Keswick Railway Footpath reopens! Much missed since Storm Desmond wrecked bridges and caused landslides in December 2015, the footpath along the track bed of the former Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway through the gorge of the River Greta is now remade and renamed the Keswick to Threlkeld Railway Trail. The official reopening is planned for December 5th, the fifth anniversary of the worst of the storm. However the barriers have been removed and the workmen in hi-viz can share their pride in their work. The path is almost more popular than ever with many Keswickians eager to try out their reopened path in advance of the official reopening. I had the opportunity to walk it following business earlier in the day in Keswick (meaning that I was in the area on permitted travel).
Greta Gorge looks peaceful enough for the moment and as attractive as ever, both to us and the wildlife; but the wide river bed and the scoured rock sides are reminders of how this trout river turns in to a terrifying torrent when fed with flood waters from the fells towering above.
Keswick’s Big Tunnel, renamed the Bobbin Mill Tunnel, is re-opened too after being buried 40 years ago in the construction of the Keswick bypass. Now with lights, and the lining bricks have been stabilised. The boardwalk bypass has gone completely - it passed round the shoulder of hard rock that the tunnel bores through.
The railway trackbed has been covered with tarmac for most of the route so it’s now open to walkers, cycles and the disabled. I can imagine this as a great route for a wheelchair race, as well as the already popular Keswick to Threlkeld runs and as part of the C71 route on the National Cycle Network. Surely, it will become very popular very soon - the previous path had to have gates installed strategically to impede cyclists aiming to make progress at full speed.
No matter that most of the authentic and atmospheric railway trackside junk has vanished, there are but a few bunkers and a couple of trackside huts remaining, and now only one station sign at Keswick. The replacement bow bridges are styled similarly to those destabilised by the storm but with strengthened abutments. It’s now even harder to imagine trundling along here in a 1960’s DMU (diesel multiple-unit), even less so behind a chugging 1920’s steam train as in a summer of an Arthur Ransome book, remembering that the Swallows and Amazons were based around Windermere not Keswick.
There’s clearly been much pride in the design of this project and the work on site - the workers whom I spoke with all said it had been a grand project to work on and in a fantastic natural setting.
But the hopes of restoring Keswick’s connection to the railway network continue, the Keswick Reminder reported as recently as June 2020 that the submission to restore the Keswick to Penrith railway was supported by four MPs as well as the local council. Me, I’d support the railway’s reinstatement as part of a scheme to limit the car traffic in the North Lakes area.