Travel inspiration: Back to Cornwall and the English Riviera

Whispering palm trees, booming Atlantic surf, reliable sunshine … no wonder Brian Jackman can’t wait to return to the Cornwall he adores

Growing up in suburban Surrey after the war, I knew there was a wilder world out there beyond the surrounding sea of rooftops. A world where palm trees whispered in the breeze and basking sharks cruised beneath the cliffs in waters bluer than the Caribbean.

This I had discovered because my father worked for the Southern Railway. Every year, he was given privilege tickets that allowed him to take us on holiday anywhere in Britain at no expense. So, while my childhood friends spent their summers at easy-to-reach South Coast resorts such as Bognor and Littlehampton — this was long before the advent of package tours and cheap flights, when the Mediterranean was still a rich man’s playground — we travelled by steam train to Britain’s own Cote d’Azur: Cornwall.

The highlight of my year was the day we set off for our family hols from London’s Paddington station on the flagship service of GWR (God’s Wonderful Railway, to its aficionados), the six-hour Cornish Riviera Express to Penzance. In the golden age of steam its elegant chocolate-and-cream carriages were hauled by King Class and Castle Class locomotives, painted a glossy Brunswick Green and gleaming with polished brass. Since my father was a railwayman, he would speak to the driver and I would be allowed on the footplate for a few precious moments as the fireman shovelled coal into the engine’s blazing maw.

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