Monday, 18 May 2015

Rum and Submarines


Unlike most of the stories in my weblog, this one does not start from home. We were on a motoring holiday in Cumbria but, always on the lookout for an interesting day out by train, we fitted in a grand day out on the Cumbrian Coast line. As so often in the north-west of England the weather was patchy and rained at times but it did not spoil a good day out which took in hills, valleys, the sea, lots of history and two gauges of railway. It was not a fast journey and although comfortable was not luxurious, and we saw some coast not easily accessible by road

The erstwhile seafront at Grange Over Sands:
a westbound train is leaving the station


We were staying in Grange-Over-Sands, an interesting place in itself, for it has all the hallmarks of a seaside town including an esplanade, although the swimming pool on the esplanade had recently closed when we were there. But there is no beach. The course of the river which flows into the bay had changed and the erstwhile beach silted up and became salt marsh, so the view from all the seafront installations is of mud and grasses, grazed by sheep, rather than sand with deckchairs.




Our daughter joined us for a few days, arriving by train from London with a change at Lancaster. The station at Grange is charming, a great gateway to what had been a great beach resort and is still a very pleasant town in which to spend a holiday, so long as it is not a beach holiday you want. A couple of days later we made our way back to the station to catch a train through to Whitehaven. We chose that destination because it gave us a decent trip up the coast with a worthwhile amount of time there before catching a train back. Sandwiches and drinks were bought from the little shop at the station, along with postcards for sending home in due course.

Laurel and Hardy Monument in Ulverston
By and large the railway hugs the coast, our train stopping at all the stations - right through to Carlisle for those who stayed aboard long enough. Along the southern stretch of the line through Grange there is also a service to and from Manchester Airport as far as Barrow-in-Furness, a town which once had through trains to and from London when its steelworks and shipyards were more significant than they are now. Soon after leaving Grange the train leaves the coast briefly to cross the Cartmel peninsula then crosses Cartmel Sands, an estuary fed by rivers from Coniston Water and Lake Windermere. The towns of Ulverston (home town of Stan Laurel) and Dalton-in-Furness are also away from the coast and then the line loops right round to call at two stations in Barrow-in-Furness, adding two or three miles to the journey in order to serve the most significant town on the line. The shipyards at Barrow have lately been used for the construction of submarines and have long been an important employer in the area, but this is also an area with a lot of history, abbeys, castles and other historic buildings and ruins are to be found in some number, and a dock museum.

From Barrow-in-Furness our train headed north along the east side of Duddon Sands, the estuary of the River Duddon which rises high up in the Furness Fells near Scafell Pike. Crossing the estuary the train then headed south along the opposite side, turned west at Millom towards the Irish Sea coast and  then made a more-or-less straight run northwards. North of Seascale the line is very close to the sea which was grey and foreboding on the day of our trip, certainly atmospheric as we paused at the station at Sellafield, adjacent to the famous nuclear power station and reprocessing establishment. A nuclear waste flask train was waiting in an adjacent siding.

Just before Whitehaven we missed the sea again as the train crossed a headland and plunged into a tunnel to emerge at Whitehaven station, where we left the train and walked the short distance into the town centre. There was some drizzle when we arrived in the town but it soon passed. Whitehaven, like so many other places here, had been through some difficult times but was keeping its head above water economically, with some signs of new businesses and facilities, and the station itself was fairly new. My daughter and I visited a rum museum, Rum Story, and I learnt more about rum, sugar cane, and trade with the Caribbean than I realised there was to learn.

Leaving Ravenglass for Dalegarth
Soon the time came to make our way back, and we broke our journey at Ravenglass and took a ride into the hills on the narrow-gauge Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. By now the weather was slightly better but as we climbed into the hills on the little train there was a slight mist which obscured the distant view. The little train seemed to make light work of the climb up the former mineral line through woodlands and small villages.






Train standing at Dalegarth
At the Dalegarth terminus those passengers with more time (and more energy) walked off into the hills. The train crew had a cup of tea and ran the locomotive round the train for the return trip.

We just watched the locomotive run round the train and rode back down to Ravenglass to have tea in the café await our train back to Grange-Over-Sands.







View towards Seascale and Sellafield from Ravenglass as
train approaches. The track in not really that rough - this
is an effect of the telephoto lens!
From Ravenglass mainline station there was a great view of the Sellafield complex in the distance and soon our train came into view and picked us up for our ride home. On the way back we sat on the left, inland, side and looked across at the hills, having seen the sea on the way out. The train paused for a while in the rather pleasant little station at Barrow-in-Furness and then we were off eastwards along the north side of Morecambe Bay until we reached our temporary home at Grange-over-Sands for dinner. It had been a grand day out!

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