Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Macfilos at Eight: Snotty little engine driver switches to the merchant navy

Macfilos at Eight: Snotty little engine driver switches to the merchant navy

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Sign of the times. Facemasks wherever you go in 2020...

When I wasn’t plotting and scheming to become an engine driver on the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, my eight-year-old self was bent on a career as a lake steamer porter. Surely, you say, being an engine driver is much more interesting than being a porter, even on a steamship.

But it isn’t necessarily so, because the romance of sailing up and down Lake Windermere—and actually getting paid, although at such an age I didn’t consider this aspect—was exquisite.

Last week I told you how I emotionally blackmailed my old grandmother into traipsing up and down the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, come hail, shine or rain, for an entire day. And then another day. I was addicted. That was on Mondays and Thursdays during my big summer break when I was foisted on grandma. We usually bought a Lakes Rover ticket which gave us unfettered access to the local railways. So we had to get our money’s worth.

Victor the tank engine under steam: Not what I remembered from my childhood
Victor the tank engine under steam at Haverthwaite station, ready for the short trek to Lakeside at the foot of Lake Windermere: Not what I remembered from my childhood (Leica Q2, Mike Evans)

On Tuesdays and Fridays, in contrast, my fickle attention was refocused on the delights of cruising on Lake Windermere, the largest of the lakes in Cumbria, some 12-miles long. Since Victorian times the length of the lake had been plied by “steamers”, from Ambleside in the north to Lakeside in the south—with an intermediate stop at Bowness, for access to Windermere town. Life on the ocean wave beckoned.

Grand affair

A big part of the romance of cruising Lake Windermere was the unusual rail access to Lakeside. A branch line ran up from the Cumbrian coast line at Ulverston, some four miles distant, to the foot of Lake Windermere. This branch line was opened in 1869, a part of the Furness Railway, and was quite a grand affair, judging by the terminus station. Sadly it fell on hard times in post-war years.

Guard guarded: Covid protection for the guard of the train arriving at Haverthwaite from Lakeside at the foot of Lake Windermere (Mike Evans)
Guard guarded: Covid protection for the guard of the train arriving at Haverthwaite from Lakeside (Mike Evans)

The railway was built primarily to transport holidaymakers (as they were then known) to the lake where they could spend money on the steamers. I remember the vaulted roof of the grand terminus at Lakeside. There was even an imposing clock tower, just like at King’s Cross in London (as I thought). I was delighted with this station as it existed in my childhood, completely unchanged from its heyday in the late nineteenth century.

The cap badge and the symbol of a nationalised railway system. Image Wikimedia commons

It was on the train to Lakeside that I met The Porter. His name is long forgotten, but at the time he seemed old, very worldly-wise and possessed of a very glamorous job. A job which I coveted mightily. I presume he was a called a “porter” because the lake steamers were operated by British Railways and that job designation was a fixture. They probably called the captain “The Driver” and, under BR’s highly unionised rules, the boats no doubt also featured a stoker and a guard. The lake cruises, were, after all, trains on water in the eyes of BR.

I can see him now in my mind’s eye, dressed in his rather natty dark blue porters’ uniform, a peaked cap bearing the maroon BRITISH RAILWAYS badge on the front. In reality, I suppose, he couldn’t have been much more than twenty. But he caught the same train as we did every day, on his way to a day’s work on either the Swan or the Teal.

The Porter couldn’t help noticing that the old lady and the little boy had become part of the fixtures. He sort of adopted us and kept an eye on us during the day. This is where I got the idea that I’d like to be a porter on a steamer. Becoming an engine driver was small potatoes on those Windermere days as I imagined life on the ocean wave, but I soon got back my enthusiasm for the footplate when returning to Ravenglass.

Footbridge to nowhere. Since Haverthwaite is now the end of the line, there is no use for the opposite platform (Mike Evans)
Footbridge to nowhere. Since Haverthwaite is now the end of the line, there is no use for the opposite platform (Mike Evans)

Arriving day-trippers emerged into this vaulted station, which wouldn’t have disgraced a minor city, and were able to walk across to the lake steamers for onward progress to Bowness and Ambleside. The station is now a shadow of its former self, just a couple of open-air platforms with the adjacent landing stage.

