Who doesn’t enjoy a trip on a steam train? And what about a trip on a steam train through the glorious Lake District? Irresistible!
The classic locomotives of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, both steam and diesel, travel along a 3.5-mile length of standard-gauge track between Haverthwaite and Lakeside via Newby Bridge – from the southern tip of Windermere down through the narrow, wooded valley formed by the River Leven.
The railway, originally nearly eight miles long, opened in 1869 as a branch line of the Furness Railway, which ran along the coast from Carlisle to Lancaster. Initially, it relied on freight traffic, including coal, iron ore, gunpowder, wooden bobbins and livestock. By the early years of the twentieth century though, it was carrying large numbers of tourists, linking up with the steamers on Windermere (a link that continues today). The line closed in the mid-1960s but, just a few years later in 1973, a group of enthusiasts had reopened the northern part of it as a heritage line.
Today, from April until the end of October, the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway operates between five and seven trains a day in each direction. A few services also operate during the February half-term holiday, and there are Santa specials on selected weekends in November and December. Trains are timed to coincide with arrivals and departures of the Windermere Lake Cruises boats at Lakeside, and combined tickets are available.
For those steam enthusiasts for whom a sedate trip on the railway just isn’t enough, there’s the ‘Ultimate Steam Experience’. This involves spending a whole day on the railway, starting early in the morning with a safety briefing and the issue of kit before preparing the loco, enjoying a hearty railwayman’s breakfast and, the highlight of the day, driving the train up and down to Lakeside a few times. It doesn’t come cheap though – the price for one person in 2020 was £1000.
If the ‘Ultimate Steam Experience’ is a little beyond your price range, you might have to settle for wandering around the engine shed at Haverthwaite, home to a large collection of locomotives. Alternatively, you can watch the trains come and go from the picnic area, which provides a raised view of the whole station. The main site at Haverthwaite is also home to a tearoom, a gift shop that sells model trains and railway memorabilia and a woodland adventure playground featuring a tunnel slide and zip wire.
Nearby attractions include the Lakes Aquarium, next door to the railway’s northern terminus at Lakeside, and the Lakeland Motor Museum, a short walk from Haverthwaite Station. In addition, Stott Park, an old bobbin mill restored by English Heritage, is about a mile from Lakeside. There are also lots of paths in the woods fringing the River Leven. Consider walking up to Stott Park from Lakeside and then continuing on to High Dam, a small reservoir in a lovely woodland setting. It’s about three miles there and back, partly along quiet lanes, partly on trails.