Explore the life and work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel FRS by taking the railway lines he designed in the 19th century. Travel through stunning English countryside, and across magnificent examples of architecure such as the Royal Albert Bridge.
7 Day Brunel Heritage Trail – Somerset, Devon & Cornwall
Day 1: London to Taunton with West Somerset Heritage Railway Side-trip
Start in the majesty of London Paddington (also a great place to do some shopping before you settle in for the journey) and then travel across the South of England on the Great Western Railway, passing through Reading to stop in Taunton. Take in the picturesque town with its wealth of historic buildings, and maybe get a bite to eat in one of its fantastic cafes or restaurants. From there it is a short bus service to Bishops Lydeard - a beautiful little village with a station that will give you access to Britain's longst heritage line; The West Somerset Railway. Travel 20 miles of stunning country, and finish at the quaint village of Dunster.
For more information about the route visit www.westsomersetrailway.vticket.co.uk
Day 2: Taunton to Exeter
Make your way back to Taunton to step onto the train to the spectactular Exeter St David's station. On the way, pass through the Whiteball Tunnel, engineered by Brunel for passenger comfort as they passed through the hill or 'ball' on their rail journey. Keep your eyes peeled for the Wellington Monument on your trip as well; a tribute to the Duke of Wellington and his victory at the Battle of Waterloo, it is a magnificent monument on the edge of the Blackdown Hills.
After taking a look around Exeter St David's station, take a look around the city. With its 11th century Cathedral, and a collection of Roman settlements, there's a lot to see and do in Exeter.
Day 3: Exeter to The English Riviera
It's back onto the Great Western Railway to travel to the English Riviera. This route goes around Dawlish's famous seawall, with stunning views over the waves as you skirt the coast. You'll also have the chance to spot Powderham Castle -a fortified manor with a vast deer park- and Starcross, the last remaining pumping station of the 'Atmospheric Railway'. Look over this final memory of Brunel's innovative and brave failure, alongside fine Georgian and Victorian buildings. Step out onto the station at Newton Abbot and Paignton. From there it's a ride on the Steam Railway & River Boat Co to Kingswear, and a trip on River Dart to Agatha Christie's Greenway mansion.
Famous for Christie's works, there are a myriad of attractions related to her across the Riviera. Enjoy yourself, and then stay overnight in Dartmouth, Kingswear or Torbay.
Day 4: The English Riviera to Dartmoor
Make your way to Totnes, and from there you can take the South Devon Railway train to Buckfastleigh. Take time to visit the railway’s large engineering works in this industrial town. From Buckfastleigh you can take the line’s own Red London Routemaster double decker bus to Buckfast Abbey, which is part of an active Benedictine monastery. By road take make your way to Dartmoor, and relax for a while with a stayover at Bovey Castle; a former GWR luxury hotel at Moretonhampstead. Experience the luxury that has been enjoyed along the GRW line for years, and settle in for a refreshing night's sleep.
Day 5: Dartmoor to Plymouth
From Newton Abbot you can catch the direct train for 40 minutes to Plymouth. Plymouth is an amazing city for maritime history, with the Mayflower steps gracing its coast. The Plymouth Sound Boat Trip offers a tour of the coast, or a fantastic fishing trip. Millbay, a natural inlet by the Hoe, sees a lot of ferry traffic and is a great place to spot interesting vessels. The Barbican theatre presents a diverse range of entertainment for a cultural evening, or you could enjoy shopping and spend the night at in the city, marveling at illuminated Saltash’s Royal Albert bridge, built by Brunel in 1859.
Day 6: Plymouth to Truro via Bodmin
Take the Great Western Railway over Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge; unique in design, it's a feat of engineering and an incredibly graceful example of architecture. Cross over the River Tamar to Bodmin Parkway in Cornwall, and begin a round trip on Bodmin & Wenford Railway.
Explore nearby Lanhydrock House, and National Trust property with late Victorian architecture and a wooded estate. It's the perfect spot for a picnic, or you can look around the fully furnished rooms and step back in time for a day. Once you'er done exploring, take the train to Truro for overnight stay and experience its intriguing and eclectic attractions and galleries, bars and shops. It's a fantastic place to take in that well-known Cornish charm.
Day 7: Cornwall extension to London
There are many options to extend the Heritage Trail around Cornwall, but if time permits, one of the most stunning is the St Ives Bay Line Railway from St Erth. Spanning along the spectacular coast of golden sands via Hayle Towans and Carbis Bay to St Ives, it's a glorious exploration of the English coast.
Continue your trip around Cornwall to Penzance to see St. Michael’s Mount en route, or head back by rail to London. There's a wealth of amazing things to see in the South, and all linked by a wonderful, hostoric rail service. Wander around, and see where your feet (or the tracks!) take you.