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Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway & Lake Windermere Cruise.

On The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway

The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway & Windermere Lake Cruise.

May 2019.

My action-packed stay in Lancashire visiting Uncle D was drawing to a close. Soon, I’d be on a train humming up to Scotland for the next leg of my UK adventures. However, I simply couldn’t leave the region without dipping into Cumbria for a day in The Lake District.

Time and time again I’d been told that The Lake District might just be the most beautiful part of England. Thus Uncle D and I set off from Carnforth in the car. Not that we were simply driving to Lake Windermere. Rather, D had decided we should make the approach in style. Just 33 minutes later we pulled up at Haverthwaite Railway Station, an historic train hub dating back to 1869.

Haverthwaite Station Cumbria England

Haverthwaite Railway Station, Cumbria.

I love train travel, without doubt my favourite way of getting around. But as I was soon to find out, this certainly isn’t your average train experience. In fact, Haverthwaite Station sits on the preserved three-mile Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway line.

Haverthwaite Station sign.

When the station first opened, its trains were chugging industrial freight around. There would be endless mounds of coal, for example. And plenty of iron ore, some sulphur and… brace yourself… gunpowder!

The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway & Lake Windermere Cruise.

Haverthwaite Railway Station.

Haverthwaite Railway Station.

By the early 1870s rail authorities began offering holidaymakers a service to Lake Windermere. This became more and more popular and by the end of the century there was a veritable squadron of hardworking steam trains taking locals and tourists alike to and from the lake.

Regular operations were suspended during World War II. Moreover, the army took over the line in order to transport captured German prisoners to a nearby camp at Grizedale Hall. Things did get back to normal in 1946, after the war had finished. But by 1967 the station had closed permanently, along with the entire line. Just one of hundreds of closures across the UK in the late 60s.

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway line 1954

The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway Line, 1954.

Happily, there were too many people who loved the station for it to just disappear. In 1973  a group of local railway fanatics and history buffs succeeded in reviving the line as a tourist attraction. Hooray! 

Fittingly, you can’t buy tickets for today’s steam train journeys online. Instead, you have to check in at the counter at the station itself. This is where D and I picked up our combo tickets. This included our return train journeys from Haverthwaite to Lakeside. And our boat rides from Lakeside to the town of Bowness-on-Windermere and back.

Exploring Cumbria.

Haverthwaite Railway Station Lancashire

Haverthwaite Railway Station.

With our tickets secured, we made our way onto the platform where a quintessentially retro English scene awaited. Truly, it was like stepping back in time, bringing to mind the classic British book and TV series Thomas The Tank Engine.

Later, I read that Haverthwaite Station actually appeared in one of Christopher Awdry’s books, Thomas & Victoria. What’s more, you can see the station and train line featured in the music video Never Went to Church by the English rap-pop band The Streets.

A steam train on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway

Haverthwaite Railway Station.

No wonder there was such a feel good factor that day. People scurried onboard with their packed lunches. Some headed into the onsite gift shop and cafe. Others photographed the beautiful black and red steam train we were about to ride. it was built in 1911, according to a sign on one of the carriages, by the Scottish engineering company Andrew Barclay Sons & Co.

The footbridge at Haverthwaite Railway Station

Haverthwaite Railway Station.

At the end of the platform, meanwhile, there’s a charming footbridge overseeing the lines. Which is of course where so many people swarmed to when a locomotive came chugging through. Keen to grab a video, I scaled the bridge myself and lined up my camera. Then hit record just in time to see it pass by, enveloping everyone on the bridge in a cloud of smoke.

Finally, it was time to take our seats in one of our train’s beautifully preserved carriages. With comfy chairs, dark wood furnishings and spacious overhead luggage racks, they’ve done a great job of channeling the vibe of yesteryear. And then we were rumbling on our merry way, the driver welcoming us on the tannoy and providing historic info as we went.

The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway & Lake Windermere Cruise.

The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway

Onboard the train at Haverthwaite Station.

The entire line covers just 3.2 miles (5.1km), an 18-minute journey that makes a short stop at Newby Bridge before terminating at Lakeside. Call me wistful, but there is something soulful about train travel. Especially when you can hear the wheels rolling on the tracks and the Choo Choo! of the cylinders letting off steam. Despite being such a short trip, I just had to grab a quick video of our progress through the Cumbrian countryside.

My only criticism is that I wish the journey had lasted longer. Nevertheless, there was little time to dwell on it, because we had just twelve minutes at Lakeside before our boat set off through the glittering waters of Lake Windermere. “All aboard!”

MV Teal steamer Lake Windermere.

