Sat at my desk on a cold, brisk day. Luckily the area where I live has missed the worst of the storms that have been battering the north of the UK. It was heartbreaking to see the flooding in Carlisle and Appleby, two places I know quite well. Carlisle figures as my starting point for the fantastic rail journey around the Cumbrian coast. At times the track is feet away from the beach, with the Irish Sea rippling away to the horizon. The route passes through workaday Workington, a favourite place of mine were the ruins of Workington Hall, a place of temporary refuge for Mary Queen of Scots, sit at the back of the town. The Georgian stateliness of Whitehaven is next, with the landscaped pit chimney on the headland and the orderly grid plan of streets. At Nethertown the rails cling to a ledge above the shore as you pass the cluster of self built houses on the beach below. Further on you pass the science fiction set that is the Sellafield reactor before the train pulls into Ravenglass where the narrow gauge Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway snakes its way up through the fells. From Millom the lone takes a curve around the Duddon Estuary, passing through Foxfield once the junction for the line up to Coniston, a lost line that would have been a boon to the tourist industry of today. Barrow in Furness is the next big town, its centre dominated by the submarine building halls of the shipyard. From Barrow the train slips through the ruins of Furness Abbey, hidden away in it’s secret, wooded glade. Ulverston is also passed through, a lovely, compact market town and the birthplace of Stan Laurel. The long Leven and Kent viaducts lake you on an through pretty Grange over Sands and sturdy Arside, both favourites with walkers. At Silverdale the route passes the nature reserve at Leighton Moss. At Carnforth were the route meets the West Coast Main Line you can get off if you fancy it and re-enact your favourite scenes from the film ‘Brief Encounter’ which was film at the station, the on station museum has memorabilia to evoke the time. It’s a route I would recommend should you have the time, the local rail company Northern Rail has tickets to get you there and back. take a picnic or stock up on the edibles at either Lancaster or Carlisle and sit back and enjoy the views, its a sort of mobile mindfulness session.
The image above was taken at the Appleby Horse fair, a week long event that takes over this normally peaceful Cumbrian town as the families gather and horses and all their accessories are bought, sold and traded. Think wild west with a Cumbrian accent. The daily ritual of the horses being brought down to the river for washing means that you have every chance to get close up and personal with the horseflesh. The header photo is an example. The main camp is on the hilltop above the town and the road is a constant anthill of activity of horses, traps and people going to and fro. Having seen the news of the levels of flooding I hope the town recovers, for it’s own sake, this sort and level of disruption so close to Christmas is heartbreaking and for the fair which brings it’s own brand of high spirits to the town. I would make a suggestion from my own experience, there is ample car parking about the town when the fair is on but Appleby is also on the Settle & Carlisle line so you can combine the two and let the train take the strain. Just a thought.