Saturday, 7 July 2012

Ups and Downs: A Day in Western Lake District.

A casual squint at the map was my first mistake of the day.

Choosing the nearest direct route from our cosy holiday cottage in Ambleside to the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in the Western Lake District was my second.

I'd visited the railway as a teenager and my memories of it had become enshrined as something magical that must be revisited. Have you ever noticed how time can make an occasion seem much more perfect than it probably was?  I visualised the railway as the perfect day out. I'd tried to take the family there on previous Lake District holidays, but had always been talked out of it. This time there was to be no escape...

What I've learned about the world
What looks like the quickest route on a map is not necessarily the best one to take.

Maybe the signs should have warned me, but I suppose I must have just ignored them. The Wrynose and Hardnott Passes sounded like something from an afternoon's adventure with Frodo and Sam in "Lord of the Rings". This could be nothing worse than stumbling over a few rocks as heroic music by the London Philarmonic sprinkled onto a magnificent vista.

Unfortunately I had no staff to lean on. Instead my trusty companion was the Citreon Xsara which, it soon transpired, was completely unfit for the task in hand. Maybe in the Shire below, the Citreon might have looked ready for an adventure, but up here in the clouds, it was trembling like a spooked hobbit waiting for some black riders to pass.

Some advice. When you're driving up a mountain in first gear and you have to stop precariously at the edge every few hundred metres or so to let a massive 4x4 go by, always make sure you put the car back in gear. I only forgot this once but it prompted tears from both of my children and a cry of another kind from my wife. You do travel faster sliding back down a steep incline, than you do crunching upwards, it must be said.

What I've learned about the world:
When negotiating a hairy hair-pin bend whilst driving down the side of a mountain and trying to see the way forward, the triangular side/front window of a Citreon Xsara looks less like a mistake and more like a liability.

Oh, and what I've learned about the world
The Lake District is a very misleading name. Why not the Mountain District?
Never ever drive over anything called a Pass again.
(Hopefully the driver above learned this too...)

Finally we reach Dalegarth Station: the rain comes on and we wander into the gift shop. They are selling certificates for having survived the Passes and my daughter, as if to mock me, asks to buy one.

We've missed the train. It will be an hour until the next one, so we jump back into the Citreon and race another seven miles to Ravenglass. I'm glad that it's flat all the way. 

When we reach Ravenglass, it's not as I remember it. In the adult world, you have to pay to park the car before you can rush to catch the steam engine, but we make it and even have time to grab a cup of tea for the ride.

Steam pours past our open windows and a fantastic little journey through a beautiful landscape of fields, forests and hillsides begins. At last I begin to remember why I've wanted to come back for over twenty years...

When we reach Dalegarth Station for the second time, we notice, this time, the coloured bunting that welcomes us. It coincides with a less stressful feeling now that we have no car to worry about.

We decide to take a saunter along the narrow road and head out into the countryside. Turning right at the Brook House Inn, we find a path that leads us past a little church called St Catherine's and on towards a riverside walk. We sneak under a small bridge (which seems to have been built solely to re-enact the story of "The Billy Goats Gruff") and onto a pebbly riverside.  Throwing stones into the water becomes our focus for the next half hour. We move across stepping stones to the middle of the river, hopping from stone to stone until we reach a perfect little island, full of flat pebbles with which to skim the surface of the river. Almost without realising it, we are having a "this is the life" moment...

Heading back up the path, we are magnetised by the quiet little churchyard. As we wander around, I'm looking for some kind of inspiration and find it in an inscription on slate positioned to the right of the church entrance.

Displayed are the words of a young signalman. They are a moving tribute to the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country as well as his undaunted, unquenchable faith. In this setting, surrounded by hillside, trees and sky, the words seem to resonate profoundly over the decades since they were uttered. 

Back at Dalegarth, crowds are gathering to catch the return train. So much so, that we miss it and are forced to wait for the next one. It becomes warmer for a while and all around us ice creams are beginning to be consumed. A lad bounds over the single narrow gauge line, shouting "Harry, watch this!" to his, at first, non-plussed twin brother.  Soon though, Harry is also long-jumping the line with gusto. As the next train arrives there is a jostling for position. I turn to see one mother left alone, with her baby on the platform as we squeeze into our tiny, wooden carriage.

The journey home starts well and goes a little like this:   

A hawk is hovering on a hillside when I turn to look away. Turning back, the empty sky leaves me wondering what prey has been swooped upon in that instant.

Suddenly out of nowhere, there is panic as a dog in the carriage next to ours suddenly leaps off the train. I am sure he will be crushed under the carriage but he somehow manages to twist right and avoid going under. After, what seems an age, the train grinds to a stand-still and the owner is forced to complete a "walk of shame" past the entire train to retrieve his dog. On his return, he reports the reason for the abrupt departure. His dog, it seems, had simply spotted another dog; love at first bark, puppy love etc.

We chug back into Ravenglass station, thoroughly recharged by our day in the country. The in-between part of the day has been a triumph.

However, it will end, for me at least, in much the same level of confusion as it started. When my daughter jumps up to leave the carriage whilst the train is in motion,  I move too fast to stop her, and bang my head on the metal topped carriage. It hits the sweet spot. Another dose of concussion will follow.

I will go on to enjoy my Lake District holiday, but not until the next couple of days have passed...

Heading back for some food at Broughton-in-Furness, I can't even raise a smile at the pub's name, and don't manage to eat much of my lasagne...

I do manage to get some new directions from the pub's owner, however. We avoid the Wrynose and Hardknott Passes on our return journey to Ambleside, but it's my wife who does the driving this time.

(*It was April 14, 2012 that we visited Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.)


  1. I agree with #186023E, having had a similar experience with said side window.

    First time here. You can count me as your latest follower. :)

    1. Thanks! Glad you could empathise with the side window issue!

  2. I just read "A Dose" and am so sorry! While you wrapped it in humor and cleverness, it still sounds frightening to me. Your enchanting day was a joy to ride along on, I do hope your head feels better...

    1. Thanks Chantel! Trying to be more careful now-my wife says I'm accident-prone and I think she's right! Glad you took the time to read both of these :)

  3. I so enjoyed this, with your wry humor! Especially all the lifelesson numbr kazillion. Very witty. I LONG to take a train ride but, in Canada, the costs are prohibitive - more than flying to Europe - thir way of thinking is: we're losing money. Let's hike the fees. So people stop riding. Only in Canada, eh?? They're doing the same thing with the B.C. Ferries. They need to read about a thousand of your life lessons:)

    1. Haha. Thanks Sherry. Sounds like you should fly to Europe and take a train ride! Thanks for your kind words and for reading this :)

  4. Love your humor and style! Great story!

    1. Thanks a lot for visiting! Glad you took the time to read this!

  5. hey, enjoyed this! Very much! Ahhhh....
    I had a poem about trains somewhere and then it disappeared!
    Great writing here.


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