Ah, the romance of steam engines! I’m still young enough to remember dashing for the footbridge over the railway before the train chugged through underneath. As it did, the billowing clouds would envelope us and we’d emerge, soot-specked, choking and exultant. Curiously, this was also a simpler, monochrome world, where policemen were kind, poverty was banished and dogs only ever barked happily.
You can experience that evocative wet coal smell (but now in full colour) at scores of wonderfully preserved heritage railways all over Britain. One of these is located in England’s Lake District and runs between Lakeside, just by 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 about 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 takes about 40 minutes. Great in good weather – and the scenery is beautiful. The Aquarium of the Lakes 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 café, a shop selling railway souvenirs (as well as “exciting locally produced arts and crafts” – the mind boggles) and a collection of locomotives in an engine shed. Unless you’re a rail enthusiast (“Just look at the bogie on that!”), a visit won’t take you much longer than an hour or so. While you’re in the area, think about visiting the Lakeland Motor Museum just down the road.The railway started life as a branch line of the Furness Railway in 1869, mainly carrying industrial freight - including locally produced coal, iron ore and gunpowder. In 1872, the Furness Railway Co displayed a grasp of tourist potential by purchasing the United Windermere Steam Yacht Co, but the line itself gradually declined and, eventually, closed. The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway Co was formed in 1970 and, since 1973, has run the show. You can visit the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway website for more information, including details of various special events; it is rumoured that Thomas the Tank Engine even pays a visit sometimes. What more could you ask?