The chuffing romance of Haverthwaite

Last updated on April 25th, 2024 at 11:45 am

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway

Imagine a simpler, hate-free, monochrome world, where you know your doctor, civil servants are both civil and servile, politicians benign and dogs only ever bark happily.  You are secure in the womb of grim, factory-stained, buildings.  There’s a footbridge over a railway and a train is coming.  You gaily dash to cross just as the locomotive chugs through beneath your feet, enveloping you in comforting, billowing, clouds of pungent, damp, steam.  You emerge soot-specked, choking and exultant, oblivious of the lung-damage.  Then you wake; it has all been a wonderful dream.

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway

Thankfully, you can experience some of that romance and evocative wet coal smell, and in full colour, at scores of wonderfully preserved heritage railways all over Britain.  One of these, the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, is located in England’s Lake District and runs between Lakeside, close to the southern tip of Lake Windermere, through Newby Bridge, and Haverthwaite.  It’s not an enormous distance – just over 3 miles – but it’s a pleasant trip through agreeable, rather than spectacular, countryside.  It takes less than 20 minutes each way.  If you plan it right, you can combine the railway journey with a boat trip on a Windermere launch to or from Ambleside, or Bowness, across England’s largest lake.  The cruise between Ambleside and Lakeside takes about an hour and a half; the voyage between Bowness and Lakeside is around 40 minutes.  Great in good weather – and the scenery is beautiful.  The Aquarium of the Lakes, a handy wet day option for children, is situated at Lakeside but, apart from that and the station café, that’s about it.

Windermere launch, Teal
Haverthwaite Railway Station

Haverthwaite railway station is a congenial little place, though.  The a station café advertises All Day Railwayman’s Breakfast (for All Day Railwaymen), and Afternoon Tea, both of which are served with capital letters.  There is a shop selling all those essential railway souvenirs and a collection of locomotives in an engine shed. To be fair, unless you linger too much over your specially-brewed Fairburn Ale, get lost on the woodland walk, or stuck on the zip wire in the adventure playground, a visit won’t require more than an hour or two.  Rail enthusiasts might need a little longer: “Ohh – just look at the bogies on that!” (spoken in a slightly nasal, Kenneth Williams style, voice).  While you’re in the area, however, do make time if you can to see the Lakeland Motor Museum just down the road.

Heritage railways, Britain

Judging by a previous version of its website, the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway is, or was, popular with visitors from China. Sounds good to me; I guess they don’t have railways in the People’s Republic.


Haverthwaite, heritage railway, Lake District

The railway started life as a branch line of the Furness Railway in 1869, mainly carrying industrial freight – coal, iron ore, sulphur and saltpetre on the way in and locally-produced gunpowder, pit-props, bobbins and ultramarine laundry blue on the journey out.  In 1872, the Furness Railway Co displayed a grasp of tourist potential by purchasing the United Windermere Steam Yacht Co and, by the turn of the century, was carrying holiday makers and day trippers.  Passenger services were suspended during the Second World War, though the line was occasionally used to transport captured Germans to and from the POW camp at Grizedale Hall.  Passenger services resumed in 1946, but ceased in 1965; freight services stuttered on until 1967, when the line eventually closed.  It’s easy to forget that some of Britain’s railways had relatively short lives.

Inside Haverthwaite, engine shed

After years of negotiation, in 1970 The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway Co was formed and, since 1973, has run the show as a tourist attraction.

Haverthwaite railway station

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway is a nicely preserved piece of Britain’s industrial heritage and, along with the displays in the Lakeland Motor Museum about the local manufacture of Dolly Blue and gunpowder, sheds a respectful light on the not widely known historic industrial activity in this part of the world.

You can visit the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway website for more information, including details of various special events; it is rumoured that even Thomas the Tank Engine pays a visit sometimes.

If you enjoy visiting heritage railways, the excellent UK & Ireland Heritage Railways website lists more than 180 railway and tramway attractions.

