The North Cornwall Railway was a railway line running from Halwill in Devon to Padstow in Cornwall via Launceston, Camelford and Wadebridge, a distance of 49 miles 67 chains. Opened in the last decade of the nineteenth century, it was part of a drive by the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) to develop holiday traffic to Cornwall. The L&SWR had opened a line connecting Exeter with Holsworthy in 1879 , and by encouraging the North Cornwall Railway it planned to create railway access to previously inaccessible parts of the northern coastal area.
"There are few more fascinating lines than the one which leads to North Cornwall from Okehampton" says TWE Roche in his popular tribute to the network of railway lines operated by the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) in North and West Devon and North Cornwall.
The North Cornwall Railway obtained an Act of Parliament for construction of its line on 18 August 1882, but money was very tight and construction was slow, so it was not until 21 July 1886 that the first section of 14 miles 57 chains, from Halwill to Launceston was opened. At Launceston the North Cornwall Railway station was built exactly adjacent to, but completely separate from, the GWR station; this originally having being built by the Launceston and South Devon Railway and opened in 1865. This situation changed in 1943 when wartime circumstances caused a connection to be laid allowing trains from the GWR line to run into the North Cornwall station in the down direction. It was intended to be temporary for wartime goods movement, but when the GWR station was closed on 30 June 1952 GWR trains were diverted over it and used the North Cornwall station as a terminus until closure of the GWR route ten years later.
The remainder of the North Cornwall Railway was opened gradually in stages; Launceston to Tresmeer (7 miles 75 chains) on 28 July 1892, Tresmeer to Camelford (9 miles 26 chains) on 14 August 1893, Camelford to Delabole (2 miles 29 chains) on 18 October 1893, Delabole to Wadebridge (10 miles 68 chains) on 1 June 1895, and finally Wadebridge to Padstow (5 miles 52 chains) on 27 March 1899. At Wadebridge, the line joined with the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway, which had opened in 1834, just outside the town and ran into the rebuilt station there, finally being extended over the main road to Padstow four years later. This railway connection quickly enabled Padstow to gain further importance in the fishing trade and also to become a seaside resort of some significance.
However apart from Launceston and Wadebridge the very long single-track line served only small rural communities, and never achieved the importance that its promoters had hoped for. Fish traffic and ice for the ships were always important commodities on the line, as was the seasonal holidaymaker traffic for Padstow and several resorts served indirectly by the railway. Closure as part of the Beeching Axe took place on 3 October 1966 for the section from Halwill Junction to Wadebridge. After this date the section from Wadebridge to Padstow remained open to trains originating in Bodmin and approaching Wadebridge via the Bodmin and Wadebridge route until this finally closed 3 months later on 30 January 1967.
From Halwill the line describes a loop turning from North to South West, and rounding a shoulder of the hill behind Halwill village joins the valley of the River Carey, following this down for nearly 10 miles to the River Tamar at Launceston. Both LSWR and GWR stations at Launceston were set in the bottom of the Tamar valley well below Launceston Castle, and while the GWR line terminated here, the LSWR line climbed, following the Kensey valley in a generally westerly direction through the sparsely populated farming country of the North Cornwall/Devon border to a summit near Otterham.
From Otterham the line descends into the upper reaches of the Camel valley, passing through Camelford Station over 2 miles west of Camelford town and then leaving the valley for a gentle climb to the coastal uplands. At Delabole the line skirts a slate quarry, once claimed to be the deepest in the country, and then descends to the Allen valley, diving briefly through a tunnel under the village of Trelill, before returning to the Camel valley and running parallel to the Bodmin and Wadebridge line into Wadebridge station. The geographical junction of the two lines was a mile or so to the east of Wadebridge, but no railway connection was made there, and the two lines ran as single lines, with the appearance of a double track, to Wadebridge East signal box.
Once past Wadebridge, the character changes as the line hugs the tidal River Camel until crossing Little Petherick Creek over a three span iron bridge and rounding Dennis Hill, it reaches Padstow station which was located on a narrow strip of reclaimed land with the Atlantic Ocean visible in the distance. The station site is now given over to a car park.
The 1938 Bradshaws Railway Guide shows five down and six up trains a day (Monday to Friday) on the line, plus a first up train from Launceston to Halwill and a last up train from Padstow to Launceston, and a last down train from Halwill to Launceston. All the trains called at all stations with the exception of the Atlantic Coast Express, the 11:00 from Waterloo, which ran non-stop Exeter St Davids to Halwill, then Launceston, Otterham, Camelford, Delabole, Port Isaac Road and Wadebridge, arriving in Padstow at 4:24 after a 260 mile journey. The train conveyed a restaurant car throughout. The Saturday service was similar, although congestion earlier in the journey meant a slightly slowerr journey. There was no Sunday service.
While the GWR could easily serve major Devon and Cornwall resorts on its main line and branches, the rugged North Cornwall terrain prevented this. However Southern National omnibus connections gave journey options: Tintagel and Boscastle had good connections from Camelford, Newquay from Wadebridge, and Bedruthan and Trevone Bay from Padstow. Otterham is marked in the timetable as being the "Station for Wilsey Down and Davidstow (2½ miles) and Crackington Haven (5 miles)".
By 1964 the passenger service had declined to four trains a day plus a Halwill to Launceston short return journey.
Motive power in latter years had been the T9 4-4-0 Greyhounds and the N class 2-6-0's but with Bulleid pacifics -- often on uneconomically short trains -- putting in an appearance.
See separate article on Halwill Junction
The layout was typical of all the stations on the North Cornwall line, with a substantial stationmaster's house, booking office and waiting room on the upside with both ladies' and gentlemen's toilets. An eleven-lever signal box and small open-fronted waiting shelter stood on the Down platform. The platforms were only long enough for seven-passenger carriages, but from 18 October 1936 the Up loop was extended to accommodate up to twelve coaches. The ceremonial opening of this section of the line was Tuesday, 20 July 1886, with public services commencing on the following day.
The original station layout was identical to Ashwater, but after the First World War the crossing facilities were removed. From 15 June1920 the Down loop was taken out of use and the signal box closed. The Second World War was to bring a reversal of fortunes when in 1943 the loop was restored and extended by a further 150 yards to enable the servicing of U.S. ammunition dumps in the surrounding countryside. At the same time the signal box was moved from the Down platform to a position in front of the booking office on the Up platform.
The station was oil lit throughout its existence, services being withdrawn in February 1964. The signal boxed closed on the same date as Ashwater's, 7 November1965, and thereafter the 12½ miles from Halwill to Launceston was run as a single line section.
The down platform was provided with a waiting shelter while the station building and signal box were on the up platform; all three were built of local stone. A single siding on the up side provided access to a loading dock, but there was no goods shed. A second siding parallel to the first was added later. In 1928 Otterham returned the lowest ticket sales on the line and although sales continued to decline, it was at a lesser rate than at other stations. Following the withdrawal of goods facilities on the line on 7 September1964, the passing loop, sidings, and signal box were officially taken out of use on 7 February1965, and the trackwork was removed that October. The station was unmanned from 6 December1965 and closed on 3 October1966.