Waiting for the Ghost Train

Tucked away behind undergrowth and wire fences, near the A66, beside Bassenthwaite Lake (the only "Lake" in the Lake District, tedious pub trivia fans; all of the other lakes are actually "Meres" or "Waters") stands the crumbling remains of what was once Bassenthwaite Lake railway station. The station was part of the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway but, along with the rest of the line west of Keswick, closed on 18 April 1966, just over a century after it was opened.


I have always found something rather fascinating about exploring old ruins; as a child, I braved the wildly overgrown ruin of a large house at the end of my village, and for a long time afterwards was obsessed with the vacant rooms I had found, with tantalising hints of their former grandeur. Even today, I love the strangely surreal atmosphere of coming across buildings slowly being reclaimed by nature. So it was, having finished a short hill walk in the Lakes earlier in the year, that I realised I would be passing the ruins of the old railway buildings on my way to my hotel.


Some time before, whilst distracted at work one day and exploring Google Streetview, I had seen the ghostly outline of the old station building beside the main road. There has (and remains) some talk of reopening the line between Penrith and Keswick, which greatly appealed to me, although I fear that it may remain a unrealised dream of enthusiasts. Wist reading about it, I had been looking into the old railway that served this part of the Lakes. Later, I read The Lake District Murder by John Bude, in which the main characters frequently travel up and down this line, investigating shady goings-on, and was curious about this one of many abandoned railway lines. Since its closure, the Keswick to Cockermouth stretch of the railway has been built over, as the A66, which means that, with a little effort, one can imagine a little of the old journey.


I parked the car up a side road and approached the remains of the station building. It roof having been removed (or collapsed), it was clearly in a bad state and it was fenced off, with signs warning against trespass. Not wishing to do so (and, anyway, being unable to find a practical way through the fences), I walked around to the front of the station, along what I realised would have been the track-bed in front of the platform. The elegant wooden waiting room, also without its roof, was still recognisable, with its red and cream panels fading and overcome by mildew, and I could make out the ticket window in what I presume was the station master's office beside it.


Walking along the platform, whose edging stones remained beneath a carpet of moss, it did not take a great deal of imagination to see the building in its heyday, although somehow this made its current state all the more forlorn and sad. For a functional building, it had been created with very pleasing elegance, as I suppose was the way things were done in the 1860s. I wondered whether the craftsmen who laid the stone and created the woodwork ever considered that there might come a time when their hard work would be left to fall apart, but then reflected that few of us think of the future like that. It had been a smart building on a railway line, and presumably something that its station master and railway staff had devoted time and care to maintain, but its time had passed.


Returning to my hotel along the A66, I passed several other obviously railway-related buildings, which had now become homes, and was pleased to think that something of the old railway, beside the course of its old line, remained and was in regular use.

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