It was a glorious drive up and over the Hartside Pass, one of England’s highest roads. But all I could hear was “how much further is it? I’m feeling sick”. And that was my wife! My daughter F wasn’t faring much better either. I tried my best to enjoy the spectacular Pennine scenery as I negotiated the switchbacks on what would have been one of the most enjoyable drives I can remember – if only everyone had remembered to take their travel sickness tablets.
As we passed the summit and began our descent, I assured my clan that it wouldn’t be long till we reached our destination – the market town of Alston. We made straight for the car park of the South Tynedale Railway, the highest narrow gauge railway in England. Our first stop was the railway shop. A gift shop can usually be guaranteed to cure any lingering motion sickness for F. After that, we relaxed with a drink in the station cafe, before walking out onto the platform to view the arrival of Barber the steam train.
I purchased tickets for a ride, which wasn’t too much of a gamble as travel sickness doesn’t seem to kick in on trains in our family. After we sat down in the carriage, a group of elderly people climbed aboard, exhibiting all the excitement of young children. They continued in that vain for the entire outward journey as we passed through lovely scenery alongside the River Tyne. The train stops at various places in the middle of nowhere, enabling people to disembark, have a walk and maybe pick up the train again at a different spot. Feeling a little lazy, we stayed on board for the duration. On this journey, it wasn’t just me enjoying the ride.
We arrived back in Alston about an hour later and set off to explore the town. It was a Saturday in August and I have to say that hardly anybody was about and absolutely nothing was happening. This small town sleepiness though just seemed to add to the charm of the place. We were there a few weeks before the Tour of Britain cycle race was due in the vicinity. In honour of this, yellow bikes of all descriptions seemed to be placed everywhere. F was more interested in a couple of pigs though!
We saw quaint antique shops and a deli selling local produce. I assumed these places must have some customers at some point, but not today. We passed the attractive old market place and found the one business that had plenty of patrons – the tea room.
After a very agreeable lunch, we did some more browsing and noticed there were even houses that had been repainted yellow in honour of the forthcoming tour!
Soon, it was time to head back to the car park.
I crossed my fingers that S and F would be ok on the hilly winding roads as we continued our journey towards Northumberland.
Alston is in Cumbria about 21 miles north east of Penrith
The town lies on the scenic A686 road between Penrith and Haydon Bridge. The nearest motorway is the M6 which has a junction at Penrith. The nearest train station is Penrith from where there is an irregular bus service. Haltwhistle and Hayden Bridge also have train stations and bus links to Alston. The nearest airport is Newcastle (42 miles). Buses are available from Newcastle, some requiring a change on the way