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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 steam. You emerge soot-specked, choking and exultant, oblivious of the lung-damage. Then you wake; it has all been a wonderful dream.
Thankfully, you can experience all 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 a fairly unsatisfying café, that’s about it.
Haverthwaite railway station is a congenial little place, though. There’s a station café advertising All Day Railwayman’s Breakfast or Afternoon Tea (why these are served with capital letters, I don’t know), 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, or get stuck on the zip wire in the adventure playground, a visit won’t require more than an hour or so. 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, make time to see the Lakeland Motor Museum just down the road.
Judging by the website, I’m guessing the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway is popular with visitors from China. Sounds good to me; I guess they don’t have railways in the People’s Republic.
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, 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.
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.
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.