The Rev W Awdry, the inventor of the Thomas the Tank Engine, was asked his readers where the stories took place. Well, his first books took place entirely in his imagination so he was a little stuck for an answer. Whilst on holiday on the Isle of Man, he discovered that the local bishop there had the title “Bishop of Sodor and Man”. (Sodor relates to the Southern Hebrides.) Rev W Awdry liked the name and invented the fictional Isle of Sodor, located between the Isle of Man and Walney Island, just off the Furness peninsular. This map from 1958 shows this railway Atlantis, some five times the size of the Isle of Man, with Barrow, Ulverston and Millom all shown on the mainland. Later the Isle of Sodor was modified to incorporate Walney Island.
Many stories in his books were based on real events from the South Lakes: “Gordon the Big Engine” includes a Thomas adventure called “Down the Mine” and is based on an incident when an engine fell down a deep hole at Lindal-in-Furness in 1892; Edward was probably based on the4-4-0 K2 Large Seagull class introduced on the Furness Railway in 1896; Boco was based on the BR Metropolitan Vickers diesel electric type 2 locomotive introduced in 1958, which worked mainly in the Barrow area; and several stories are also based on the nearby Ravenglass & Esdale Railway (La’al Ratty) which the Rev W Awdry visited a number of times.
Thomas often visits the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway (about 20 minutes drive East from Sykehouse Cottage). Follow this link for more information.
You can find out opening times and train fares for the La’al Ratty here.
Rather than going up, how about going along for a change? Sometimes the South Lakes is so dominated by the Fells, we forget about the Estuary and looking out to sea. The Duddon Mosses is a lowland raised peatbog just south of Broughton in Furness near the village of Foxfield. It is one of the most important example of this type of peatbog in Britain. Accessed via a series of boardwalks and clearly signposted, a stroll across the Mosses is a lovely contrast to climbing up and then scrambling down. (Again.)
There are information panels in Broughton Square and at Foxfield Station giving detail about the Mosses and describing a circular walk.
Here are bog plants such as Sphagnum moss, cotton grasses, bog rosemary, cranberry and the spookily carnivorous sundew. In late spring and early summer, the fluffy heads of cotton grasses and yellow bog asphodel provide a delightful show. There are plenty of insects and you may spot butterflies and moths as well as crickets, damselflies and dragonflies. The Mosses are a haven for deer, adders, lizards and frogs. Barn owls hunt over the Mosses at dusk and the temporary pools created as a result of restoration works are frequented by water birds such as teal and heron.
Steve Benn, the local Natural England officer, would like me to remind people to keep all dogs on a short lead between 1st March and 31st July when walking on the Duddon Mosses to protect the ground nesting birds during the breeding season.
And, of course, after all that fresh air, you could always stop by at the Prince of Wales in Foxfield, renowned for its selection of real ale, on your way home …
For a more detailed walking guide and map follow this link to the Natural England website.
On Thursday 15th April 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in her journal:
‘… I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway…”’
Two years later, when her brother wrote: “I wandered lonely as a cloud …”, his wife, Mary, contributing what Wordsworth later said were the best two lines in the poem : “They flash upon that inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude”. This group of three’s collaboration for such an iconic poem always makes me think of how many other unseen contributors there must be to great works of art.
If you need a little inspiration, why not come to Sykehouse Cottage in March and search for wild Wordsworthian daffodils? Wild daffodils are simpler and shorter than the tall, fancy ruffle cultivars we see in gardens. They like to grow on damp ground under trees. Dorothy and William Wordsworth found theirs at Ullswater but wild daffodils are more common in the South Lakes. Probably the best place to see them from Sykehouse Cottage is on the banks of the Duddon. A short drive and a lovely walk to find your own secret “host of golden daffodils”.
For further information about the Wordsworths and their time in the Lakes, including Dorothy’s journals, you should really plan to visit Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum in Spring 2020 when their redevelopment will be complete. It’s just a 40 minute drive from Sykehouse cottage through beautiful countryside. Follow this link to Dove Cottage.
If you would read another post about Wordsworth : The Westmorland Girl : click here.