Outdoors: Brief encounter with shifting sands

Continuing his series on great short railway journeys, Matthew Brace enjoys a nostalgic trip around Morecambe Bay on a scenic line to the Lakelands.

If Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard could see Carnforth station today they would weep even more than they did when filming the famous steam scene there in Brief Encounter in 1945. The limestone walls are moss-covered and crumbling. The paint in the abandoned booking office has peeled away - in some places so badly as to reveal the original bricks under years of plaster. The only light relief is offered by the graffiti, which are touchingly innocent in their lack of swear words. "Kerry D is fit, by Phillie," reads one, written perhaps after a modern-day brief encounter between two teenagers.

The two-sided station clock looks as if it might have survived since the film was released. It hangs precariously from wires, like an over- sized wristwatch with a threadbare strap that could snap at any moment. One side told me it was 3.20, the other a minute past two. Neither was right.

From the platform you can see Steamtown, a museum that houses a fine collection of steam locomotives. It looked as though it would have been worth a visit, had I been able to find the way in.

I think I found the spot where Johnson and Howard left the station cafe and walked across the platform enveloped in locomotive steam. But all remnants of a cafe are long gone; the windows and doors have been boarded up and broken into and boarded up again, and only the leaking gutters and metal skeletons of signs creaking in the wind break the silence. It was spooky, and I was glad of some company, even if it was a gang of excitable schoolboys with ties at half-mast.

The one excellent reason for coming to this forlorn little station in north Lancashire is that the Barrow-in-Furness trains come through here on the branch line from Preston, heading for the Lakes. The 16-mile stretch from Carnforth to the gentrified holiday resort of Grange-over-Sands follows the stunning coastline as it curves round the head of Morecambe Bay. When the track was first laid in 1867, wealthy businessmen from Lancashire and Yorkshire built elegant homes in Grange and commuted to Preston or Lancaster along this picturesque route.

Carnforth sits almost on the Irish Sea coast, and as my train pulled out north across Warton Sands I found it hard to distinguish between land and sea. Mudflats that looked like the boggy limits of a nature reserve at low tide would be covered with water in a few hours. Our two-carriage train skimmed the tops of the reed beds. After the hamlet of Crag Foot we passed between small, wooded knolls and mist-wrapped villages that might have graced any of CS Lewis's Narnia stories. Even the names sounded right - Silverdale, Waterslack, Arnside, Middlebarrow Wood.

In the cold winter light the bay looked like a sheet of steel. We crossed the estuary of the river Kent on a viaduct. I watched Holme Island, farther west along the coast towards Grange, rise up out of the sea haze like Atlantis. Just beyond the track sleepers, rivulets in the mud snaked away towards the sea. Grange station is a little way past Holme Island and a set of rocks called Seldom Seen - which need renaming, because they have been uncovered for the last 20 years. The town fits invitingly into a cleft below the cliffs. Looking out to sea at low tide from the platform, the shoreline seems miles away and the sand looks solid enough, but these flats are treacherous.

Before the coming of the railway, the only way to get from Morecambe to Grange was over the sands (hence the name). I learnt from an excellent guidebook, written and produced by the children of Grange Church of England primary school, that whereas some travellers waited for a boat at high tide, others braved it in a horse and carriage. A coachman would stand up high on the back of the carriage as a look-out, scouring the ground ahead for hidden channels and patches of deadly quicksand that lurked under the surface. It may sound dangerous, but the alternative was to risk being robbed by highwaymen along the road to the north. Today there is a footpath marked on the Ordnance Survey map right across the sands. It gives a red warning to anyone thinking of going for a stroll: "Public rights of way across Morecambe Bay can be dangerous. Seek local guidance." Seeking urgent psychiatric help might be more appropriate. The mud has claimed lives in the past.

A more leisurely way of enjoying Grange is to spend a while examining the station. It is a gem. A pounds 500,000 refurbishment has returned the Grade II listed buildings to their former glory, and the Railway Heritage Trust recently honoured it as one of the top three stations in the country. It has survived two world wars, nationalisation and privatisation, almost unscathed. The town clerk, Frank Brooks, is proud of these achievements. "We fought a long battle to get it looking like this," he told me, as he rushed around the town hall placing name-plates for a council meeting. "Railtrack wanted to make it single-line but we said no, this is a tourist destination and you can't do that, and we won."

This is not the end of the line. You can take trains on from here to Ulverston and Barrow-in-Furness, but for thousands of tourists each year, Grange and its surrounding countryside is magic enough.

On the footplate

When to go: open all year round (check with tourist office for sand walks)

How much: Preston to Grange-over-Sands via Carnforth day return, pounds 6.80 adults, pounds 3.40 for children aged five to 15.

Information: North Western trains on 0345 484950 or 0161 228 5906 (cycle information), or 0161 228 5907 (facilities for the disabled), and Grange Tourist office on 015395 34026.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Health & Social CareTeacher

£100 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Health & Social Care T...

RE Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Temporary Teacher of RE require...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: PSHE Teacher required in Devon - Star...

SEN Teacher (Primary)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Primary Teacher required Devon

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice