Ten reasons to enjoy the Lakes and Dales with puffs of steam
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Beverley Watts travelled to
Carlisle to join Rail Discoveries’ road and rail tour.
10 miles south of Scotland, Carlisle is a great historical city and the perfect place to start a trip
to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales.
Carlisle railway station, also known as Carlisle Citadel,
is right next to The Citadel, originally a 16th century gatehouse. Its
1811 oval towers once housed assize courts and a jail. Just 15 minutes’ walk
away is 900-year-old Carlisle Castle which stands on the site of an old Roman
Fort. In 1568 Mary, Queen of Scots sailed across the Solway Firth in a fishing boat and was imprisoned within the castle’s
Step in Queen Victoria’s footsteps
Hallmark Hotel, where I stayed, is just a couple of minutes from station platforms
so couldn’t be more convenient. That’s thanks to Queen Victoria because the
hotel was built – as The County and Station Hotel – in 1853 for her arrival on the way to
Balmoral in Aberdeenshire and situated so she could walk straight to her
accommodation from her carriage.
Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway steam journey
The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway claims to be ‘The
Smallest Public Railway in the World’ and children, adults and pet dogs love
it. This narrow gauge railway is known locally as La’al Ratty and runs the
seven miles between Ravenglass and Dalegarth. It was first opened in 1875 to
transport iron ore and the pint-sized but powerful 1894 River Irt (originally
named Muriel) was one of the steam engines to inspire Reverend W. Awdry, author
of Thomas the Tank Engine. After the scenic 40-minute ride, we tucked into a
cream tea with home-baked scones at the station cafe, then enjoyed the journey
Get spooked at Muncaster Castle
Muncaster Castle in Ravenglass, Cumbia has
been the home of the Pennington family for 800 plus years and its Great Hall and
Library are majestic. The fortification was erected in the 13th century on
Roman foundations and, while one of its towers has ancient two-metre thick
walls, other parts are later Victorian pastiche. The 70-acre hillside gardens overlook
the River Esk, with a view of Scafell Pike, and are full of mature
rhododendrons and azaleas. Muncaster’s Tapestry Room is believed to be haunted
and the Pennington family’s former jester, Tom Skelton – whose portrait hangs
on a wall – is said to be the Tom who
inspired the expression ‘tom foolery’.
Owls on the wing
The Hawk & Owl Centre at Muncaster Castle has
several daily flying displays and I was lucky enough to see the World of Owls
Display at 11.30am. These beautiful creatures fly low over your head and you
can feel the edges of their wings as the birds respond to prompts from their
handlers. We watched Griffin, the tawny owl, Pixie, the long-eared owl, Weasel
the boobook owl, Cavalli, the Verreaux’s eagle-owl and Linford & Christie,
two tiny burrowing owls who love running through underground tunnels. At 2.00pm
it’s the Sky Hunters Display and at 4.00pm the Wild Heron Feed.
Scenic Settle-Carlisle Railway
Completed in 1876, the Settle-Carlisle Railway was not easy
to build in the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines. Living in shanty towns in
this wild area, 2,300 men worked on its construction. The deep bog at Dandry
Mire was almost impossible to cross and at Ribblehead Valley, a remarkable
24-arch viaduct had to be put up over Batty Moss. With ‘72 miles of scenic
splendour’, the Settle-Carlisle Railway’s dramatic views are very special.
Coffee at The Folly
Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe wrote ‘Settle is the
capital of an isolated little kingdom of its own surrounded by barren hills.’
The pretty market town was remote, with just pack horse trails, but in the
1700s mill owners invested in a turnpike and its cotton mills thrived. Make
time to visit the museum and Coffee House at The Folly, an impressive home financed
in the 1670s by Richard Preston, a wealthy Settle lawyer. Since then the
building has been a farmhouse, bakery, warehouse, furniture store, fish and
chip shop, bank, salvage business and lodging house. Now it’s owned by a
See the World’s Oldest Music Hall
Victoria Hall is The Oldest Music Hall in the World and was opened on 11
October 1853. Now the Grade 2 listed
building is run by volunteers as a charity and the restored 1876 painted stage backdrop
is extraordinary. General Tom Thumb once appeared here for Phineas T.
Barnum, as did executioner James Berry, who turned his back on being a hangman
and toured as an evangelist. This year Victoria Hall has hosted the likes of Jason
Donovan (complete sell-out) and has regular community activities such as line
Signals and water
In operation until 1984, the refurbished Signal Box at Settle
station is now a Visitor Centre and you can pull the levers to see how signals
used to work. The Water Tower has been converted into a very unusual private
home, retaining all of its 1876 original features, and was featured in Channel
4's Restoration Man TV series. Owner Mark Rand joined us on our Settle-Carlisle
journey and it was great to hear about his passion for railways.
Wave to Ruswarp
Loyal Border Collie Ruswarp, who stayed with his dead master
for 11 weeks in the Welsh hills in bitter winter weather, has been commemorated
with a bronze statue at Garsdale station on the Settle-Carlisle Railway.
Ruswarp’s owner, Graham Nuttall, helped save the railway line when it was
threatened with closure in the 1980s and Ruswarp added his pawprint to the
petition. It’s a touching tale.
Experience Lakes and Dales by Steam on an escorted group tour
Discoveries, 01904 734 812. From £395, the 5-day trip starting at Carlisle also
includes a heritage train journey on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway, a
Lake Windemere boat trip, 4-star hotel accommodation, all rail tickets and
excursions and selected meals.
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