Quick, close your eyes! Usher your children out of the room! This chapter starts with sex! Noisy sex. The noisiest sex ever.
It was nothing to do with me, of course. I was travelling alone (as usual). I’d just checked into my room in Carlisle at a hotel right next to the station. It’s a nice enough abode and very well placed for a rail holiday. I ate there too and enjoyed the food. But my lasting memory is my first one. From down the corridor. I did go to check out where the hell it was coming from. Just in a professional capacity, you’ll understand, to get a handle on how thick the walls were. There’s no point putting your customers in rooms with paper thin walls where everyone can hear everyone else’s private moments. But the walls here weren’t paper thin. I wasn’t holding glass against the door to eavesdrop, honest. There was no need to. She was screaming, he was grunting like a primate, the walls were rocking. Welcome to Border Country, an outpost of primal energy!
As we’ve begun this chapter with a bit of smut, it seems like a good time for a travel industry anecdote, a tale of legend that has done the rounds over the years, often being embellished but I heard it originally from the horse’s mouth. Close colleagues in the industry will recognise the personality involved and they’ll know I write this with affection for a friend, former colleague and mentor.
During my own early years in travel I worked for a big, famous coach tour company in Leeds that sadly no longer exists. Its Hotel Contracts Manager was a larger than life character. Multilingual, ruddy-faced, fiery, he was a man of some mystery. Continental in origin but when asked where he was from he would always sidestep the question with vagueness. It would seem that his roots lay somewhere along the Swiss-Belgian border. Make of that what you will. He never disclosed the truth. What was he hiding? Anyway, a keen cyclist (was he Belgian?), every year he would pack his bike into his company car and head to the port to drive around Europe for two or three months, hotel to hotel. He would return to Leeds eventually with a box full of signed contracts and a boot filled with red wine to accompany his bike, no doubt gifted from hotels happy to see him and his contract.
So, “Red Wine Rolf” (I’ve changed his name) was staying in a Novotel somewhere, I forget where but it isn’t important. As you’ll know, most hotel rooms, particularly in corporate chains, adhere to a similar layout. There’s a bed in the main part of the room and a little corridor with a bathroom to the left or right, and the external bedroom door straight ahead. Well, “Red Wine Rolf”, a man of a certain age and no doubt having imbibed a couple or six clarets, raised himself in the middle of the night for a tinkle. Business done, he walked the wrong way out of the loo. He took a left instead of a right. Out through the door. Out into the corridor. Into the public domain. As Rolf rubbed his eyes to see where he had landed in his morning stupor, the door closed behind him, destined not to open again without a key card. But he had no key card. Nor a stitch of clothing to cover his, erm, man of a certain age! A man who had stayed at thousands of hotels in a career dating back to the 1960s found himself ruddy-faced, naked in the corridor of a hotel, walking to reception for a new key. A lifetime of contract wrangling, now just his accoutrements dangling. “Can I help you, sir?”
Anyway…the previous day I had explored the Cumbrian Coast Line, one of England’s most remote and scenic branch lines. Staying in Kendal, I dropped my car in Millom and headed north on the Northern Rail service in the early morning bright sunshine glow of late spring. On such a fine day I have to tell you the Cumbrian Coast Line joined my top five UK rail experiences in no time. Imagine the glistening sea to the left and the fells of the Lake District to the right, as the train skirts the Irish Sea coast. At Ravenglass you can get off and join a little steam excursion into the fells on “L’aal Ratty”, the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. Then there’s the curio of Sellafield, with workers hopping on and off pre and post-shift, the shock of human meddling interrupting the serene natural beauty of an otherwise untouched, unspoilt coast. At Whitehaven, still relatively early in the day, my stomach forced me off the train and into a greasy spoon café. Whitehaven and Workington are tough little towns, outposts nestled between inhospitable fells and the harsh sea.
Returning to Millom, I ended the day at the heritage Lakeside & Haverthwaite Steam Railway, which runs along a preserved former branch line of the Furness Railway to Lake Windermere, from where boats whisk you across the lake to Bowness on Windermere or onwards to Ambleside. At Haverthwaite they opened the sheds for me, the unmistakable whiff of grease, oil and machinery, to have a look at the preservation taking place and I enjoyed a tea and scones in their lovely station buffet before embarking on the steamy three mile ride through the woodlands to Lakeside.
It’s well worth the visit and an even better day out to book a package with a boat trip too. You can also leave your car behind and have a great day out with one of the bundles organised by the railway, with added attractions along the way. At Lakeside you can visit the aquarium, whereas at the other side of the lake is the World of Beatrix Potter at Bowness for fans of all things twee. A mile’s walk away from Haverthwaite station at the other end of the steam railway is the Lakeland Motor Museum with 30,000 exhibits of automotive memorabilia.
Whilst Bowness on Windermere doesn’t have a rail connection, its neighbour up the hill, Windermere itself, sits at the end of the line bringing passengers to the Lake District from Kendal. Windermere is an attractive little town in its own right, but if you have just a short time, fancy some fresh air in your lungs and it’s a clear day you can take a very easy, relatively short uphill walk to Orrest Head. I did just that with my family last year in the glow of a crisp, clear October day. The views from the top are a great introduction to the Lakes.
Back in Carlisle, it’s a proud border city standing in a convenient spot for a rail holiday. The West Coast Mainline brings visitors from north and south, whereas it is also a start point of the Cumbrian Coast Line in one direction and the Hadrian’s Wall Line heading eastwards across to Newcastle, another remote rail adventure to be ravished. They would call it bonny in those parts. And speaking of parts, whilst the duo down the corridor ground their parts I made do with ramparts at nearby Carlisle Castle. It’s a fornication, sorry, I mean fortification dating from the 12th century and managed by English Heritage. So at least I got to improve my carnal knowledge, I mean my knowledge of Carlisle. Time to leave the border country, I think. Time to take a different ride.