It's simple to see why lovers of quality value train trips go loco over Rail Discoveries.
Lakes and Dales by Steam new five-day tour comes courtesy of among four brands within Great Rail Journeys Ltd, whose 40-odd years' experience offers unrivalled knowledge and understanding of such breaks, utilising 300-plus experienced tour managers for more than 1,000 group departures a year to worldwide.destinations, as well as employing 140 staff at their Yorkshire HQ. All of which is why this first class company is held in such high e-steam.
Where to stay: Mark my words there's no better borders base than Hallmark Hotel, right royal credentials coming from being built 166 years ago for Queen Victoria. Carlisle's Victorian bolthole boasts 70 accommodating rooms, bygone ballroom and associated health fitness club - apparently! The Court Square site's strong suite is its proximity to the historic city's station, within earshot of platform announcements, prime position for Cumbrian rail adventures aplenty.
Atmospheric grill offers contemporary yet cosy ambience as stylish stage for menu that combines carefully crafted British dishes, utilising local ingredients, as well as European classics to sate palate of even those most jaded by continued Brexit impasse. And afternoon tea, complete with whipped cream-smothered scones, sandwiches and tray bakes is to di(n)e for.
Where to go: Cutest La’al Ratty (local dialect for "Little Railway") since Wind in the Willows, Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, framed by England's highest peaks, offers centenarian transport of delight, scaling 1:40 gradients 210 feet above sea level to Boot, literally, short walk from Dalegarth destination, having departed from Lake District National Park's only coastal village, unique to UNESCO World Heritage site.
Cosy covered carriages combat vagaries of British weather across magnificent seven miles, covering as many request stops, taking 40 magical minutes, enjoying estuary and hillside vistas alike amid bucolic beauty that, this time of year, sees new born lambs gambol more than Ray Winstone.
Lotts of heritage cash splash support recently rescued Ravenglass Museum, rail eye-opener comprehensively tracking 150 years of change as well as home town historic Roman port and rich iron ore mining heritage on which tracks were constructed. Free exhibits, graded in scale from tiny travel tickets to enormous engines, include impressive ICL No 1, developed in 1927 from Ford Model T car chassis, before becoming "Bunny" speed record holder after completing narrow gauge line in nifty 15 minutes.
Don't miss majesty of Muncaster, whose Himalayan gardens, bluebell woods, adventure playgrounds, Enchanted Trail & Meadowvole Maze make this historic haunted keep king of castles.
Lakeland fells offer idyllic backdrop to 77 acres, centrepiece of which is stately seat, still lived-in after nine centuries, enjoying commanding views from lofty vantage point amid azalea and rhododendron riot of colour so impressive no lesser visionary than Victorian polymath John Ruskin hailed grounds "Gateway to Paradise". Soaring success Hawk and Owl Centre presents exhilarating experiences aplenty, birds of prey flying displays proving popular with visitors of all ages.
Pennington family - who can, quite reasonably, echo Madness song line "our house was our castle and our keep" - remain bountiful as 35 years ago, among 40 Historic Houses Association benevolent estates donating trees to replace York Minster's blaze-damaged roof, again offering mighty Oak to similarly restore recently fire-ravaged Cathédrale Notre-Dame.
If there's something strange in this neighbourhood, who you gonna call? 01229 717614 for regular ghost vigils, even overnight stays in Tapestry Room, reputedly populated by such paranormal activity as sickly child Margaret Pennington, murder victim Mary Bragg or, most prevalent, Thomas Skelton - original Tom Fool - whose poltergeist practices persist to this day.
Some 30 summers since salvation - thanks to likes of Great British Railway Journeys TV buff, Bradshaw's Guide-toting Michael Portillo - Carlisle to Settle 70-odd miles boast 30-plus interminable tunnels and Victorian viaducts, none more impressive or imposing than renown Ribblehead's 24-arch architectural masterpiece.
Part of the UK rail network, rather than preservation line, this world renown route - UK's last mainline stretch to be built in 1876 - remains rich in heritage, seamlessly seguing through dales, vales and fells, diesel sprinters annually carrying more than a million passengers to otherwise remote communities including England's highest halt at lofty Dent.
Settle Junction, straddling Leeds to Morecambe line, is gateway to small market town boasting biggest of hearts, Craven district community whose spirit is second to none. Pleasant surprises await at every turn of winding cobbled streets, none more so than, enjoying new station in life, Mark and Pat Rand's house. Without coming over all M&S, this is not just any home, this is a ... water tower! Serial star of C4's Restoration Man, this long-time labour of love has seen derelict track-side building, whose tank once harboured 43,000 gallons, become des res of breathtaking beauty.
Further landmark buildings abound from The Courtyard Dairy, big cheese in unpasteurised product world, and grade one listed 17th century Folly Museum of North Craven Life to country's oldest surviving such music venue in shape of Victoria Hall, whose past acts range from biggest global stage stars to, well, three-foot-not-much General Tom Thumb. The Naked Man is touted as country's oldest cafe while, far cry from composer Edward Elgar's regular bygone visits but musical none the less, folk flock regularly to The Golden Lion to hear likes of legendary multi-instrumental all-round performer and presenter Mike Harding.
Way to go: From £395 for five-day trip, including 4* hotel accommodation, all rail and excursions and selected meals, experience Lakes and Dales by Steam on escorted group tour with Rail Discoveries by contacting www.raildiscoveries.com or 01904 734812.