IN an era of strikes, old trains and cancelled services in South Cumbria it is refreshing to be told about an era 50 years ago when our railways kept heavy freight traffic off the roads and you could have a day trip from Morecambe to Windermere - to ride on the lake cruisers.

The route from Preston to Windermere in the last days of steam was the topic for Noel Machell in a lavishly illustrated talk to members and guests of the Furness, Lakes and Lune branch of the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society.

Speaking at the Station Hotel, Carnforth, he described the railway world he pointed his camera at from the late 1950s to mid-1960s when most rail services in North Lanchashire and the Lake District were still hauled by steam power.

Named locomotives - such as Morecambe and Heysham, The Border Regiment, John Milton, City of Carlilsle and City of Lancaster - were regular sights for young train spotters.

And a handy vantage point on a bridge or station platform offered views of trains carrying a wide variety of freight - including shoes and boots from the K factory at Kendal to London.

You could also see trains loaded with new Morris 1100 models and Austin Metros from Halewood, Liverpool, coal, iron ore, cement, bulk oil in tankers, soda ash, rail sleepers and even parcels from Northern Ireland, via the port at Heysham.

As late as 1964, you could get on the six-days-a-week direct service from Morecambe to Windermere - to meet the lake cruisers at Lakeside, near Newby Bridge.

The train would take you to Ulverston and would then reverse out on the line through Greenodd and Haverthwaite to reach the lake.

Part of that line is now under the A590 at Greenodd.

The only day the lake service did not run was Saturdays - when there was a direct train from Glasgow to Morecambe.

There were regular excursion trains from Barrow to Morecambe in the summer season and in the winter many of the unwanted extra carriages were stored in "balloon sidings" next to Bare Lane station, Morecambe.

You could also ride through North Lancashire and the Lake District on The Lakes Express - pulled by named steam locomotives such as John Milton and City of Carlisle, or by numbered "Black Five" locos.

One of the hardest parts of the trip in the steam era was getting out of the Castle station at Lancaster.

He said: "It was a one-in-98 incline out of Lancaster. It was the steepest bit between Glasgow and Euston.

"Anything that was starting cold from Lancaster would have quite a struggle."

The line from Preston to Oxenhome - part of the high-speed West Coast Main Line - once had 11 junctions.

Most of these branch lines - and some smaller halts on the main line - had vanished by the end of the 1960s.

You can no longer catch a train to places like Pilling and Garstang, Hest Bank, Green Ayre, Glasson Dock, or Bolton-le-Sands.

Enthusiasts from the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society or the Manchester Locomotive Society were often among the last people to rise on thses lines - hiring a steam locomotive and a series of wooden "brake vans" with no seats or creature comforts of any kind.

Among the pictures he showed was of a RCTS trip by rail fans along the Glasson Dock branch - now a footpath from Lancaster.

As main line steam vanished by the late 1960s, so did the complex arrangements to store and maintain the coal and water-hungry locomotives.

The demolished Green Ayre station near the River Lune in Lancaster used to have a major depot - which was entered by going across a turntable.