Boarding for our Lake Windermere cruise.

Our vessel that afternoon was MV Teal, a bulky 3-deck beast built in 1936 by Vickers of Barrow. Apparently, it can hold up to 533 passengers, though I’d say it was maybe just over half full.

Cruising Lake Windermere.

Lake Windermere cruise.

It didn’t take long for me to see why Lake Windermere holds such a romantic place in the English psyche. It is undeniably beautiful, even on that May afternoon when the sky flitted between light blue and grey. The indecisive sun flirting with us as it ducked in and out of the clouds.

The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway & Lake Windermere Cruise.

Rowing on Lake Windermere.

Lake Windermere cruise.

Yes indeed, this is Britain’s largest natural lake, an 11-mile ribbon that forms part of the border between the counties of Lancashire and Westmorland. It holds a magical place in our history and culture, particularly within the arts. And what better place to start than with the poet William Wordsworth, who was born locally just up the road in the Cumbrian town of Cockermouth.

Speedboating through Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere cruise.

Wordsworth fell in love with Windermere and The Lake District as a young boy. In 1779, as an up-and-coming poet, he decided to come and live here. First in the village of Grasmere, later in the community of Rydal.

William Wordsworth Lake District history

William Wordsworth: Inspired by The Lake District.

With the lakes and their surrounding countryside as his inspiration, Wordsworth’s writing blossomed. Eventually, in 1798, he made a major breakthrough with Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems co-written with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This kicked off English literature’s celebrated Romantic Age, while Wordsworth and Colerdidge, along with numerous other bards, became known as The Lake Poets.

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Daffodils by William Wordsworth (1804).

Castle ruins on Lake Windermere.

Lake Windermere cruise.

The author and journalist Arthur Ransome also took inspiration from Windermere for the fictional lake in his 1930 children’s adventure novel Swallows and Amazons.

Ransome, who was educated in the town of Windermere, was fascinated by the lake’s nineteen islands. Hence he made sure to include plenty of island action in his book, such as when the children investigate Cormorant Island to look for Turner’s missing trunk.

An island on Lake Windermere England

Lake Windermere cruise.

Furthermore, Windermere’s beauty has attracted plenty of filmmakers. In 1980 director Karel Reisz came here with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons to shoot scenes for the romantic drama The French Lieutenant’s Woman. The lake also appears in the black comedy Withnail and I (1986) and the 2020 World War II drama The Windermere Children.

Lake Windermere in England.

Lake Windermere cruise.

Eventually, the distant form of Bowness came into view. A short while later we passed another of Windermere’s heritage vessels, the mighty MV Swan. Also built by Vickers of Barrow, it is a couple of years younger than MV Teal having been finished in 1938.

MV Swan on Lake Windermere.

Lake Windermere cruise.

Edging towards our docking point at Bowness and what a view we had. Those rolling green hills looked like a painting, a collection of handsome white houses and yachts nestled beneath. How the other half live…

Docked yachts on Lake Windermere.

Lake Windermere cruise.

“Ladies and gentlemen we are coming into Bowness” announced our Captain as I shook myself from my daydreaming. Before us, coming into sharper view with every second, was the magnificent Belsfield Hotel.

This 4 star home from home dates back to 1845 when it was built as the private house of Catherine Harrison, the Baroness Von Sternberg. If I ever come back to Windermere, methinks Sladja would love a couple of nights in The Belsfield.

The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway & Lake Windermere Cruise.

The Belsfield Hotel Lake Windermere

The Belsfield.

The weather had really brightened up as we disembarked MV Teal. I could already see what a pretty town Bowness was and we hadn’t even investigated yet. Next, I’d be checking out an attraction connected to another iconic English writer whose story is so intertwined with The Lake District. So off I went to learn more about… drum roll… The World of Beatrix Potter.

Wooden boats Bowness Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere cruise.

Like this? Maybe take a look at my many travel articles from all around England.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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43 Comments

  • Nemorino

    This post brings back nice memories of my rides in the 1990s on the Severn Valley Railway from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster.

    March 20, 2022 - 8:55 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad to hear you are a fellow steam train enthusiast Don. Looks like the line you took back in the 90s is still running too, thanks for reading!

      March 20, 2022 - 9:13 am Reply
  • rosashistoryblog

    Some amazing train history! A very beautiful station too!

    March 20, 2022 - 9:56 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping by Rosa, it’s wonderful that the railway line lives on through the care and love of people who refused to let it fade away.

