Getting to Gunnislake by train isn't the fastest trip in the world, but is certainly one of the most scenic. The train from Plymouth takes 45 minutes to wend its way up the 14 miles of single-track line of the Tamar Valley, but this is 45 minutes during which a camera is much more useful than a book!
The scenery is magnificently diverse (for more pics see the travelogues), commencing with the industrialization of the Naval Dockyard at Devonport before joining the River Tamar estuary at St Budeaux where the railway splits, with the mainline heading across Brunel's famous bridge. The branch line to Gunnislake follows pretty much the course of the river, crossing the Tavy viaduct and heading through the pastoral centre of the Bere peninsula before rejoining the river at Calstock.
At Calstock the train crosses the river over the 120 foot high, 850 foot long viaduct which, with its 12 arches, was considered one of the finest pieces of engineering in the country when it was built in the early 1900's. Unfortunately you can't see the viaduct from the train but the river and valley views are stunning.
The final section from Calstock to Gunnislake runs atop the valley with glimpses of the river below in the lush greenery of the Devon/Cornwall border.
Trains run roughly every two hours Monday to Saturday and slightly less frequently on Sundays. For fares and other information use the second link below. I travelled with my 10 pound Devon Day Ranger (discounted by a further 33% because I have the Devon and Cornwall resident's railcard) which was certainly well used that day, taking me from Barnstaple and back via Exeter and Plymouth.
Because the Tamar Valley Line is a single track there should only be one train on it at any given time, obviously to avoid collisions. To ensure that there is only one train on the line the driver is not allowed to proceed after St Budeaux unless he is in physical possession of the staff.
This is a piece of metal, with a shape unique to that specific line, which the driver obtains from a locked box at St Budeaux station. He then confirms with the train's conductor that he has it and they can use the line. When the train returns the driver replaces the staff in its locked box ready for the next driver to pick up.
A simple system but it works!