This unusual branch line was closed in 1965, and the station at Lakeside fell into disrepair. The vaulted roof and the clocktower were demolished, presumably for safety reasons towards the end of the seventies. Fortunately, little earlier, in May 1973, the branch line had been rescued by enthusiasts. A 3.2-mile section between the intermediate station of Haverthwaite, not far from Ulverston and alongside the main A590 road, continued to take visitors to Lake Windermere. The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway has been in operation ever since.

Sign of the times. Facemasks wherever you go in 2020...
Sign of the times. Facemasks wherever you go in 2020…

When I was young, however, the full length of the line, from Ulverston to Lakeside, was operated by British Railways and it was a simple matter of hopping off the coastal train at Ulverston and crossing over to the Lakeside branch. There was a delicious sense of anticipation as the train rumbled alongside the River Leven, through Newby Bridge on the way to the lake.

Sailing on one of the lake steamers, the old Tern, built in 18911, and the newer 1930s motor vessels, the Swan (1938) and the Teal (1936), was pure bliss for my young self. I much preferred the newer vessels because I thought them to be similar to transatlantic liners (which, of course, I had never seen, so the scale was irrelevant). The trip from Lakeside to Bowness was every bit as exciting, I was convinced, as a crossing on the Queen Elizabeth from Southampton to New York. Young minds are impressionable and, it has to be said, often missing the means of comparison and objective assessment.

MV Teal arrives at Lakeside station to meet the train from Haverthwaite (Mike Evans)
MV Teal arrives at Lakeside station to meet the train from Haverthwaite (Mike Evans)

It was so exciting that my poor grannie was condemned to endless cruises up and down the lake, at least for six or seven hours every time we visited. We were fixtures, the staff swept around us, and we were adopted us as mascots.

From early morning to late afternoon, we were there; we never got off. There was a cafeteria, but most times, grandma had brought along a picnic and, of course, her knitting to keep herself busy. At the same time, I enjoyed the importance of being Ernest the porter, ordering all the passengers around.

Flying the flag: Life on the open lake (Mike Evans, Leica Q2)
Flying the flag: Life on the open lake (Mike Evans, Leica Q2)

Looking back, I realise just how much of a little nuisance I must have been. Endless journeys in uncomfortable miniature carriages, transatlantic cruises on a 12-mile-long lake. She must have been a saint.

MV Teal moored at Bowness-on-Windermere
MV Teal moored at Bowness-on-Windermere
Lunch stop at the Angel Inn in the centre of Bowness-on-Windermere
Lunch stop at the Angel Inn in the centre of Bowness-on-Windermere
The curent 1950s long-distance carriages of our train were a bit too modern, according to my recollation. Back in the '50s they were running pre-ware non-corridor stock, with doors for every compartment and pull-down windows secured by a heavy leather strap. Them were t'days...
The curent 1950s long-distance carriages of our train were a bit too modern, according to my recollation. Back in the ’50s they were running pre-ware non-corridor stock, with doors for every full-width compartment and pull-down windows secured by a heavy leather strap. Them were t’days…
MV Teal arriving at Bowness-on-Windermere landing stage
MV Teal arriving at Bowness-on-Windermere landing stage. Some Queen Elizabeth. But then, at eight, I didn’t know any better…What I did possess by the bucketful was imagination

Lake Windermere webcam at Bowness

  1. In my youth there was another old steamer, the Swift, in operation but it has now disappeared

21 COMMENTS

  1. Pictures 2,3 and 5-10 show only as a blank square with a tiny question mark in the middle on my screen. I wonder if anyone else is having the same problem?

    • I have checked on my iPad and all is well. I have also checked using Safari and Chrome on two Mac computers and all is well. I suspect this is a problem at your end and that it will clear itself if you wait. Try rebooting your computer.

        • On my iPad there are small lines at the left of the Safari address bar. If I click on them (reader view?) I see the photographs and text but no comments. If I click again the photos disappear but the comments are there in full. I don’t have this problem with either my iPhone of MacBook Pro. Not a huge problem but this may help.

