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The far southwest of England is just five hours by fast train from London. And we think it’s at its best off-season. The stylish coastal resorts of St. Ives and Padstow, both in North Cornwall and good for art and seafood respectively, still pull a winter crowd.
Through Wessex to the Duchy of Cornwall
Looe, on the south coast of Cornwall, is altogether quieter at this time of year. And so last week, with a chilly north wind and dull November days, we made tracks for Looe.
The train journey with First Great Western from London’s Paddington station is magnificent, cutting as it does through a swathe of rural England. We hugged the banks of old canals, those freight arteries of yesteryear made redundant in the nineteenth century by the advent of the railroad.
We skirted ancient royal forests at Savernake, watched the surf break on Devon beaches, skimmed the edge of Dartmoor and before long were cruising over Brunel’s magnificent Tamar Bridge into Cornwall. All in the comfort of a train where there was a good choice of drinks and snacks prepared to order. Smoked salmon omelette and club sandwiches go down a treat as the Wessex landscape slips by beyond the window.
At Liskeard, we swapped our grand express for the most diminutive of trains, to trundle for the last dozen miles down a branch line to Looe. This is an extraordinary rural railway, one that cuts down steeply through the hills to reach the coast. It stops along the way at some of Britain’s least used railway stations: Coombe Junction Halt and St. Keyne Wishing Well Halt (what a great name for a train station that is!), each attract no more than a few dozen passengers each year.
The perfect setting
Looe itself is the perfect little port, a jumble of houses on either side of a tidal inlet. There are wonderful cliff-top walks, east and west from Looe along the Cornish coast. Visitors of a less energetic disposition can ride the 481 bus west along the coast to the fishing villages of Polperro and Polruan (continuing from the latter by ferry to Fowey).
We had not booked accommodation in advance, but simply looked for rooms upon arrival in Looe. And rooms there are aplenty at this time of year, with singles from about twenty pounds.
There are a dozen decent cafés in Looe, and a clutch of handsome fish restaurants, many of the latter open only Wednesday thru Saturday off-season. Two of the most celebrated are the Old Sail Loft and Trawlers on the Quay, both within a stone’s throw of each other on the east side of the town.
Whetting your appetite
For starters, take your pick from the local Cornish chowder, Fowey mussels or Looe scallops. For mains, John Dory, Dover sole, sea bass, red mullet and turbot are all locally landed staples. So there’s enough choice there to push Looe into pole position for fish lovers looking for a short winter break on the Cornish coast.
Although prone to winter storms, the southerly aspect of the coast makes for a relatively mild climate — evidenced last week by the last of the summer fuchsia still flowering in the hedgerows of the country lanes just inland from Looe.