Ditch the car and pick up an Oyster

Cornwall is getting its own travel card. Mark Piesing tries it out

"We have got to do something to keep Cornwall lovely and keep the locals on side as well," says Tim Light, 48, a former Army officer who is now managing director of Cornwall Ferries. "And there's a lot at stake, as over a quarter of Cornwall's GDP is now from tourism."

The trial this summer of the Fal Oyster Card is the first step in the realisation of Tim Light's dream of revolutionising how tourists travel around Cornwall, a dream that began with the founding of Fal River Links, a project aimed at integrating local river, road and rail transport. It takes its name from the Oyster Card that makes travel around London easier and cheaper, though at this stage it is a simple paper ticket. Plans are in place for a stored-value or smart card. From mid-June, the card will be usable on all public transport in the Falmouth, Truro and St Mawes triangle including its network of private ferries and First Great Western's scenic Maritime branch line.

The price of 6.35 a day, if you buy a six-day card, represents excellent value; a one-way ticket between Falmouth and Truro alone costs 3.30. Also available will be the 10-a-day Fal Oyster Card Plus, which will offer money-off entry into local attractions.

The hope is that the Fal Card will save over 10 million car-miles a year when the full scheme starts next year; and planning has already started to introduce a Fowey Oyster Card in June 2011 as the next step in its expansion.

Earlier this month, I decided to spend a few days testing how well Tim Light's leave-your-car-behind vision works in practice from my base: the Pilot's House in King Harry's Ferry, six miles south of Truro. As I sipped my pint of Doom Bar at the Old Key Inn in nearby Devoran, I examined a local map. The car-free travel option looked doable, as the area is criss-crossed by bus, boat and train lines.

However, while the omens looked good the night before, they didn't look so good the next day when my train was cancelled. Happily, the Fal Oyster Card meant that I could just hop off the platform and hop on to one of the boats that were also heading to Falmouth.

Within a few minutes of casting off, my chosen form of transport, a private ferry called The Enterprise, had burst out into Cornwall's yacht-dotted coastal waters. An hour of almost monastic silence on the boat was a welcome contrast to 30 minutes' driving along the busy A39 to Falmouth. Only moments from the narrow shopping streets of Falmouth, the Prince Of Wales Pier was already bustling with tourists and shoppers when I docked.

Ferries are the finest way to travel around this corner of Cornwall, but I wanted to sample all the options. So the next day I found myself hopping on and off the Western Greyhound 550. The bus hurtled down narrow sunken lanes to the 13th-century church in St Just in Roseland, through the 11th-century village of Tregony and past the perfect yellow sand of Carne Beach.

The network of road, rail and boats the card covers, coupled with the ease of using a single card, does make it easy to leave the car behind and exploring the public transport options in Cornwall certainly gives a fresh perspective on the country. Tim Light claims that the new scheme "has regional and even national implications and it would be great if Cornwall got there first". It's hard to disagree with him.

Travel agenda


The Great Singapore Sale opens for business, with discounts of up to 70 per cent and late openings at the malls on Orchard Road and at the new Marina Bay development; until 25 July ( greatsingaporesale.com.sg ). Meanwhile in Belfast, the Festival in a Weekend packs in two days of family activities such as a baby rave and circus on Belfast Waterfront ( belfastchildrensfestival.com ).

This week

Events are taking place across the UK from Monday to Sunday for National Family Week, including picnics on Monday and a big day out on Thursday ( nationalfamilyweek.co.uk ). From Monday until 29 August, Northern Norway becomes more accessible from the UK courtesy of SAS. The airline is operating a summer route to Bardufoss, Troms county via Oslo ( flysas.com ).

In the diary

Bag a room at the contemporary Kempinski Nile Hotel, opening on the banks of the great river in Cairo on 20 June ( kempinski.com/cairo ).

Travel essentials: Oyster cards

The Fal Oyster Card and Fal Oyster Card Plus are valid for one, two, three or six days. They are on sale from mid-June to September at the Prince of Wales Pier in Falmouth, St Mawes Quay, and available soon online at kingharryscornwall.co.uk . The six-day Fal Oyster Card costs 38 (adults), 26 (children) and 105 (families). One-day cards are 15 (adults), 11 (children) and 41 (families). The six-day Fal Oyster Card Plus is 60 (adults), 42 (children) and 160 (families).