A train ride around the Cumbrian coast

Thursday 13th April 2023

I needed to get from Lancaster to Glasgow last month and instead of heading up the West Coast Main Line (which was closed north of Carlisle anyway due to track works at Carstairs), having plenty of time, I decided to enjoy a leisurely ride around the wonderful Cumbrian coast on the line via Barrow-in-Furness and Workington to Carlisle, followed by taking an Avanti West Coast train on the unusual diversion via Dumfries and Kilmarnock to Glasgow rather than using a rail replacement coach.

It turned out to be a great day’s travel with some fantastic scenery to enjoy.

But the first thing was to buy an appropriate ticket. I asked at the Avanti run ticket office at Lancaster for a ticket to Carlisle via the Cumbrian coastline and it was quite a battle to get the staff member to sell me one. He told me I needed the West Coast Main Line. After I insisted I wanted the coastal route the next point was for me to mention I believed it was cheaper to split the ticket at Barrow-in-Furness especially as I was setting off just before 09:00 in the morning peak. Back came tut tutting and advice he didn’t have time to look into split tickets. I retorted I wanted a single to Barrow-in-Furness (which was a peak hour anytime fare) and an off-peak single from Barrow-in-Furness to Carlisle via Workington. At that he finally obliged and I headed down to the platform to wait for the Northern train that would take me to Barrow-in-Furness where it terminated and then take a second train from there on to Carlisle.

That’s all for today’s storyline.

The rest is photographs to show why it’s a great train journey to take.

The Barrow-in-Furness bound train arrives into Lancaster from Manchester Airport at 08:51.

Just a quick tip to begin – the newish Class 195 trains don’t come with seats and tables perfectly lining up with windows – it’s fine in one direction, but in the other direction there’s no forward facing seats at a table with an unrestricted view.

I find it’s better to take a gangway seat if you prefer to face forward and get a better view out of the window at a less acute angle.

Heading north through to Carnforth there’s always some interesting traction to see owned by West Coast Railways which is based near the station.

The train heads west from the main line and immediately after Arnside station crosses over the impressive 51 span Viaduct over the River Kent. Originally constructed in 1856 as a single line viaduct, the structure was extended to twin track in 1863.

Photo courtesy Network Rail

The view south from the train window is towards Morecambe Bay.

Soon after that the train arrives at the magnificent Grange-over-Sands station with its platform views towards the Bay through the arched windows.

Two more stations and then it’s the lovely Ulverston which is currently undergoing restoration work to its clock tower and roof as well as repairs to stonework, cleaning and “de-vegetation of the canopy gutters”. I’m sure it’ll look magnificent when the work is completed.

Two more stations at Dalton and Roose brings the train into Barrow-in-Furness where it terminated at 09:53 – just a couple of minutes more than an hour for the journey from Lancaster. Time for a refreshment break at the cafe in the station and it’s not long before the next train arrives ready to head on to Carlisle.

This time it’s easy to find a seat and table with a lovely unobstructed window view

It’s not long before we’re back on the coast again and this time heading north, with a view across Duddon Sands …

… over to Millom where we’ll be in about fifteen minutes having passed around the top of the sands before heading south.

Southwards towards Millom the landscape looking east is rather wet – it’s called Millom Marsh.

The station before Millom is called, appropriately enough, Green Road – it’s one of nine request stations of the 25 the train passes through between Barrow-in-Furness and Carlisle. We didn’t stop at many of them.

After Millom the train does another U-turn and heads north again …

… with views on the right hand side eastwards across to the Black Combe mountain.

It’s not long before we’re passing through the request station called Bootle. That’s not the Merseyside town with a population of 51,000 on the Merseyrail network, no this is the Cumbrian village of the same name with a population of around 800 and a rather sorry-for-itself station …

… but a functioning signal box …

… controlling a lovely manually operated level crossing.

The Cumbrian Coast line has a number of manually operated level crossings adding to the costs of operation but some have been converted to automatic operation…

… and others are just open crossings with just half a white line painted in the road.

After passing more views to the east of Corney Fell mountain …

… and the coastline to the west ….

…. the train arrives at the next station, Ravenglass.

This is where the lovely Ravenglass and Eskdale railway leaves for the highly recommended ride alongside Muncaster Fell to Dalegarth in the Esk valley.

Leaving Ravenglass, the nearside offers more views of the coastline…

….and indeed the next 22 miles of the journey to St Bees provides some serious right-up-close-to-the-coastline travelling taking about half an hour to complete due to speed restrictions particularly on the northern section where the state of the track led to a line closure for some months following storm damage in 2020.

The first (request) station after Ravenglass is Drigg where there’s another manual level crossing which the Google camera car caught in action as it passed by…

… but obviously when I passed through, the gates were already closed for road traffic. Not that there is much as all that seems to be on the south of the station is a rather secretive installation surrounded by lots of barbed wire…

… I’m not sure what lies behind the fencing but it’s just a foretaste for what’s coming up after the train has passed through the right-on-the-coast station at Seascale.

Seascale is a popular destination with access to the large sandy beach.

After that, it’s not long before the barbed wire appears again, and this time on the offside…

… as the train approaches Sellafield with its bespoke station used by many of the workers at the nuclear processing plant …

… as well as a rather imposing shed into which I assume the regular trains carrying nuclear waste are unloaded.

More positively, as the train leaves the station the offside views are all about the coast. Everyone raves about the ‘Dawlish Wall’ in Devon, but for me the next section of the journey as the train heads on north …

… for the request stations at Braystones and Nethertown (which are right on the beach) is one of the best parts of a train journey in England.

