows the East Looe River through a densely wooded valley which opens out as the train nears the sea – it’s one of the great scenic rail journeys of Devon and Cornwall.
Looe is a maze of narrow, winding streets packed with cafes, pubs, restaurants, craft and gifts shops. From here you can walk along a spectacular stretch of the South West coast path to the neighbouring village of Polperro – arguably one of the prettiest working fishing villages in the whole of Cornwall.
A Looe Valley explorer ticket allows you to hop on and off as many trains and buses as you like along the Looe Valley line and the Western Greyhound bus route connecting Liskeard, Looe and Polperro. If your thirst for sightseeing is quenched all the better for the occasional pint, then follow the Rail Ale Trail which allows you to take your pick of no less than 10 Westcountry pubs along the Looe Valley line (a good reason to let the train take the strain!).
Tamar Valley line
This 15-mile train journey between Plymouth and Gunnislake is a real treat, taking you alongside the River Tamar through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and across the spectacular Calstock viaduct.
From Calstock station it’s a 1.25 mile walk to the Cotehele estate with its fabulous Tudor mansion surrounded by glorious gardens. The estate is maintained by the National Trust and boasts its own working water mill (you can even buy a bag of Cotehele flour here to make your own bread). In the grounds you'll find a medieval dovecote, Victorian summer house and an 18th century tower folly which you can climb for impressive views of the Cornish countryside.
Walks from the railway – Eden Project
Take the scenic rail journey from Plymouth to Par then switch to the Newquay branch line (also known as the Atlantic Coast line). Get off at Luxulyan, the first station on this branch line, then choose one of two walking trails through beautiful countryside to the Eden Project – a unique global garden where you’ll find the world’s biggest greenhouse.
You can pick up a 'Walks from the Railway' leaflet, with details of these walking trails, from Plymouth railway station or download directions from the Eden Project's web site. If you don’t fancy walking the last part, take the train to St Austell where there’s a direct bus link between the station and the Eden Project.
The surfing capital of Europe is a one hour 50 minute train journey from Plymouth, with a change at Par onto the Atlantic Coast line. Practically deserted in the winter months, the town becomes a crazy party playground in the summer thanks to its combination of glorious beaches, sensational surfing and notorious nighlife.
Dartmoor Sunday Rover
This is a great way to explore the Tamar Valley and Dartmoor, using a very reasonably priced combined ticket which allows you to roam at will by train and bus. The ticket also gives you discounted entry to various visitor attractions. You can buy your ticket at Plymouth station or on the train.
For details of walks from stations along some of the most picturesque branch rail lines in Devon and Cornwall visit Trails from the Track