Carnforth is a small market town in Lancashire in Northwest England. It's best known for its railway station, location for the 1945 David Lean film Brief Encounter, with the station clock ticking relentlessly to trammel the characters' lives. However the main reason to visit and stay here is to explore the nearby Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which straddles the border with Cumbria.
The London to Glasgow trains hurtle past, bypassing the station. Carnforth is served by two branch lines: west to Barrow-in-Furness (hourly, 50 min, via Silverdale, Arnside, Grange-over-Sands, and stations in Cartmel and Furness) and east to Leeds (every couple of hours, 1 hr 40 min along a scenic route via the Pennines and Keighley). Southbound, both branches join the main line to Lancaster (10 mins) then continue to Morecambe or to Preston. In the film, Noel Coward voices the station announcements for these destinations. 1 Carnforth railway station is central in town.
Carnforth is close to Junction 35 of M6, which runs north to Penrith, Carlisle and Scotland, and south to Preston and the Midlands.
Stagecoach Bus 555 runs from Lancaster hourly, daily, 35 min to Carnforth via Skerton, Hest Bank and Bolton-le-Sands. It continues north via Pine Lakes, Tewitfield, Milnthorpe, Kendal and Windermere, where it connects with the bus to Bowness, Ambleside, Grasmere and Keswick.
A variant route 3 or 4 times a day is Stagecoach Bus 755, which runs from Bowness via Windermere and Kendal to Carnforth as above, then branches off to Morecambe and Heysham. This is the only direct bus between Carnforth and nearby Morecambe: otherwise change at Lancaster or take the train.
Carnforth is on National Cycle Route 6. From Lancaster this follows the canal north to Carnforth. To the north it follows the lanes through Warton, Yealand Conyers and Redmayne, Beetham, Milnthorpe and Hincaster to Kendal, via gentle terrain.
The trains to Barrow are good for exploring around Arnside and Silverdale, as you can take a bike on the train or hike between stations.
Bus 51 runs every couple of hours M-Sa via Warton, Yealand Conyers/ Redmayne and Silverdale railway station to Silverdale village.
Tewitfield is on the hourly bus route between Carnforth and Kendal, so you can ride one way and walk the other along the canal.
- Carnforth Station Heritage Centre, Carnforth Station, 250 Warton Rd LA5 9TR (Behind the station clock on main platform), ☏ . Daily 10:00-16:00. The museum depicts the era of steam trains. There's also a section about Brief Encounter and naturally, the film can be seen here. The station was rebuilt in 1937 so it's that version that was used in the film, and preserved today. With cafe. Free.
- 1 Over Kellet Pond: it's small, but this reserve is an important scrap of surviving wetland in an area that's nowadays pastoral. Spot various species of newts and frogs, vivid wetland flowers, and sedge warblers, kingfishers and pipistrelle bats darting above the pond. Open any time but best in late spring / early summer, free access and parking, no dogs. It's two miles east of Carnforth, follow B6254 through village centre then turn right onto Greenways.
- See Arnside and Silverdale for Beetham village, Leighton Hall, and other nearby attractions within the AONB.
- Walk, cycle or boat along Lancaster Canal. Going north from Carnforth, this passes Capernwray, and the navigable section ends after four miles at 1 Tewitfield Marina; there's accommodation and a pub here. A flight of derelict locks ascends to where the M6 blocks the canal. The section beyond M6 towards Kendal can be walked but is no longer navigable. South from Carnforth, the canal runs near the coast at Bolton-le-Sands and Hest Bank then sweeps inland to cross the River Lune valley over a grand aqueduct, and reach Lancaster after seven miles. It continues south from there past Galgate, Garstang and Woodplumpton to Preston. There are no locks between Tewitfield and Preston.
- Water sports: a mile north of town, 2 Pine Lakes are old flooded gravel pits. Activities include waterskiing, wakeboarding, canoes, kayaks and boat rides. The main operator is CN Watersports.
- Scuba dive at 3 Capernwray Diving Centre. You don't want to be in the sea around here, it's muddy with estuary outflow. The dive centre is in the flooded Jackdaw limestone quarry on Capernwray Rd, which runs north from the hamlet of Over Kellett. Maximum depth is 21 m, with training platforms at 2 m and 6 m, so it's good for novices, skill refreshers and blown-out days. Underwater features include the minesweeper Podsnap, a Wessex helicopter, and an infestation of garden gnomes; the lake is stocked with trout and perch. There's a small dive shop, with a filling station for air and nitrox, and licensed restaurant. The centre is open Th-Su 10:00-17:00 and a one-day pass is £17.
- You can also scuba-dive in the River Lune at Devil's Bridge in nearby Kirkby Lonsdale, if the river's not too churned up.
- There's a big Tesco in town centre, open 08:00-22:00 (Su to 16:00).
- Greenlands Farm Village in Tewitfield is an Open Farm (daily 10:00-15:30) plus farm shop plus retail centre plus bit of everything,
- Carnforth Bookshop, 38-42 Market Street (On the main road.), ☏ . 9-5. A large bookshop with a wide range of secondhand books.
- Spice Touch is an Indian on Warton Rd (daily 17:30-22:30). China Essence on Scotland Rd is open Th-Tu 17:00-22:00, and there's a Chinese takeaway just west on Market St.
- Couple of fish & chips places south of the station.
- The Snug is a micro-pub within the railway station, open until 21:00 (Su to 16:30).
- The Canal Turn is on main road at the south edge of town, open M-W 11:00-23:00, Th-Sa 11:00-00:00, Su 11:00-22:30.
- Royal Station Hotel, Market St, Carnforth LA5 9BT, ☏ . Traditional 3-star railway hotel with public bar and restaurant. B&B double £60.
- 1 County Hotel, 14 Lancaster Rd, Carnforth LA5 9LD, ☏ . Pleasant 3-star with 12 en-suite rooms, restaurant and bar. Room only £50 double.
- Bay View Holiday Park, Bolton-le-Sands, LA5 9TN, ☏ . Holiday park, offering holiday lodges for rental, camping, caravans and camping pods.
- Pine Lakes Resort is south tip of the lake, see "Do".
- 2 Keer Lodge at Pine Lake Carnforth, Pine Lake. LA6 1JZ, ☏ . A privately-owned lakeshore lodge rental with full use of onsite leisure facilities, 2 bedrooms, sleeps 4. From £95/night.
As of July 2021, Carnforth has 4G from all UK carriers, but coverage is patchy from Three. 5G has not reached this area.
- In Lancaster, 7 miles south, see the castle, cathedral and priory. You can't help seeing the Ashton Memorial, it's visible from space.
- Head north for an hour to reach the Lake District National Park.
|Routes through Carnforth|
|Glasgow ← Penrith ←||N S||→ Lancaster → Manchester/Liverpool|
|Lake District ← Kendal ←||N S||→ Lancaster|