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The Pirates of Penzance.

UK rail trip – 2022

Day 8 – 10th April, 2022

Today, I actually had a firm destination in mind. I decided I would catch the train out to the Cornish city of Penzance. Before I made my way to Birmingham New Street, I went and looked for something to eat. Maccas to the rescue, as usual. On the way back to the station, I passed the statue of a bull.

A statue of a bull.

In the time of my last visit to Birmingham, New Street station had undergone a major rebuild. The exterior and the concourse had been transformed. Down on the platforms, however, not much had changed. It’s a horrible station to change trains at.

The transformed exterior of Birmingham New Street.

My first train of the day would take me to Exeter St. Davids station in Devon. To my delight, it was an Inter City 125 High Speed Train (HST). Most of them had been withdrawn, but there are still a few around. They may be getting on a bit in years, but they are very comfortable to ride in. No photograph at New Street, though. Too dark and a crowded platform.

Birmingham New Street (10:30)
Cross Country
2:40 (36:31)
Exeter St. Davids (13:10)
267.6 km (3400.1 km)

It was a two and a half hour trip to Exeter. It was the first time I’d taken what’s known as the Cross Country Route. This includes the Lickey Incline – the steepest section of mainline track on the British railway, with a gradient of 1 in 37. Back in the days of steam, banker locomotives were required for any train going up the incline. In today’s modern railway, they’re only required on freight trains – passenger trains climb the incline with ease.

After Bristol, the train made an unscheduled diversion via Western-super-Mare. This town was a popular resort town in the early 20th century, with people travelling from all over the country by train. With the age of the low cost airline, resort towns such as this aren’t as popular.

Upon arrival at Exeter St. Davids, I changed platforms for the next train to Dawlish. Operated by a class 150/2, the trip would be a short one.

Exeter St. Davids (13:30)
Great Western Railway
0:20 (36:51)
Dawlish (13:50)
19.6 km (3419.7 km)

The line to Dawlish is one of the more scenic lines I’ve travelled, with parts of it hugging the western shorline of the River Exe. Not long after, it was the ocean. The sea wall runs for several kilometres, with parts of it undergoing a rebuild following major storm damage a few years ago. I got off the train at the town of Dawlish.

After leaving the station, I first picked up some lunch at one of the local fish and chip shops. I chose not to eat yet. I would do that on or near the sea wall. It was a bit of an uphill trek. Halfway along, I realised I’d taken the incorrect route. However, it would still lead to the same place – would only take a little longer and involve more uphill.

The railway line alongside the rebuilt sea wall.
Looking back towards Dawlish station.
One of Great Western Railway’s class 800 hybrids operating on diesel power.
A couple of class 150/2’s.

It was time to make my way back to Exeter St. Davids to catch the train on to Penzance. If I left it too late, I would not make a connecting service later this evening.

Dawlish (15:11)
Great Western Railway
0:37 (37:28)
Exeter St. Davids (15:48)
19.6 km (3439.3 km)

On approach back to Exeter St. Davids, the train was held up by about 15 minutes for some reason. No doubt it was due to waiting for the allocated platform due to another late running service. Thankfully, I made sure I’d have plenty of time to change trains.

In the end, only 24 minutes separated me between trains. Enough time to grab a snack at the station, but certainly not enough time to leave it.

Exeter St. Davids (16:12)
Great Western Railway
2:54 (40:22)
Penzance (19:06)
211 km (3650.3 km)

The train to Penzance took me back through Dawlish. It was nice to run by the seaside again. I’ve always liked the sea. But soon after, the route would turn inland, passing through all sorts of smaller towns. One point of interest that really caught my eye was the crossing of the River Tamar over the Royal Albert Bridge. This bridge was designed by the renowned genius architect and engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel – one of the best engineers of all time. I will definitely have to return here. Maybe next week! The train took nearly three hours to reach Penzance.

My arrival at Penzance would not be the end of my journey for the day. I’d purposely caught the train out here only to catch the Night Riviera sleeper train back to London. Why? Because I can! However, I would not be travelling in a sleeper tonight – way out of my budget. Like the Caledonian Sleeper a few days ago, I would be in a seat. I had a couple of hours until my train left, but I’d resolved to get back to the station at least half an hour before departure – this is when the train becomes available for boarding. I wanted to make sure I got the best seat.

I walked down to the sea wall and walked along it a bit. It was very, very windy and quite cold. I didn’t walk all that far and the conditions weren’t the best for taking photographs. No pirates today, it seemed! I wouldn’t blame them – too cold and very windy!

St. Michael’s Mount.
Penzance coast.

After about half an hour, I decided that was enough. It was time to get something to each. I walked up to the town centre and started looking for a pub. Not much open that was selling food, to be honest. Either that, or too many people inside. Instead, I found a takeaway and ordered a hamburger. I walked back to the station to eat it.

Not long after, it was time to board. I found the coach I was assigned to. I needn’t have worried about getting back to the station in plenty of time – not many people were in my assigned coach. In fact, there were only a couple of other people. Unlike the Caledonian Sleeper, which uses brand new Mk. 5 coaching stock, the Night Riviera uses refuirbished Mk. 3 coaching stock. But that’s ok. I find Mk. 3 stock to be very comfortable to ride in. After grabbing a seat, I went back to the platform and up to the front of the train, to see what locomotive would be providing the power. It was a class 57/6. The class 57 is a rebuild of the class 47, with new EMD prime movers and generators. This engine will be taking the train all the way to London Paddington.

Class 57/6, number 57 605 ‘Totnes Castle

It was almost time for departure, so I went back to my coach – I didn’t want to be left behind!

Penzance (21:15)
Night Riviera
7:43 (48:05)
London Euston (04:58)
511 km (4171.3 km)

It was going to be a fairly long night. I found, after taking the Caledonian Sleeper, that I don’t sleep on trains as well as I used to. Still, nothing beats having to pay extra while on a BritRail Pass! I settled in for the night.

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