Travelling back in time

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Last year saw rail chaos in the north of England. At its peak during the summer months hundreds of trains in the region were cancelled every day; of those that ran, far more were delayed than were on time. The impact on my life was minimal compared with the horrific experiences endured daily by thousands of people who depended on Northern trains to get them to and from work. By way of compensation for some of my delayed journeys, Northern sent me several travel vouchers entitling me to free rail journeys. This small collection of freebies has remained in a drawer for nearly a year, so this weekend I thought I’d make use of a couple of them before they expired.

The first leg of the journey was to Grange-over-Sands.It was going to be a changeable day according to the Met Office, and as we sped across the viaduct at Arnside the bright sunshine of early morning was replaced by threatening cloud with the first of the day’s light showers appearing just as I alighted at Grange. I briefly regretted not bringing an umbrella, but the rain had stopped by the time I boarded the bus outside Grange Station to get to my next destination.

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Just 17 minutes later I alighted at Haverthwaite railway station. This once busy branch line of the Furness Railway transported iron ore to the industrial regions of the north west of England until the industry finally went into decline. Popular also with holiday-makers travelling to Lake Windermere, the station finally closed to passengers in 1965 and to freight trains two years later. From the time of the line’s demise, work was going on behind the scenes to purchase steam engines and carriages for preservation. These were stored at nearby Carnforth until a deal would be struck with British Rail for the line to be sold into private ownership. Seven years later, after numerous obstacles, objections and with the support of parliamentary lobbying, the purchase was realised and in 1973 the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway Company reopened the line. The station has been beautifully restored, developed and maintained; shiny red paintwork, window boxes, planters and shrubs offer a welcome contrast with the usual soulless modern railway buildings.

I had planned my day so that I would have an hour or so to spare before boarding the vintage train to Lakeside. Hungry by this time, I decided to try out the tea rooms for some lunch. Walking from the front to the platform, I passed a huge pile of coal, obviously fuel for the steam trains. For environmental reasons, Haverthwaite and other vintage train attractions may not be around for too much longer as we seek to reduce our national carbon footprint. I wanted to ride in a train of yesteryear before the last of them are shunted off to museums.

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After a tasty and substantial lunch in the pleasant and reasonably-priced (if somewhat over-crowded) tea rooms I had just 10 minutes to wait before our engine, Victor, chugged up to the platform, whistle blowing and enveloped in an aura of steam. The returning passengers emerged, and it was time to board.

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Like the tea rooms, the train was mainly occupied by young and very noisy children, and I felt rather like I was tagging along on a pre-school outing. I tried to talk myself into a more tolerant, less grumpy, mindset, but then another young family took the seats behind and started to sing with great gusto (the parents in particular) about the wheels on the train going round and round all day long. As always on such occasions I resorted to my trusty ear-plugs which remained in place for the next 20 minutes. Settling into my sagging but nostalgically comfortable seat, I appreciated the tints of autumn on display through the window as the train’s gentle rhythm merged harmoniously with the melodic sounds of Agnes Obel. The wheels on the train went round and round, the whistle blew, and trails of white steam floated past the window and up above the pastoral scenery.

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Arriving at Lakeside station on the southern tip of Lake Windermere, it was time to leave Victor the steam engine and start the next part of my journey. I observed that almost all of the people with children were heading towards the adjacent Lakeside Aquarium; so that explained it. This must be a typical weekend lunch/ train/ marine life combo.

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I’m glad I made the trip, just for the experience, but I wouldn’t rush back. It was time to get in the queue for my next embarkation.

Ambleside

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The wheel of the year has turned. The temperature is barely above zero and my fingers feel like the ice formations I see in the puddles and ditches, but the grass looks lush and these verdant landscapes shout out their promise of blossoming and ripening in the months ahead. The land is quickening. Winter is taking its leave as spring impatiently waits to step into the breach.

I don’t mind the cold at all, as long as it’s dry, and February sunshine and blue skies are a joyous combination. A day like this couldn’t be allowed to go to waste, so I decided to get out into the countryside and tap into that vernal energy. Cumbria is my favourite county and the villages, woods and footpaths around Lake Windermere are some of my favourite places to relax and appreciate the land. Where better then to spend a beautiful day on the cusp of the seasons?DSCF3486

Ambleside’s history can be traced back to Roman times. Then known as Galaca, the remains of the fort near Waterhead Pier are a reminder of when the settlement was part of the Roman defences against the possibility of invasion from the Scots to the north. Centuries later, the town is reputed to have taken its name from Hamel, a Viking who owned land there. Evidence of Nordic occupation is evident in the present day lexicon of the land. Words like beck (brook with a stony bed); fell (rock, cliff) and tarn (mountain lake) are synonymous with the power and mystery of this rugged, often-bleak, but always awesome northern landscape. When they first set foot on the mountain paths and beheld the icy clear tributary streams flowing down into the vast lakes below, the Scandinavian invaders would surely have felt they were home from home.

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Putting Viking warriors to one side, for me, the town evokes other more peaceful and relaxing associations. How could a place name which contains the verb ‘amble’ not conjure up images of quiet green lanes shaded by towering trees, expanses of pasture land, dry stone walls and the sound of bird song? The footpath from the northern pier of Lake Windermere up the gentle incline to the town certainly matches that description, though the town itself, small and unspoiled, is a hive of activity.

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Situated at the gateway to the Langdale pikes (another Scandinavian word, meaning ‘pointed mountain’) and south lakes fells, Ambleside enjoys enormous popularity amongst tourists and serious walkers and climbers. It has an abundance of hotels, B&Bs and restaurants, mostly full, even out of season…………..if there is such a thing as ‘out of season’ here.

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One highlight of this particular visit to Ambleside was being able to see the magnificent view of the white-topped peaks before the strengthening spring sunshine melts the snow, transforming it into crystal water.

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The views from the lower valley are breath-taking. High snowy peaks merged with sky line; I’m sure I even saw some fluffy sheep amongst the stratus, perhaps spirits of a fell-dwelling flock from Viking times, still holding on to their connection with the land. It’s easy to let the imagination run wild in such an inspirational setting.

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I love my visits here and feel so blessed that I live quite close to this bit of England’s green and pleasant land.

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