1999 : The West Country Way

In 1999 the West Country Way, Sustrans Route 3, ran from Padstow to Bristol, a distance of 250 miles, it has since been extended and now starts at Lands End. Three of us were on the trip, my wife Christine and I and our 16 year old son Rowan. We wanted time to explore the towns and villages we’d pass through so we planned for modest daily distances and booked all our accommodation in advance.

We set off bright and early to cycle the eight miles to our local station, Bangor, arriving in time to note that the 09:03 to Birmingham had been cancelled. Consequently our train, the 09:22 Virgin service was severely overcrowded from Rhyl onwards, exacerbated by the short formation of 8 coaches, 3 of which were first class.

It transpired that the 09:03 cancellation was due to a lightning strike, which caused some disruption, luckily our onward connection wasn’t affected. There’s not a lot you can do to control the weather, but that didn’t stop delayed passengers besieging the Virgin office and moaning about public transport, as if roads were immune from weather-related problems.

We had to change again at Birmingham, after which we settled down to enjoy the scenery, highlights being the crossing of the Tamar via Brunel’s wonderful Saltash bridge and the spectacular coast around Dawlish. It was sad to see the dereliction at Newton Abbot, once an important railway junction with a large locomotive depot. Bang on time we arrived at Bodmin Parkway, just after 17:30. The signal box on the platform is now used as a buffet and the attractive GWR footbridge is in need of maintenance but otherwise there’s a nice Great Western ambience. Sustrans recommend taking the preserved Bodmin and Wenford Railway, which shares this station, to the Camel trail, but the last train leaves mid-afternoon so we aimed for the recommended route which avoided the main road, promptly getting lost! The Sustrans maps are excellent but the extra detail of OS maps is required when negotiating your way round a network of country lanes off the main route.

Eventually we reached Bodmin then along the Camel Trail which uses the single trackbed of the railway which once connected Padstow to the national network. We’d failed to find accommodation in Padstow and settled on Wadebridge, which meant we’d have to cycle to Padstow before we started.

Day 1 – Wadebridge-Padstow-Camelford (34 miles)
Day 2 – Camelford to Bude (22 miles)
Day 3 – Bude to Bideford (40 miles)
Day 4 – Bideford to Dulverton (43 miles)
Day 5 – Dulverton to Creech St Michael (43 miles)
Day 6 – Creech St Michael to Wells (35 miles)
Day 7 – Wells to Bristol (41 miles)