Spotlight on Bodmin Moor: Following the Liskeard Caradon Railway across the open moors.

Spotlight on Bodmin Moor: Following the Liskeard Caradon Railway across the open moors.

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Image showing the distinctive stone block sleepers lining the old moorland railway route. Stowe’s Hill and the Cheesewring are ahead and Sharptor is on the far right horizon.

The thought of running an abandoned rail line across the wild moors of Cornwall seems too good an opportunity to miss. This is why the remains of the Liskeard Caradon Railway are a must for any trail runner visiting the area. The railway was built to service the local metal mines and granite quarries in the 19th century during the height of the industrial revolution. The mines are now long gone and the wild moor has once again reclaimed the wilderness. However if you look closely you can still trace the scar of the old railway across the moor. Stone sleepers once holding the rails in place now line the route like headstones.

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Stone railway sleepers like grave stones line the old 19th century moorland railway route.

 

However if you look closely you can still trace the scar of the old railway across the moor. Stone sleepers once holding the rails in place now line the route like headstones.

google earth image of a branch in the railway across the open moor

Google earth image showing the scars of the old railway across the open moorland (several branches of the old line can be seen spurring from the main line here at Kilmar Tor).

The route starts at Minions this is also the location of the Minions Heritage Centre which is situated inside the restored Houseman’s engine house of South Phoenix Mine. There are also prehistoric monuments nearby: ‘The Hurlers (stone circles) and ‘The Pipers’ (standing stones). There is ample parking, with 2 free car parks one as you enter the village of Minions and one as you leave. The village also has two tearooms and a pub should you need to warm up after your run.

The north car par at Minions. Complete with wild moorland ponies.

The north car par at Minions. Complete with wild moorland ponies.

To join the railway head northeast from the car park north of Minions (to the east of the Heritage Centre). From here the railway passes along the eastern side of Stowe’s Hill and the Cheesewring. The track then goes through Wardbrook Farm and round to Kilmar Tor. An access disagreement at Wardbrook Farm may see you diverted off the railway and onto a ‘permissive path’ to Sharptor.

No entry signs at Wardbrook farm.

No entry signs at Wardbrook farm.

Signpost to the 'permissive path' to Sharptor. I don't know which activities are permitted but I didn't observe anything that would raise an eyebrow.

Signpost to the ‘permissive path’ to Sharptor. I don’t know which activities are permitted but I didn’t observe anything that would raise an eyebrow.

Although this type of access dispute is annoying, the diversion to Sharptor does send you across some spectacular moorland. Leaving the rail line and moving onto the open moor does however have its navigational challenges. For safety this trail should not be attempted without a map (OS Explorer 109 Bodmin Moor), compass, whistle and mobile phone as an absolute minimum.

Visibility at Sharptor.

Visibility at Sharptor.

On the day I ran the trail there was a Met Office yellow weather warning for heavy rain. The moor was covered in dense mist and visibility was down to 15 metres at times.

A stream runs across the open moor fed by heavy rain. This steam wasn't on the OS map (showing the importance of checking the weather forecast before you run).

A stream runs across the open moor fed by heavy rain. This stream wasn’t on the OS map (showing the importance of checking the weather forecast before you run). Sharptor is in the distance.

I have run the trail in good weather (so know it well) and had a map and compass, yet I still had a moment when I feared I had lost myself on the moor. Take care, check the weather forecast before you run and take the relevant precautions. Following this disclaimer with the revelation that the weather warning was the reason I chose to run that day would not be a very responsible thing to do, so I won’t. I will say however that wild places and wild weather complement each other beautifully in my mind.

Kilmar Tor

Kilmar Tor

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Same view of Kilmar Tor as above taken 2 and a half minutes apart, showing how quickly the weather can change on the moor.

After an hour and a half on the moor and with visibility ranging from 15m – 25m maximum my world was a very claustrophobic one, then literally in the space of 2 and a half minutes the mist lifted and I was bathed in sunlight, with visibility extending to 20 miles. On the moors you must prepare for all weathers, my pack contained, sun cream, sunglasses, windproof jacket, rainproof jacket, foil blanket and buff.

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With the mist cleared the views were greatly extended and I took many more photos on my way back than the run out.

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View north of Kilmar Tor. Plenty of moor still left to explore.

Caradon Hill in the sun.

Caradon Hill in the sun.

Next time I also plan to explore a route south of Minions around Caradon Hill. I have been researching the area and it contains well preserved mining buildings as well as another section of the 19th century railway.

One of the few animals on the moor really enjoying the wet weather!

One of the few animals on the moor I saw who was really enjoying the wet weather!

If you fancy racing this stunning area of Cornwall then the East Cornwall Harriers host a fabulous 8 mile trail run across the moors starting at Minions called ‘The 5 Tors’.  Check out their website for more details.

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