Windermere, visit Cumbria

58 thoughts on “The chuffing romance of Haverthwaite”

  1. Real trains! Different than the sleek Amtrack things I’ve been on over here, with the smaller windows. I mean, the windows are big enough, but steam trains seem to be all window and that adds to the drama.

  2. This was a lovely visit. Thank you, Mike. My Dad has made steam engines since he was twelve and he and Mum have visited all of them around our fair isle. Whenever you mention one of them to him, he’ll turn to Mum and say ‘We went on that in such and such.’ The smell of steam and wet coal takes me back to my childhood. I haven’t done this trip, but I bet they have and I love the combination of the boat ride. Hugs Xx

      1. They have a language all of their own, Mike! Dad turned 89 in August and Mum, my sister and I, took him to a beautiful model steam club in Daresbury, Cheshire. He was a member for years and they welcomed us for the day. The track is under the trees at the top of a field on a hill. It meanders around fishing lakes and the chaps have built a tunnel and put wooden sculptures by the line. It’s close to the church where Lewis Carroll’s father was a vicar and Lewis grew up. It has a magic feel. There is a lovely log cabin as a clubhouse and Mum brought a picnic and we all had a special day. Xx hugs x

  3. Lung damage aside, it sounds delightful to go by train *and* boat! I don’t know who Kenneth Williams is, but I hear Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame. Fun post, Mike, and who wouldn’t enjoy one of those heritage railways.

  4. Richard and I travelled on the railway and then had a trip on Lake Windemere during our honeymoon in 1994. We had a wonderful day! Thanks for the amusing post and all the information therein, Mike.

  5. I stayed up in the lakes last summer but missed out on the wonderful steam train experience.

    I loved your initial description of hanging over the railway bridge, that took me back to my early childhood. The railway ran through the middle of woodland near where we lived, we would lean over the bridge and wait for the trains just like the Railway Children – train spotting with my older brother and his mates was a fun way to spend an afternoon! Though I was always told not to tell our mum where we’d been.

  6. It is indeed a lovely station and railway line to visit. The cakes are excellent in the cafe and we met some owls too the day we visited. For a really lazy day join the friends of Haverthwaite Railway to get a parking permit, ride on the railway and just sail right round the lake and get back here for tea. Perfect.

  7. John at By Stargoose & Hanglands

    I’ve been meaning to visit one of the steam railways around here all this summer – and now your post is making me regret not having fitted it in. There’s the remains of a trackbed near here which was only operational for 3 years; you can still see the old bridges and occasional overgrown lengths of track. It ran from the village of Great Chesterford to the even smaller settlement of Six Mile Bottom – can’t imagine why it never caught on!

  8. We have been to Lakeside, though not on the train. A few years ago we went on the boat with our Aussie relatives and it was a lovely trip, especially as the rain stopped and the sun came out. But most memorable was staying for a week in Grange-over-Sands railway station, no steam trains, but real trains coming through, even in the middle of the night. We took a trip on this line to Barrow-on-Furness. The station is right on the edge of Morecambe Bay – grass rather than sand and sheepdogs rounded up the sheep before high tide.

  9. ‘Look at the bogies on that!’. Julian and Sandy or Rambling Syd Rumpo complete with his cordwangle?
    I love steam trains….one of the highlights of visiting Guatemala City was to s[end an afternoon in the railway museum…wonderful spidery viaducts in grainy photos…and the discovery that Giatemala and El Salvador had a gauge I had never heard of before.
    This looks like a super day out! . Always interesting to see the industries that once flourished in what we now think of as quiet countryside. Thank goodness for those who preserved these lines and their rolling stock.

  10. I have to confess that I’m not into steam trains, but one of my favourite pubs is the Railwayman’s Arms at the Bridgnorth station on the Severn Valley Railway. You can’t help but see steam trains when you drink in there.

  11. Chuffing looks like fun. I do think it’s possible that Chinese visitors may be looking backwards just as much as you are, given how far ahead of many countries they have gotten with their high speed rail development. Chinese tourism has become a world-wide phenomena.

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