Many different trains use the same tracks, here in Cornwall at least. From London to Truro we rode a high speed train run by First Great Western. Returning from St. Austell we rode an older two-car electric train run by Wessex Trains. Then there is a Virgin Train company. From the literature, it seems like all these privatized lines will be merging sometime soon. In the meanwhile they're repairing the tracks from time to time, causing delays, which are certainly better than the derailments which seem so common in the U. S.
Today we rode from Truro to Redruth and back, a distance of about 12 miles. The round-trip fare for the two of us came to three pounds seventy, or about $6.30. The scenery was still beautiful green farmland and hedgerows, hills and rivers. Apparently there are no tin mines anymore, and no Cornish forests, for the trees were cut down to shore up mine shafts and to melt the tin ore. The twenty-minute delay going out matched our long-term travel Redruth market street expectations: one leg in four will have some kind of a hitch. We were in no hurry, worked on the Daily Telegraph puzzle book, and watched the people.
The Cornish Studies Library in Redruth is about a year and a half old, quite uncrowded, with a plentiful supply of computers, motorized microfilm readers, and study tables. The reason it's so well-equipped is that it's a public institution and receives government funding. On the other hand, it doesn't have much by way of Cornish antiquities. In contrast, the Courtney Library of the Royal Institute in Truro has lots of precious old books, maps, documents, and manuscripts, but abysmal work areas, antiquated and broken equipment, and struggles along with lots of volunteers and perhaps a few underpaid employees. To make matters worse, the stacks are closed and the card catalog woeful! We've inquired why the two don't get together; but such an outcome seems Completely Out Of The Question in England. In the U.S. the private Courtney library would get a government grant to enable it to manage its holdings and make them more readily available to the public. Oh, well!
The library in Redruth represents the future, with the information fast getting loaded into computer storage and nicely indexed with search programs. Perhaps some of the readers slaving away in the chaotic old Truro library are laboriously hand-copying old information (photocopying is prohibited) to incorporate into the databases in Redruth. We can hope.
We had our lunch in a tiny cafe with friendly staff of motherly women, who spotted us right away as visiting genealogists -- all the other customers were regulars! Redruth is another town which reached its height in the 19th century as a center for the business of mining. Just down the street from the train station is the old Mining Exchange, no longer in use. All of this part of Cornwall seems to be up and down hill, and even though the towns were sited next to rivers, the valleys are so narrow that the towns are up and down hill too. The railroad stays well above the lowlands, which are boggy and unsuitable for train tracks. There are lots of tunnels and viaducts. The next train didn't leave for an hour so we walked down town and saw some old buildings and some stones taken from older ruined buildings. Civic posts erected on Fore Street contain the names of dozens of old mines cut out of black iron. Cornwall would like to win World Heritage status for its pioneering mining efforts, which provably started centuries before Christ. As always in Europe, there is much restoration of old buildings in the towns; the newer housing developments are out along the highways. We followed a walking guide and Home milk delivery noted that the historic buildings were generally filled with stores selling modern clothes, music, hair styling, etc.
One of the most imposing buildings in Redruth is the Methodist Church, a large stone building at the top of the hill above the train station. During the riotous heyday of the mines, John Wesley found eager converts among the miners. Wesley preached in most of the towns in the area, notably at Gwennap mine pit, where he estimated the congregation at 30,000.
Returning to Truro, we rode the Penzance to Swansea (Wales) train, only four cars long. This train is operated by the Bristol and Wales line (or some such), but the only way to find out is to read the name on the side of the engine. The train lines are well-integrated, and our ticket would have been good on any train which stopped at Redruth and Truro (which means all of them.)
While we had waited for the morning train in Truro, we watched two interesting middle-aged men; the one greying with a scruffy beard and baggy trousers and a high-pitched voice, the other a tubby one with glasses, rumpled black pants and a light jacket. They carefully watched the train board (actually it's now a train video monitor, progress being what it is) and discussed at length the fact that the 10:35 for Penzance was running 47 minutes late. We remember wondering why they would care about the 10:35 for Penzance, since the 10:10 was still to go. But we forgot about the incident until, returning from Redruth four hours later we saw the same two men standing on the walkway over the tracks, sighting through their disposable cameras to photograph -- the trains. So now we have seen our first in-the-flesh English train spotters!
At the end of the day we did take out a visitor's membership in the Truro library and have borrowed our first books. So we are in the perennial Pendleton position of having piles of books in progress on all the chairs and tables!