The East Lancashire Railway is a fantastic heritage line to visit at any time of year.
But the engines whistle their happiest tunes in the late summer and autumn, when timetabled for regular Rail Ale Trails.
The tour starts at Bury Street, where guests climb aboard the 47324 to Ramsbottom then travel on through glorious countryside visiting tucked-away hamlets and hidden pubs.
My husband Miles and I luck out with a crisp autumn day and clear blue sky, the ideal backdrop to soak in the sights — and what better vantage point than from a vintage steam train.
At 12 miles long, the Rail Ale Trail is a perfectly preserved slice of local history.
Chugging through the Irwell Valley, it does not take long before we are sampling local brews.
The golden ale slips down a treat, as it should in an area with such a rich brewing history.
Our guide keeps us entertained with tales and anecdotes such as the history behind the Wobbly Bob ale, named after the three-legged, half-blind cat that prowled the Phoenix Brewery back in the day — albeit unsteadily.
As we ride through Summerseat, a 200-year-old cotton mill offers a reminder of the industrial revolution that was powered by steam.
The area is proud of its heritage. So proud, in fact, that from signalmen to drivers and station staff, the East Lancashire Railway is almost entirely run by volunteers.
It really is a labour of love.
At the water station, the whole train gets off to watch as the stocks are replenished.
Given that diesel and then electric power replaced steam from the 1900s, you have to remind yourself that this is a technology well over 100 years old.
Some of the engines were restored after being rescued from rust and ruin in scrapyards, and it is fascinating to watch their workings.
A pit stop for lunch at the appropriately named Drinc in Ramsbottom redresses our booze-balance with a hearty steak- and-ale pie.
Ramsbottom is also home to the great Irwell Works Brewery — with a satisfying range of beer, ale and cider catering to every taste.
A pint of Costa del Salford slips down a treat as we enjoy the view from the balcony.
Nestled among the rolling farmland and countryside near the town of Rawtenstall and the end of the Rail Ale Trail is a Lancashire retreat full of charm — and it’s our home for the night.
Rossendale Holiday Cottages is a collection of six well-appointed homes, fully equipped to answer your every mini-break need. The kitchen, bathroom, dining area and lounge — with smart TV — are all superb.
Not that you will do much TV- watching when there is so much to explore nearby.
The cottages’ 15-acre site, which also offers accommodation in glamping pods, gives great access to local walking routes.
There are well-placed benches at the best spots from which to admire your surroundings.
It is the perfect place to watch the colours of the sky change from a warm autumn blue, to orange then pink as the sun sets.
With the sky clear at night as it had been that morning, the stars came out in a magical canvas above us.
The perfect bolthole from the bright lights of modern life.
STAYING THERE: Rossendale Holiday Cottages’ Paddock Cottage is from £99 per night, large pods from £59 and small pods from £39. See rossendaleholidaycottages.co.uk or call 01706 534 364.
OUT & ABOUT: The Rail Ale Trail is from £39.95 per person. See eastlancsrailway.org.uk.
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