Couple bought the carriages used in Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 film version of Murder on the Orient Express to create a quirky visitor attraction in the heart of the Lakes

As a child Diana Parums could see Bassenthwaite Lake Station as she played at her grandparents’ house at Routenbeck on the nearby fellside.

Over the years she watched the defunct station fall into disrepair, but little could she know that in her fifties she and husband Simon would return to restore it to become one of the Lake District’s more quirky cafe and visitor attractions.

Sitting on the former Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith line at the northern end of the lake, the station was one of many victims of the Beeching cuts, which put an end to its traffic of tourists and freight in 1966.

However, when the station and the station master’s house became available three years ago, the couple decided to snap them up, despite the station missing its roof and trees growing out of the signalmen’s cottages.

Simon, 56, and Diana, 55, have had a stake in the tourism industry in the Lakes for some time, buying and renovating properties to rent them out as holiday lets, all of which were subsequently sold to fund the station renovations.

“Renovating old stations and trains is a costly business,” says Diana.

Gradually the station was painstakingly restored to replicate its heyday with hardwood windows and a ‘Blood and Custard’ colour scheme.

The old platform edge was missing in several places and matching Lazonby sandstone slabs have been laid to match the original.

Simon and Diana moved into the stationmaster’s house after selling their home in Bassenthwaite.

“With the house and station having two separate owners, we worked really hard to negotiate with both parties to make this dream a reality,” she says.

“When it all fell into place, the final decision was easy. Nobody gets this opportunity more than once in a lifetime. We were confident of the commercial aspect of it and also what it would bring to our lifestyle. We're very, very keen on the restorative value of doing something you really love and try hard to ensure that everyone who works here feels the same.”

The station was refurbished as a cafe and they uncovered the original trackbed from beneath a tangle of brambles and self-seeded saplings.

When they wanted to add more seating they turned to searching for a carriage on Ebay, finally finding and purchasing a French SNCF Class 241 steam engine and carriages with an interesting backstory from a specialist haulage yard in Stoke.

For, despite their realistic appearance, the locomotive and carriages are in fact full size replicas built especially for Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 film version of Murder on the Orient Express, complete with art deco details and built slightly wider to accommodate filming equipment.

"We thought it was much more appropriate to have a train back on the track than to put an extension onto the kitchen that wouldn't ever have looked like the old station," says Diana

"We wanted to try and preserve the look of the original building and the feel of the original station. It’s a strange feeling when you are sitting in the train as it feels as though it might set off at any moment.”

The new look Bassenthwaite Lake Station opened to the public in July 2021 and employs 26 people, as well as occasional casual staff.

"We've been completely blown away by how many visitors we are attracting and also by the amazingly positive welcome and comments we are receiving,” says Diana.

“It makes us exceptionally proud of what we have achieved. We knew it was going to be busy the day the loco arrived. There were about 300 people standing in the road outside watching this thing coming in and word spread very quickly.”

Before taking on the station, Diana worked as head of health and safety at a construction company in Carlisle, while Simon is also a self-employed health and safety expert.

However, running such a busy attraction is proving to be a full-time job for both of them.

“We work all the shifts in the cafe and do every job going, apart from being the chef,” says Diana.

Alongside the cafe, the couple have been able to pursue their love of nature and conservation at Bassenthwaite Lake Station, which sits adjacent to Dubwath Silver Meadows nature reserve.

They have planted over 3000 new trees on the site, cultivated hedges, restored a silted-up pond and sown a wildflower meadow on land at the rear of the station.

Unsafe trees which had to be felled as part of the restoration were reused in the buildings where possible, as well as repurposed materials from the tumbledown structures.

Diana says they are also focused on making sure the site is accessible for all, with step-free pathways throughout the station and nearby woodland.

"That's just something that allows a welcome for all which is definitely our ethos,” she says.

Recycling, reducing miles and reusing are the watchwords of the cafe as well, with plastic use kept to a minimum and as many local suppliers used as possible.

In the kitchen chef Jonathan Bell leads a team specialising in afternoon teas, as well as an array of delicious breakfasts and lunches.

Despite all the hard work so far, Diana and Simon still have more to do, with two signalmen’s cottages yet to be redeveloped for extra storage, a staff room and an office.

"I can't tell you how proud we are," says Diana.

"I was working full time until a year ago and then coming and doing this every evening and every weekend. It's been very, very hard work but it's been really enjoyable and we're really proud of making it all happen. You don't get that opportunity very often to create something special and we've got the right team here who can do it. They are amazing and pull out all the stops to deliver the best possible experience for all our customers.”