          • Also on the iPad I cannot add a reply immediately after a comment but I can on the MacBook, which I am doing now – hence the delay in commenting. No idea why and it doesn’t particularly trouble me.

          • Some of these problems with iPads seem to put themselves right. I don’t think it is anything I’ve done on the site. I am currently seeing some problems on my iPad with the Lightbox/carousel on the latest post. But I bet it’s ok tomorrow. Might be an idea to power down and switch back on.

  2. What a wonderful trip down memory lane! Definitely a more leisurely mode of travel. Love your b/w output, maybe Q does not need mono version. Thank you for showing us another part, is it of lake districts ?

    • Thanks, John. Yes, the Lake District. Windermere is the largest lake. It’s long and narrow and the foot at Lakeside is about five miles north of the coast. Lovely part of the world, but on a miniature scale to some of the offerings in North America…

  3. Very nice article and pictures Mike! It brought me back in time 15 years, when my wife and I spent a week in Windermere. Our daughter was not born yet (she is 13 now). We took a boat trip, probably to Ambleside, and quit a a lot of rain also, but the place really was very romantic, or at least so appeared to us.

  4. See and at the last article, I had a vision of you cooking breakfast in on a large coal shovel in the steam engines furnace. And now you shatter it with talk of steamers up and down old Windermere.

    It’s the one lake I don’t have a close affinity with, I love Ullswater and Derwent water, even Conniston for its Bluebird history, but Windermere is a little too touristy for me. 🤣

    Lovely images though. Does the Q need a monochrome? On this evidence perhaps not.

    Keep safe.

    Dave

    • Many thanks, Dave. I agree about the touristy nature of Windermere in contrast to most of the other lakes. I just have this childhood affinity with that particular lake.

      As for monochrome, I try to convince myself that the M Monochrom has a special render but, then again, conversions from colour aren’t they far behind. I doubt I could tell the difference, particularly when viewed on a blog page.

      • The images on this blog page could grace almost any top drawer magazine, we are surrounded by special individuals who can pull some amazing shots. Any single one of us could pull a Pulitzer winner, and I suspect if we tried one of us would do.

        Anyway guys keeps safe. Here we go into another lockdown, when I resurface i suspect I may have fixed my MacBook again – I believe I have diagnosed the issue and found the parts. So will see what this weeks repair does – perhaps I should write an article on fixing my 2012 MacBook Pro and the issues I’ve had with it. And how robust they are.

        Best Dave

          • The trackpad on my 2012 MacBook Pro gave up the ghost and the company that repaired it (in Merstham, Surrey – UK) suggested replacing the hard drive with an SSD. The increase in performance is astonishing. Hopefully it will keep going for a while yet.

          • Indeed, an SSD is probably the one thing that increases speed. The other is expanding the RAM. I was watching a 1990s television programme on computers only yesterday. They were talking in glowing terms of a “massive 512KB” of RAM. Now I have 32GB and feel it might not be enough… As far as I know, all MacBooks now come with SSD.

  5. This takes me back to when my wife and I had a holiday in the Lakes with our then 18 month or so son. We took him on a ferry boat and he was obsessed with trying to climb over the railings. Putting him under my arm and carrying him below resulted in a screaming fit (him). He was much more settled clambering about on the train. A few years ago he and a colleague set the world record for rowing across the Atlantic (please excuse a little boast) so perhaps getting close to the water was in his destiny. Although then I couldn’t have picked him up under my arm and taken him home.

    Thanks Mike for the article and lovely photographs and for stimulating my trip down memory lane. It is a most beautiful part of the world; we were there in the summer on our way back from Northumberland.

    • Thanks, Kevin. It is sometimes a mistake to revisit magical places from one’s childhood. The modern reality is almost always a disappointment. For starters, everything was so big and it has now shrunk. But the Lake District continues to enchant. Sailing from Lakeside to Bowness on that old ship brought back so many memories and, frankly, the similarities outweighed the differences.

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