I remember my parents talking about the impending closure of the Penrith-Keswick Railway a week before it closed. The bad news was in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald.
As a 14 year old I had not given the railway to Keswick much thought until then, so I decided that I should take the opportunity of at least taking the train to Keswick once.
The following Saturday (4th March 1972) I looked out of the window to find a good depth of snow. I was in two minds as to whether I should risk the journey due to the bad weather, but decided that I should be brave as this was saying good-bye to yet another Cumbrian Railway. I wrapped up warm and set off for the station which was fairly close to my home in Castletown, Penrith.
I walked to the station and passed the notice of closure of the Penrith-Keswick line on the way into the station (see above picture.) I bought a return ticket. I went through the subway to platform 4 where the train was waiting. I boarded the train and awaited its departure. The weather was pretty bad and everything was white which spoiled the view somewhat. The windows were well steamed up and dirty so this made it doubly difficult to see the scenery. The train set off from platform 4 slowly until we picked up the token at Penrith No. 1 signalbox. After leaving no .1 box we went over the M6 motorway bridge and rose up onto the Keswick line at CKPR junction.
The first station was Blencow where we stopped briefly.
The next stop was Penruddock station which looked run down with its broken windows.
On to Troutbeck and then the downhill run to Threlkeld. After stopping at Threlkeld we entered the Greta Gorge with the river looking very nice with snow all around it. On through "Little Tunnel" then through Low Briery halt. On through "Big Tunnel", then we arrived at Keswick where I alighted.
I set off to walk into Keswick, but the weather was so miserable I changed my mind a couple of hundred yards down station road and turned back to the station to board the next train back to Penrith.
I was very taken by the character of the line which made me feel like I had gone back in time to take the trip. I was so taken aback by the journey that I decided to take an afternoon train so after lunch I asked my mate Frank if he fancied going on the train to Keswick. He said he did, so we set off for Penrith station. We took the afternoon train which was full of people, mostly those wanting to say good-bye to the Penrith-Keswick Railway. A man with a cine camera boarded the train at Penrith and filmed the inside of the train. It was not until many years later that I would find he had been filming for the video "Trains to Keswick" by Lapwing productions. What was even more surprising was that Frank and I managed to get on the film, Frank appears twice and I appear once but only a brief glimpse through an internal window. The second journey was very much like the first with almost zero visibility out of the steamed up and dirty windows. I was taken aback by the nostalgia of the day and was very glad I had ventured out in the wintry weather to say good-bye (or good-bye for now?) to the Penrith-Keswick Railway. I left Penrith station feeling very sad about the loss of this beautiful and wonderful railway.
It was not until later that year that the track was lifted as goods trains still went to Blencow. Once the line was lifted I walked the trackbed from Redhills junction to the bridge just west of Blencow station on a number of occasions. Many of the railway artifacts were still around then and the railway houses at Redhills were still standing, although they were derelict. Despite the track having been lifted the railway still kept a lot of its character.
As I got a little older I thought about trying to get the railway rebuilt as a heritage railway but lacked the skills for running such a project. It was with great delight that I found out about Cedric Martindale's project to rebuild the railway. I contacted Cedric and was sent a 'Newsletter Update'. At first I was very skeptical about the project and had a number of questions for Cedric to answer. I was worried about Keswick golf course where the railway ran through the middle. Cedric assured me that this was no problem as the trackbed could be lowered so the golf balls went over the top, and anyway a train window could take a golf ball hit with no problems. I asked about Blencow station which was now a private residence but Cedric said that the station had a goods loop which could be used instead of the previous alignment. My negative view of the project then became a very positive one. In 2000 I approached Cedric concerning starting a website and after some thought Cedric said OK. The website was very useful for advertising the Bonds issues and passing on information about the project. At the same time I also joined many railway chat groups to which I passed on information about the Bonds issues and the project.
I was there on that last day too. I was 19 and coming up from my home near Bradford. Fares being a little cheaper in those days I went up the Settle Carlisle, back down the WCML to Penrith and joined the blue DMU there, amidst the fluffy white snow. I remember looking out at the stations on the branch and finding it hard to believe that this would be the last time that this journey could be made, it all seemed like another day on the branch, albeit a busy one. And I should believe. Hadn't I old memories of the line beyond Keswick, through Bassenthwaite to Cockermouth, and hadn't that long gone? Keswick was arrayed in bunting and at a little stall on a trestle table I bought a booklet about the line which I later loaned to Hunter Davies after reading in 'A Walk Along the Tracks' that he had never found a history of the line to read before walking the trackbed. This was pre Google, of course. After returning to Penrith I had to make my way back as timing wouldn't allow me to see the last train, (and who want's to see the death throes of an old friend anyway?) so I made my way back to Yorkshire via Haltwistle and Newcastle, and down the ECML via York. And in my collection are various black and white photographs to remember that snowy day when Keswick became another town handed over to the car.
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