We decided to go to Carlisle because one day we were in the York Railroad Station, looking at the wall map of early train routes, and a leathery bearded gentleman strode up and told us that the one trip we must take is the trip up through the Dales. Through Settle it's ordinary, he said, but beyond Settle it is wild and empty. We were convinced. The Yorkshire Dales
The morning train from York to Leeds was packed; we'd got reserved seats thinking it was silly for a half-hour ride, but they were the only remaining seats when we boarded. In contrast, the little train from Leeds up through the Dales to Scotland was almost empty. The railroad computer had reserved seats for us on this train, too -- terrible ones without even a good window. The conductor took us in hand, however, and settled us in comfortable seats in First Class.
This train route was almost lost in the great Railroad Consolidation of the 1970s. Many small stations and many local lines were closed, to the great distress of the local inhabitants, who understood, much better than the railroad executives, the many social uses of the railroad -- not only for commuting to large cities but also for tourism, for transportation to schools and shopping, and simply for the preservation of the country's rail heritage. In the case of the Settle to Carlisle route, a Friends of the Railroad group was quickly organized and so far they have kept the route alive, and now in high summer there's even a steam train that makes occasional runs. Our only fellow passenger (after the conductor booted out one youngster trying to use his standard class ticket in First) was a semi-retired railroad executive who happily pointed out the major sights along the route. A cluster of stone houses next to the track is named Salt Lake, because the inhabitants Shepherds' stone huts and moors know they will never travel beyond their neighborhood so they might as well name it something exotic, and Salt Lake City sounded best. The Settle train station has been newly repainted and decorated to attract tourists and it is charming, but then most of the old station are very attractive, with different combinations of colors on posts and lamps. The highest spot on the route is Dent, at about a mile above sea level.
There were sheep everywhere, and we began to see the black-faced Swaledale breed, and stone houses and it was walking country, open hillsides and some barren moorland on the hilltops.
It was a lovely ride and we took lots of photos out the windows. Going north out of Leeds it was hilly, but with a lot of mill towns. The buildings were made of stone because all of the timber was used for fuel. The countryside reminded us of eastern Pennsylvania. Further north it finally got quite wild and sparsely populated. Instead of hedgerows, all the fields were enclosed with stone walls (see next trip for explanation). The views from the train were generally spectacular, and we only had a few short tunnels. We saw some walkers going across a field with stone stiles to get them over the walls on a public footpath. Public footpaths don't matter to many Englishmen, but to those to whom they do matter, they matter a lot. There have been significantly long and expensive lawsuits and political actions by a vocal and determined minority to protect the public footpaths. The most serious of walkers take Cattle pasture in the Pennines walking holidays, and have maps and guides to show them inns and pubs near the paths. They don't let a little rain deter them either.
All too soon we arrived at Carlisle where we took the advice of our fellow passenger and changed our route back to go through Newcastle. Catching trains in England is pretty easy, because they run quite frequently. We found the trip to Newcastle very interesting, also up over the Pennine mountains (the highest point in the Pennines is probably about 3000 feet). This time the mountains were forested or arable, with both sheep and cattle. The line was run by Scots Lines, the railroad company that mostly operates in Scotland, and it ran just south of Hadrian's wall, which we did not see. Almost as soon as we got over the summit we picked up a river which turned out to be the Tyne (of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, its full name) and we discovered Newcastle to be modern and industrial. We were not carrying coals. Changing trains again we caught a southbound train to York, arriving around 4:30. A lovely day. At the end we prided ourselves on our ability to flexibly change plans in the middle of the day, and to take advice from strangers!