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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Cumbrian rail route named one of best journeys in country

The thought of facing endless traffic jams and irate motorists, as well as rising fuel costs as you make your way to work, is stressing many commuters every day.

Cumbria train photo
The train near Whitehaven

But for Bill Cocker his journey to work is an altogether different experience.

Not only is he able to sit back and relax while the pressure of sitting behind the wheel is taken away from him, if he glances out of the window on his journey he’s met with the abundant glorious sights of the Cumbrian coastline.

Bill is a conductor team manager for Northern Rail so travelling by train from his home in Millom to his office at Carlisle Station is the obvious choice of transport.

If he didn’t make the two-hour commute to and from work by train he’d be faced with a 90 mile drive if he went by the motorway or about 70 miles if he drove along the coast road, a long and arduous trip where the scenery would be the last thing on his mind.

The full coastline route, 150 miles from Carlisle to Lancaster has been highlighted by National Rail as one of the best coastal rail journeys in the country – and photographer Chris Close has captured the countryside, Lake District mountains, beaches and a dramatic cliffs of the remote coastline, which Bill sees every day.

“It’s a beautiful journey,” he says. “You can’t ask for a better commute.

“I used to work in Manchester and this is completely different.

“It’s like a hidden part of Britain. It’s such a peaceful, quiet and unspoilt landscape.”

Leaving Carlisle, the train runs beside the River Caldew, through farmland to Dalston and Wigton.

Remains of the mining industry and views of the River Ellen are in full view before reaching Maryport, whose grid street pattern reveals its 18th century development as a coal port.

There’s a short distance between Maryport and the next station at Flimby, where terraces of old houses look towards Scotland across the Solway Firth.

The Victorian era of Workington can be seen as you cross the River Derwent, with a clear view of the old harbour and docks before approaching Harrington, with its distinctive cluster of colour-washed terraces and Whitehaven.

“Between Harrington and Parton the train slows and runs on a single track at 15 miles an hour right by the sea,” says Bill. “When the sea and waves are crashing down and the wind is blowing it’s breathtaking.”

Then it’s through Whitehaven and on to the small village of St Bees, where walkers stop for the start of the Coast to Coast walk.

The train runs alongside the shore past Nethertown and Braystones where a single track and old wooden faded beach huts from the 1920s appear before passing Sellafield on its way to Ravenglass and Millom.

“Ravenglass is the highlight of the journey for me,” says Bill. “It’s beautiful, especially when the sun is setting.

“I remember coming to a caravan site there on holiday when I was a child.

“On a clear day you can see Scafell Pike from the train between Sellafield and Drigg.”

The railway line is raised above salt marshes as you pass through farmland, the Duddon Estuary to Foxfield before reaching Barrow, where you’ll see the docks and Furness Abbey from the train on your way to Leven Viaduct, Kent Viaduct at Arnside and into Lancashire through Silverdale, Carnforth and finally Lancaster.

Bill, who was based in Barrow working as a conductor on the Cumbrian coastal line, before he became conductor team manager based in Carlisle three years ago, reflects: “It’s the whole experience of the journey.

“There’s such a diversity of what you can see.

“There’s more to Cumbria than the Lake District.

“The people on the line are also really friendly.

“When I was a conductor I remember a little old lady running after me when she got off the train saying she hadn’t paid.

“You wouldn’t see this if you were in a large city.”

For those locals living along or near the line the journey is one of the country’s relatively unknown gems.

For Dorothy Taylor from Rowrah near Whitehaven, travelling home on the line from Carlisle was the final scenic part of her journey after visiting Manchester to drop off Christmas presents.

“It’s a relaxing way to travel and easier than driving,” she says. “You get to see the countryside.

“Living locally you can take it for granted but it’s a lovely journey.”

Photographer Chris Close visited the Cumbrian coast in July to capture the route for National Rail.

“It’s beautiful and so stunning,” he remembers. “I remember watching the sea crashing in on the beaches and precariously clambering over the rocks with my camera to take pictures.”

For more information on the Cumbrian coastal line visit www.northernrail.org.

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