Friday, June 20, 2014

A train ride to the northern Lakes

Train travel is romantic in a way that car travel will never be. The railway is quintessentially English; quiet, intricate, small but unknowable. One journey is particularly special me – the one up the west coast mainline from London to the northern Lake District. It’s like a travelogue of England whizzing past your window, from the sprawl of London, through the heart of the urban Midlands and into Lancashire.

Past the towns of Wigan and Preston, the landscape starts to thin out. You go over the River Lune at Lancaster and begin the climb into a completely different world, as industrial Lancashire give way to the mountains.

Just near the village of Shap, there’s a huge foundry, and then Wet Sleddale reservoir. To the right of the track is the the Heart Shaped Wood, which is exactly what it sounds like, a wood shaped like a heart. The wood is on the side of the Howgill Fells, which are an undiscovered gem. On a bank holiday Monday, when the rest of the Lake District is absolutely crawling with people, you can go to the Howgill Fells and there’s no-one there. Lakeland guidebook author Alfred Wainwright said they look like sleeping elephants, these rolling green grassy hills, and the train gives you a  great view of them – it goes right through them.

By then you’re by Shap, which is 1,000 feet up and makes your ears pop as you go past. It has fantastic views across the Pennines – on a clear day you can see as far as Scotland or the isle of Man. After that, you begin to drop down into Penrith, which is always a welcome sign for me, because I associate Penrith with good pubs and restaurants. And that’s where I get off.

The journey takes about 3½ hours from London Euston to Penrith, from US$56 single with Virgin Trains.

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