      March 20, 2022 - 9:58 am Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    I adore taking rides on steam trains and this journey albeit short would be lovely especially coupled with the boat trip across Lake Windermere. I haven’t been to the Lake District for years but it’s a beautiful part of the country and I need to head back there at some point. Thank you for yet another interesting post Leighton. Hope you are enjoying a sunny Sunday morning! M.

    March 20, 2022 - 10:36 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Marion, I would like to think the sight of a puffing stream brings a smile to even the most hardened of faces. The combo ticket offers a genuinely nostalgic and romantic intro to the region and surely beats the car. Enjoy your Sunday, hopefully we’ll be able to get out after our classes.

      March 20, 2022 - 10:48 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    I enjoy travelling by train as well. I just find it so relaxing and a good way to soak in the views of the countryside. This looks like a beautiful train ride. That’s too bad that it wasn’t just a tad bit longer. And I loved that they preserved the carriages.

    March 20, 2022 - 12:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for checking out the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Line. I think this kind of travel makes people happy, probably because it evokes feelings of a bygone era. Appreciate your readership, as ever.

      March 20, 2022 - 1:09 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    An awesome post Leighton. Vintage rail is something that should be preserved and I am with you, the time on such a train is seldom long enough. Looks like a mixed day in the Lakes, but some really good weather when you needed it most. On our only visit to Windemere on our September 1977 honeymoon, the rain was bucketing down and we could hardly see the lake from our pub stop across the road. Mayhap, someday we will get back. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    March 20, 2022 - 1:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Wow, Lake Windermere in 1977! This is the thing about Britain, the weather can make or break your trip. Shitty weather on Windermere sounds… not fun. Hope you get to right that particular wrong someday. Thanks for reading!

      March 20, 2022 - 2:05 pm Reply
  • Ollie

    Love the mix of history whilst hearing about your time there. great post!

    March 20, 2022 - 2:28 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Ollie and for taking the time to leave a comment. I’ve enjoyed writing up this series of posts from across the northwest of England.

      March 20, 2022 - 9:26 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    It looks like it is everything I want it to be, pretty rolling hills around a large lake lovely architecture and an old steam train! I love that you did all of this with your uncle. So many good trips you two had. Maggie

    March 20, 2022 - 2:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Very much so Maggie, it was a great time and made me thirsty to explore more of rural England. Happily, that’s exactly what Sladja and I have been doing these past three months across Staffordshire. Hope you are well and had a good weekend!

      March 20, 2022 - 9:28 pm Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    You are very thoughtful to reconnect with your uncle in this way. While airplane travel is my thing, I also enjoy a train trip from time to time. Train travel has some advantages particularly the up close views of the towns and countryside. Throw in the cruise and sightseeing in the town and you had a very full but obviously fun day. The Lake District is a place I’d like to visit although I’m not sure where it is in England.

    March 20, 2022 - 3:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers John, although I have a few more Lake District articles still to come, I have barely scratched the surface of the region. Hoping to get back one day and explore some more. It’s in the northwest of England in the county of Cumbria.

      March 20, 2022 - 3:58 pm Reply
  • ThingsHelenLoves

    Lovely post. I’m increasingly interested in rail travel, I’m blaming Portillo. The more I dig into the UK rail network, the more I realise how many miles of historic line have been lost. It’s amazing when people power can save a stretch. Bonus points for the vintage feel of the carriage. I thought I recognised the back drop of the station and train from something so I googled, turns out it was in a music video for The Streets. So, historic, but definitely still cool!

    March 20, 2022 - 4:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      That’s right, ‘Never Went to Church’. I will edit in that in, thanks. Funny you should mention Portillo, my brother worked with him on the crew of that show for a year. Thanks for your contribution Helen!

      March 20, 2022 - 4:19 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Ah, Wordsworth! I was wondering why this had a familiar sound then I first opened the post. What a wonderful flood of memories from my studies. And I had never had these fantastic visuals to accompany the reading. This filled in a lot of blanks. My real complaint was that it was over too soon. I want to explore the village, the train station, the islands. This isn’t just a trip, it is a trip back in time. Thankfully I had a sensitive writer as a travel guide.

    March 20, 2022 - 4:48 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      That’s very kind of you to say Memo. I also wish I had more time to explore in depth and write more articles. One day in The Lake District is just a drop in the lake of course. How I’d love to spend a month or two tracking down all the spots and their associated stories. Maybe find my own patch of isolated daffodils.

