Originally written for suite101, published 27/11/08, now hosted at Xomba.

The much overlooked town of Bodmin, mid-Cornwall deserves a second look from travellers along the A30.

Driving along the main road through Cornwall on a rainy afternoon it would be easy to pass through Bodmin without seeing anything more than another non-descript market town, but the dismissive passer-by would be missing a wealth of attractions and historical curiosities. From the old Town Jail and Military Museum, to the Steam Railway and Well Trail, to the wild beauty of nearby Bodmin Moor and immaculate formal gardens of Lanhydrock, a wide variety of treasures are open to anyone willing to pause a moment and look closer.

Law and Order in Historical Bodmin

The Shire Hall in central Bodmin is a good place to start exploring the town and its history, not only because the building houses the Tourist Information Office and stands next to the Town Museum, but also for the intriguing history of the building itself. An architectural gem in itself, it served as the County Court from its erection in 1837 until 1988 when it was restored to its former glory.

These days it houses a gallery showing exhibitions of Cornish artwork and the Courtroom Experience. The latter allowing visitors an insight into 19th century justice system, with a chance to serve as jury in the intriguing murder trial of Charlotte Dymond and decide the fate of accused Martin Weeks. Admission is £3.75 for Adults and £2.25 for Children. Contact 01208 76616/79896 for group rates, bookings and winter opening times.

After seeing justice handed down travel just up the road for a flavour of the punishment that awaited criminals. Built in 1779 for George III, and considered one of the 25 most haunted buildings in Britain, visitors get a flavour of 18th century prison life, with Gallows, Execution Pit, stocks and underground cells. Open all year round from 10am to dusk.

Between the Jail and the Courthouse lies the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry Museum, based in The Keep, next to Bodmin General Station. Open weekdays and Sundays during July and August, the museum has displays of uniforms, medals and small arms covering British Military history from 1702 to 1959. Admission is £2.50 for adults and 50p for children.

Searching for the Past on Foot or by Rail

The Bodmin & Wenford Railway is one of Bodmin’s best-known attractions, running North-West to meet the Camel Trail at Boscarne Junction and South-East to the mainline station of Bodmin Parkway, from Bodmin General Station in the town centre. With steam locomotives recreating the world of a 1950s branch line.

In contrast, the Bodmin Well Trail, takes the visitor on a tour of Bodmin’s decidedly less well-known history. The Wells have recently undergone extensive renovations and some are even integral parts of listed buildings. As, prior to the Dissolution of the mid 1500s Bodmin was a citadel with a rich cultural and religious background.

From the arrival of St Petroc, founder of Bodmin in the 6th century, to Cock’s Well, which was the source of some 60 cases of Enteric Fever (similar to Typhoid) in 1881. The wells whose springs first drew the town’s medieval inhabitants, form the backbone of the trail as it wends its way through the ancient and modern history of the town.

Bodmin Moor and Lanhydrock House & Gardens

Perhaps best known for the granite that has travelled the world as a sturdy building material, Bodmin Moor has also been named as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The moor is rich in geological and archaeological treasures, with Neolithic enclosures, Celtic monuments and mysterious Tors, such as the Cheesewring whose origin continues to spark much debate.

Lanhydrock House is a magnificent late Victorian country house, set amid stunning formal and woodland gardens. The house, over 50 atmospheric rooms to explore a by-gone age, is normally open from March to November, while the gardens are open all year round. Cared for by the National Trust, Lanhydrock is located a 45 minute picturesque walk from Bodmin Parkway station.

Getting There

  • By road: The A30 which practically cuts Cornwall in two, runs through Bodmin, and visitors from further a field should note that the exit from the M5 south-bound is marked Bodmin (J31).
  • By rail: The nearest station is Bodmin Parkway, which is served by regular trains between London and Penzance, and from Plymouth to Newquay.
  • By bus: National Express coaches stop in Bodmin on their way from London to Penzance and Newquay, while a variety of local providers and services run from nearby towns such as St Austell and further afield from Truro.

Bodmin & Wenford Steam Railway