After Nertherton you get a birds eye view of the forty or so dwellings that have been built between the track and the seafront …

… and then it’s that section of track on to St Bees with the severe speed restriction in place which feels like about 10mph.

After St Bees it’s on via Corkickle to the more populace Whitehaven, Parton, Harrington and Workington after which the train passes the request station at Flimby and then inland from Maryport to Carlisle. It takes 68 minutes from Whitehaven to Carlisle and that’s by far the busiest section of the journey, although in the peak summer season the whole journey can be busy with holidaymakers and if you take a ride along the line you’ll soon see why.

The journey onwards from Carlisle to Glasgow via Dumfries and Kilmarnock with Avanti West Coast was a slow alternative to the rail replacement coach because of “pathing issues” for the train as well as the need to make an unscheduled stop at Dumfries due to a passenger being taken ill. However, the line does offer some alternative scenery to the splendour of the West Coast Main Line, and here are just three photographs as we headed north through Dumfries and Galloway to finish off.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

24 thoughts on “A train ride around the Cumbrian coast

Add yours

  1. From Paul Roberts, Leicester.

    I couldn’t agree with you more more. Having driven your buses and coaches in Brighton and Hove from 1986 – 1995 my wife’s job moved us to Leicester in 1995. Meanwhile my best friend from the 1960s moved to St Bees.

    Since then I have travelled by rail to visit him every year and have used every permutation of railway route possible. An ordinary return is permissable via either Lancaster or Carlisle also the S&C, Midland Mainline, WCML via Trent Valley or Birmingham, Hope Valley, Leeds – Manchester, Leeds – Preston, Leeds – Carnforth etc etc. I’ve also used returns to the edge of the North West Railrover area, once allowing me to travel via Liverpool and Preston..

    A highlight of these journeys was the regular use of Class 37s on the coast line. towards the end of the last decade. (See attached image) Another bonus is that in more than twenty visits we have never failed to travel on the Ratty. My next trip is scheduled for mid May.

    I follow all your blogs with great interest and am sorry that I missed meeting you on your Leicester ‘Hop’ last week.

    I hope you carry on riding and writing for a long time.

    Regards Paul

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad that you enjoyed the trip around the Cumbrian coast, my local line.

        Best seat I find is in the middle of a coach facing forward at a table on the coast side of the train.

        Fortunately living in Ravenglass if I travel on the first northbound service on a Saturday when commuter trade is usually non existent I normally get the choice of all seats such is the lack of customers south of Whitehaven.

        Please keep up the blog which I have only recently discovered after spotting RF which was my favourite transport to school many years ago when two (RF12 and RF13) were sold to my local bus firm in Shropshire where they operated for eighteen years,, five more than in London!


      1. Hello again

        The tickets which allowed full flexibility were from Leicester to St Bees. In the early days I checked it out on Barry Doe’s Fare Dealer website but usage proved that everything was okay via all routes as St Bees is far enough away from both Carlisle and Barrow in Furness to be valid from the north or south approach to the village. Twenty years ago there were three hour gaps in the coast service but now it’s all but hourly. I still split tickets sometimes depending on my chosen route from the Midlands but I always relish the thought of another ride on the Cumbrian coast. Incidentally, St Bees no longer has a bus service and locals rely entirely on the trains.



    1. There’s a long-standing instruction dating back to privatisation that ticket office staff are NOT to offer split tickets unless specifically asked for a certain combination.

      Many staff ignore it, of course…


  2. Your “conversation” with the ticket person at Lancaster will be even more interesting when he/she transmogrifies into a ticket machine (or AI robot?) in the not too distant future.


  3. Class 195s have table seats aligning with windows between the doors and each carriage end (excepting the section with disabled access and toilet), so head for these for a view.


  4. There is a £38.50 anytime single “Any Permitted Route” from Lancaster to Carlisle. Set by Northern so presumably valid on the coast route too. Especially as most other fares are specifically routed “Penrith”. Don’t know if that would have been cheaper?


  5. Thanks Roger,

    Another superb blog post.

    However, I think you meant to report that West Coast Rail are based at Carnforth, not Carstairs – that would have been quite a diversion!

    Kind regards, John.


  6. I’ve done this trip a couple of times on Nenta Traintours charter trains from East Anglia organised by Ray Davies who sadly passed away earlier this year.
    As Roger’s photos show, there are some stunning views. With a Class 47 hauled train it wasn’t a quick journey which just gave us more time to enjoy the scenery. Commuters probably wouldn’t be so happy with the slow pace!


  7. That place at Drigg behind the fence is a storage site for low level nuclear waste.It is stuff which has been slightly contained by the fissile process.The high level stuff is at Sellafield.


  8. Yes, the Cumbrian Coast line is one of our less known rail treasures. Even though the loco hauled workings have long ended!


  9. Enjoyed your blog enormously. Used to live in Greenodd near Ulverston and used the line regularly commuting to Lancaster and days out to Ravenglass. Forgive me nit picking but please just change the reference to the ‘Eskdale and Ravenglass’ Railway to the correct title, ‘Ravenglass and Eskdale’ Railway.


  10. Paul – just seen your article on the Cumbrian Coast Line.
    Very well done and I think Michael Portillo would be proud of you !
    What is especially good is the range of Photos picking out features along the way.
    I think I will have to make a special effort to try this out.

    Best regards…………. Dave W.


  11. Most interesting as usual, Roger. Glad you didn’t need to travel on those booze-free ‘dry’ trains on the Cumbrian Coast, must be right raucus on that scenic line at night!
    For bus enthusiasts there’s a (rather good!) overview of the services Stagecoach provides in the Lake District in the May edition of Buses magazine. Great in many ways but improvements can be made and must be made if the National Park really want people out of their cars.


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