Maurice Burns has put together a fantastic collection of photos below taken in 1966.
Please enjoy them and then read his wonderful story from a time when steam ran through the heart of Lakeland.
These images are the property of Mr Maurice Burns and should not be reproduced without his consent.
With the English Lake District huge tourist potential going back hundreds of years it is remarkable that it had so few railways that served the area and with the Beeching axe in full flow in the 1960’s this was to be reduced further when the spotlight fell on the attractive Penrith to Workington line. This line went through the heart of the Lake District skirting mountains and lakeshores and calling at the favourite tourist town of Keswick.
Steam motive power during LMS and early BR days had been the ever faithful LNWR 0-6-0 “Cauliflowers”. Penrith shed had No 58409 and 58412 whilst Workington had No 58396. However the sign of things to come came early on the CKPR when in January 1955 DMU’s were introduced perhaps one of the first branchlines to be dieselised. Steam still continued on the pick up goods with motive from Carlisle Upperby but this too was withdrawn in June 1965.
My first sight of the railway was strangely enough from the summit of Blencathra ( feet) which seasoned fell walkers may know by its other name Saddleback - a peak that dominates the road from Penrith to Keswick to the North. It was during this family walk with my mum, dad and sister that I noticed a DMU climbing up the valley from Keswick and crossing Mosedale viaduct in the distance in the early 1960’s.
I never visited the line to photograph it due to the lack of steam motive power but then in 1966 for a period of only 5 months this was all to change.
The line had been under threat of closure as lines elsewhere fell under the Breaching Axe and it must have helped its survival having influential MP, the late RH William Whitelaw as Penrith MP. After a strong campaign to save the line eventually Barbara Castle announced in late 1965 that the section west of Keswick to Cockermouth and Workington would close on April 16th 1966. It was then I noticed an advert in “Railway World” highlighting a “Lakes and Fells” railtour to be run jointly by the Stephenson Locomotive Society and the Manchester and Locomotive Society. This ambitious tour ran from Manchester to Hellifield then over the Settle and Carlisle and on to Penrith. Motive power changed here for the run over the CKPR section of track to be closed to Workington. The homeward run ran south to Arnside, Wennington, Hellifield, Blackburn, Preston and finally back to Manchester. Motive power was interestingly two engines that are still with us today. Jubilee 4-6-0 No 45596 “Bahamas” still in BR service (Manchester to Hellifield) and the then already preserved A3 No 4472 “Flying Scotsman” over the Settle and Carlisle to Penrith. For the section over the CKPR the nine coach train was in the hands of Carlisle Upperby sheds Ivatt 2-6-0’s No 46426 and 46458. I decided I had to photograph the special but the days leading up April 2nd saw heavy snowfall on the Pennines that closed the A66 road over Stainmoor from home on Teesside to the Lakes.
The snow made it difficult to plan the trip and although I had the use of a car I opted for plan B which was to travel by train throughout. At least this way I would see for certain the “Lakes and Fells” steam special and travel over the part of the line to be closed. A friend who opted to see “Flying Scotsman” at Gardsdale travelled by car and found the road from Hawes to Garsdale blocked by six foot high snow drifts!
So my first visit to the line was by train and a long journey from Teesside up to Newcastle across to Carlisle then south to Penrith for basically just one steam photograph and I did not even know where to go! On the climb out of Penrith on the DMU, under clear blue sky, the heavy snow made the Lakeland peaks look there best. At Keswick station I spent time photographing the station, signs and DMU’s before later catching another DMU to Bassenthwaite Station. My ordnance survey map showed that perhaps the best locations west of Keswick were on the section that bordered Bassenthwaite Lake and this I viewed from the train. At Bassenthwaite Station I took many photographs on this lovely sunny day to record the railway scene that two weeks later would close for ever. I eventually found a spot for the “Lakes and Fells” steam special where the railway embankment bordered the lake with a snow capped Skiddaw towering above. The sun was still shining as late running 46426 and 46458 came into view and I took my one steam picture of the day – a picture that at least records the last steam train ever to run over those tracks fourteen days before closure.
Having now travelled over the route I realised how beautiful the line was and when I learnt from lineside chatting that on two weekends a year only the line saw a Euston to Keswick special steam train for the Keswick Convention – a international event attended by 5,000 Christians. On the first week the heavy train loaded with passengers left Penrith with the locomotives 46434 and 46426 chimney first for Keswick then returned empty stock. On the following weekend the system was reversed with the loaded train engines chimney first from Keswick.
The heavy train must have been at the limit for the two small 2-6-0’s and on the return working hauled by 46426 and 46458 the weather was dreadful! In pouring rain I saw it crossing one of the River Greta bow bridges then on two further occasions as it climbed towards Troutbeck Station and the summit of the line at feet.
However my most memorable day on the Keswick line occurred purely by chance. I was in the middle of a weeks holiday photographing steam over Shap when I made an evening visiting to Carlisle Upperby shed roundhouse. Long gone were the Duchesses and Royal Scotts and it was now largely empty except for a few run down class 5’s and some Ivatt 2-6-0’s which were then used for station pilot duties. However when I came across Ivatt No 46458 I could not believe my eyes. It had been given a very special clean up, not by enthusiasts as happened in those days, but by the Upperby shed staff. The motion was polished, with the complete smokebox and bufferbeam fully repainted. Even the wheels, break gear and screw coupling were immaculate so the big question was why? A steam raiser was just checking the fire so I asked him did he know what the engine was next working? He said he should not really tell me but it was working a Royal Train the very next morning in fact just 10 hours time! A steam hauled Royal train in 1966 – unbelieveable! The secrecy surrounding Royal Trains is paramount of course but by a carefull approach to the night shift running forman he broke all the rules and showed me the special traffic notice. The Royal train was carrying HRH the Duke of Edinburgh from London to Penrith where 46458 was to couple up to the Royal train at 5.30am then depart for Keswick. A breakfast stop was to be made at Blencow, the first station after Penrith, so this enabled His Royal Highness to arrive at Keswick at a civilised hour and for the lone photographer to have two chances to photograph the train!
It has to be said with just a little excitement I drove to Penrith. The morning of July 22nd dawned with clear blue sky and that’s how it remained the entire day. The sun had just come over the horizon as I caught 46458 climb the stiff bank out of Penrith to Red Hills at just after 5.30am. As the dark maroon royal coaches passed me just feet away it was all rather unreal. Whilst HRH the Duke of Edinbugh was relaxing having his breakfast at Blencow I was busy trying to find a good location for a second picture at 9am shortly after the train left the station. I then followed the train as far as the Greta Gorge just outside Keswick then pictured its return journey and its climb up to Troutbeck. At no time during the day did I see another railway photographer so it would appear I was the only one lucky enough to record the event – and it was all down to luck.
Long after steam finished in the Carlisle Area at the end of 1967 the Carlisle to Keswick DMU’s continued until there was a sudden announcement made in the middle of January 1972 that the line was to close completely. So on March 4th 1972 the final train from Keswick to Penrith ran and soon afterwards the tracks were removed. Today this route has been the subject of reopening talks but whatever the outcome the beautiful section from the old Keswick station to Troutbeck is now a public footpath were one can cross all the many railway bridges over the Greta Gorge and even go through a tunnel that all still exist and one can just image what a great four mile preserved line this would have made!
Maurice would like thank Robert Weston and his excellent informative book The Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway which was used in preparing this article.