I’ve only ever driven into Keswick. There’s the frustration of seeing the Lake District National Park sign on the A66 and knowning you’ve another 20 minutes to keep the pedal down, and then there’s the scrum for a car parking space. And, if you’re heading up there now there’s also the roadworks to contend with as the town is split in two for some sewage upgrades. It’s worth it, don’t get me wrong. I love Keswick and spending time there is a joy. I just wonder what it would have been like to arrive there by train.
That’s the subject of some research I’ve been doing for a new magazine article due out in March, for which I’ve been speaking to a range of people with different opinions on whether the town is better with or without the train.
The railway station is still there; a walk I finished last week for the book starts off from the old Keswick platform, now the site of a hotel. From where you once stood waiting for the next service to Penrith, you can now gaze into a conservatory area where people partake of coffee, cake and maybe something stronger to keep the winter chill away. The tracks torn up following the Beeching Axe and much of the route to Cockermouth replaced by the A66, the disused railway is now a firm favourite with cyclists and walkers. For good reason, too. It’s a flat, accessible route with outstanding views and you also get to enjoy some of the town’s railway heritiage as you go by former stations and rusty bridges. The health of the nation, the enjoyment of tourists – all these are increased, as they are on disused railway lines elsewhere in the country, notably in the Peak District where the Tissington Trail and High Peak Trail are extremely popular.
But on the other side of the coin we lament the passing of the railways. Either for a romantic reason of the clattering rails, the environmental sense in reducing emissions or the convenience of public transport, not having a railway serve the northern Lake District just seems odd. There are those who are planning on getting carriages and engines moving along this line again, with environmental surveys already carried out and now just the time consuming and significant problem of fundraising holding up a full application to reopen the Penrith to Keswick branch. Yes, it’s possible to have the path running alongside any new tracks that are laid, but would that take away the isolated magic of the walk? Or should the railway be given priority and walkers enjoy the many other paths in the surrounding coutryside. Would people even use the train in 2013, or have we become to dependent on the car to get to the secret and previously unaccessible places in the Lakes?
I seem to change my mind on this issue every few days. It’s not an easy subject to decide upon. The potential to develop the disused path further or reintroduce the railway into Keswick is a topic that will have increasing significance in the town over the next ten years if the plans to lay tracks gain momentum.