      March 20, 2022 - 5:15 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    Lake Windermere seemed to ring a bell for me, although I had a hard time pinpointing just where I’d heard of it before…until you mentioned Wordsworth! I specialized in Wordsworth (and the Lake Poets) at university, as I love the Romantic poets of that day and age. I can see why he drew so much inspiration from Windermere: it’s breathtakingly beautiful. The train ride over looks like the experience to be had, and it really does resemble Thomas the Tank Engine! Hope to head over to that part of England someday. 🙂

    March 20, 2022 - 10:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Wow Rebecca, studying Wordsworth at uni must have been great fun. Now I see why you have such a flair for poetry yourself. I should really delve deeper myself into The Romantics, thanks for your contribution!

      March 25, 2022 - 10:10 pm Reply
      • Rebecca

        If you need recommendations, let me know!

        March 26, 2022 - 3:15 am
  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Well you’ve blown away one of those “inaccurate memories” for me with this article, as I have always thought that Swallows And Amazons was based on the Norfolk Broads! You might recall that I am also a HUGE fan of rail travel, it’s definitely the best way of getting around. I think I too would have been wishing for a longer journey.

    March 21, 2022 - 9:57 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad this piece is right up your street. I would love to do a major rail trip on this kind of heritage line one day. Maybe one of those weeklong journeys where you’ve got your own carriage and a restaurant. And then, ooooh there’s been a murder. Thanks for reading!

      March 21, 2022 - 10:18 am Reply
  • travelling_han

    The railway looks lovely, and I think I went on the exact same Windermere cruise as you in 2019 too (although a bit later on in the year)!! Such a beautiful part of the country.

    March 21, 2022 - 12:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah very cool Han, I’m sure much of the photographs from the cruise were familiar to you. Thanks for chipping in!

      March 21, 2022 - 12:18 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    The train looks like such a fun experience! Everyone was right in telling you how pretty the Lake District is, it’s hard to believe that’s in England! Not that I’ve ever been yet, but when I think of England I picture London haha

    March 21, 2022 - 1:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad this was an eye-opener for you Lyssy. Part of my heart and soul will always be in London and I really cherish my visits there. But if push came to shove and I was going to settle in The UK long term (unlikely for a multitude of reasons) I’d pick somewhere quiet in the north. And it doesn’t come any prettier than The Lake District.

      March 21, 2022 - 4:05 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    The Haverthwaite Railway station looks picture perfect! I love train travel (and have not done this nearly enough) … you’re right, there is something soulful about train travel 😊. And what amazing views you had from the boat. The Belsfield Hotel looks lovely (I wouldn’t mind staying there myself for a couple of nights). A train- and a boat ride in one day … that sounds just perfect!

    March 22, 2022 - 7:45 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for taking the trip with me Corna. I really have to get back to the Lake District one of these years and explore in more depth.

      March 22, 2022 - 1:00 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    Enjoyed coming along with you on the train ride and lake cruise. What a perfect moment to start filming that first video with the steam train chugging by with its cloud!

    March 22, 2022 - 7:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Appreciate the catchup Ruth! I too am having an extended blitz through the reader as I’ve somewhat neglected it of late. Happy Spring!

      March 22, 2022 - 7:14 pm Reply
      • rkrontheroad

        Happy spring to you! It hasn’t quite gotten here yet in the mountains. Spring brings our heaviest or at least more frequent snows, but it’s coming soon. I can visit flowers down the hill in Denver. I’m catching up after my road trip and it’s fun reading!

        March 22, 2022 - 8:18 pm
      • Leighton

        One day Ruth, I’d like to think we can make it to Denver. See those flowers for ourselves and meet you for a coffee.

        March 22, 2022 - 8:23 pm
      • rkrontheroad

        I hope so. If you have a little time, you have a place to stay in the mountains. 😊

        March 22, 2022 - 8:39 pm
  • grandmisadventures

    I’m with you on train travel being a favorite. The older the train, the better the experience! I think you found the perfect word for it- soulful. I’m always glad when these old gems of transportation are maintained and preserved instead of being put out to the train yard in place of something newer and flashier. And oh my goodness, what an incredible area to enjoy! So beautiful!

    March 22, 2022 - 8:03 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Meg, it’s a region that I would love to live in for a few months one day. But it would be a tough one to pull off due to it being a bit out of the way and the crippling cost of accommodation.

      March 22, 2022 - 8:07 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    Great post; I enjoyed reading this. There’s something special about train travel in the UK; I can’t get enough of it.

    March 23, 2022 - 7:22 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for taking the journey with me!

      March 23, 2022 - 8:47 am Reply
  • Toonsarah

    Looks like a great day out, and so very English 🙂

    April 5, 2022 - 5:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, this definitely ticked all my gimme-as-much-Englishness-as you-can boxes after 2 years living in China. Thanks for reading Sarah.

      April 5, 2022 - 5:34 pm Reply

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