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The Lake District

The Lake District's steam trains and heritage railways

Kim 21 February 2022

Once upon a time, a steam train in the Lake District was seen as something to avoid, with many famous names such as William Wordsworth working hard to prevent them! Nowadays, not only are they considered an attractive and quaint part of the landscape, they offer an excellent way to travel through the Lakes without a car.

Our guide introduces all the wonderful steam trains in the Lake District and how you can enjoy a day out on them during your visit.

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway

Starting at Haverthwaite, a village to the south of Lake Windermere, the steam trains of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway are an impressive sight. Chugging along, the route follows the twists and turns of the River Leven all the way to the Lakes Aquarium on Windermere itself. This is the perfect place to continue your journey by boat, or hop off to discover this quieter side of the popular lake. You can also buy a combined ticket for the railway, boats, and multiple attractions around Windermere.

Cottages near Windermere

Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway

Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway

Perhaps the most famous steam railway in the Lake District, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway sounds its tooting horn as it passes through the tranquil Eskdale valley. Known locally as the La’al Ratty, the trains of this miniature steam railway trundle along from the coast at Ravenglass (where there’s also a railway museum) all the way to Boot, which sits amidst some of the Lake District’s most spectacular mountain scenery. You can hop on and off to start and end some linear walks, or simply enjoy the ride. There are also a number of excellent family-friendly events throughout the year including Fish & Chip Trains and the Santa Express!

Cottages in Eskdale

Settle to Carlisle Railway

Settle to Carlisle Railway

The Settle to Carlisle Railway, travelling through the North West, offers one of the most scenic steam railway journeys in the UK. You can experience the route on regular trains throughout the year, but things get really special when steam train rides run during the summer. If you’re just after a view of the amazing engines as they go past, the Ribblehead Viaduct is one of the best locations for a photo. If you’d like to get on these trains yourself, be aware that they tend to run from other locations across the country. But this is a great way to travel in style to Carlisle for your visit to the Lake District!

Cottages near Carlisle

The Cumbrian Coast Line

The Cumbrian Coast Line

The railway running down the west coast of Cumbria is a real hidden gem, with tracks that skim the edge of the coast, along the Irish sea and down towards Morecambe Bay. You can occasionally see steam trains running down this picturesque route, and you can even jump on board yourself from numerous locations across the UK. Take a look at the Railway Touring Company for trips.

Cottages by the coast

South Tynedale Railway

South Tynedale Railway

The South Tynedale Railway is England’s second-highest narrow gauge railway. Travelling from Alston in the North Pennines to Northumberland, it’s run by volunteers who are passionate about preserving a route that was closed in the 1970s. Steam trains run from spring to autumn, taking in 5 miles of track through the gorgeous rolling countryside of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If you have a big group, you can even charter your own train!

Cottages in Penrith

Millerbeck Light Railway

Staveley-in-CartmelTake in stunning rural scenery as you travel 

Of all the steam railways in the Lake District, this one is the most secret! Tucked away in the South Lakes village of Staveley, Millerbeck House has a treat in store for any engine lovers. The Millerbeck Light Railway is open on select dates throughout the year, when you’ll be welcomed into the grounds and invited to hop onto the 7.25-inch gauge line for a tootle through meadows, over the beck, and through woodland. The track is manned and maintained by a host of friendly volunteers who take on all sorts of jobs, from drivers and guards to signalmen and yardmasters.

Cottages near Haverthwaite

Threlkeld Quarry Railway

Threlkeld Quarry Railway

At Threlkeld Quarry, you can gain a fascinating insight into the industrial quarrying heritage of the area. Not only is there a tiny but jam-packed museum, there are regular steam trains that take you on a short journey into the heart of the old quarry. Here you’ll be able to jump out and get up close and personal with some of the ginormous quarrying machines before you head on back down the track to your starting point.

Cottages in Threlkeld

West Cumberland Railway Museum

West Cumberland Railway Museum

If you’re staying near the pretty seaside village of St Bees, then pop along to the West Cumberland Railway Museum. Open just one week a month by appointment, this private collection is an eclectic mix of railwayana from West Cumbria including lights, station signs and advertisements. It’s completely free to visit and the enthusiastic owner, Peter, will give you a very warm welcome!

Cottages in Haile and Egremont

Bassenthwaite Lake Station

Image credit: Bassenthwaite Lake Station Cafe

Okay, this one isn’t a working steam train, but we thought it was well worth a mention! Sitting on the site of the old Bassenthwaite station, on the edge of the lake of the same name, this unique café welcomes guests onto a repurposed steam engine for afternoon teas, lunches, drinks, and even the occasional event! Not only is it a spectacular location, the staff are incredibly welcoming and the food is fantastic! Bassenthwaite Lake Station is a must-visit if you’re staying in the area.

Cottages in Bassenthwaite

FAQs

There are four working steam trains in the Lake District: the Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway, the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway, Threlkeld Quarry Railway and Millerbeck Light Railway. Most are on narrow gauge tracks, though the train at Lakeside is a full-size engine. Other steam trains also pass through Cumbria, including on the famous Settle to Carlisle line.

The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Steam Railway in Cumbria runs for 3.2 miles (5.1km) between the two villages of Haverthwaite and Lakeside on Lake Windermere, stopping at Newby Bridge in between. The whole one-way journey takes approximately 18 minutes and follows the River Leven and part of the shore of Windermere.

La’al Ratty is the name used locally for the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. The name is a phrase in old Cumbrian dialect that means “little railway”, and is given to the route because of its narrow-gauge line. The La’al Ratty is one of the oldest and longest narrow gauge railways in England.

The La’al Ratty - officially known as the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway - travels for 7 miles between the coast at Ravenglass and the village of Boot in the heart of the Eskdale valley. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes each way and stops off at several stations along the route.

Lake District cottages 

Discover our full collection of holiday cottages in the Lake District and find your perfect base to return to after your railway adventures throughout the region. 

Cottages in the Lakes

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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