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Monday, 22 November 2010

A Settle-to-Carlisle rail journey is just the ticket

Amazing ... the Ribblehead Viaduct is one of many
highlights on the Settle-to-Carlisle rail  journey.

by Mervin Straughan

When a journalist asked former Tory transport minister Michael Portillo his greatest achievement, he replied without any trace of hestitation that it was keeping the Carlisle-to-Settle railway open.

It’s almost impossible to mention Settle without including in the same breath the railway line whose journey ranks as one of the nation’s most scenic.

Michael Portillo’s proud achievement was revealed in the BBC TV series Great British Railway Journeys in which he follows in the tracks of George Bradshaw, the 19th century cartographer, printer and publisher best known for his series of railway timetables. He has Bradshaw’s Tourist Handbook as his companion and the Settle-to-Carlisle trip has to be one of the highlights of the series.

Despite being threatened with closure in both the 1960s and the 1980s, prompting outrage, the line has seen its fortunes revived with healthy passenger numbers and significant investment in upgrading tracks and making improvements to stations.

The railway is an impressive engineering feat and this is well documented. A total of 6,000 men were employed to construct the line by hand. Many died in its seven-year construction from 1869 either through injury or smallpox.

Railway enthusiasts will marvel at the curved Ribblehead Viaduct, designed by John Crossley and completed in 1874 for the Settle-to-Carlisle line. Two thousand construction workers were involved. This 24-arch structure measuring 104 ft high and 1,320 feet wide, straddles the Ribble at the foot of Whernside, one of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks.

But a century later and, with the decline in passengers and costly repairs, particularly for the famous Ribblehead Viaduct, only Settle and Appleby stations remained open. Plans were mooted for its closure save a few short stretches for industrial purposes.

However, in 1989, after an increase in passengers and a wave of angry protest, the line was kept open with significant investment promised.

The railway line continues to bring tourists in significant numbers to the beautiful Settle and the surrounding areas.

Settle-to-Carlisle Railway: the key facts:

  • The line stretches 72 miles between Settle and Carlisle.
  • Diesel trains and specially chartered diesel and steam trains make travel the line.
  • Ribblehead Station – derelict for many years – is now an award-winning visitor attraction.
  • There are 14 tunnels and more than 20 viaducts.
  • 6,000 men built the line by hand.
  • Construction began in 1869 and finished seven years later.
  • Freight trains use the line, chiefly coal from Scotland bound for Yorkshire power stations. Gypsum is also carried to Kirkby Thore.
  • The journey takes in the stations of Settle, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Ribblehead, Dent, Garsdale, Kirkby Stephen, Appleby, Langwathby, Lazonby, Armathwaite and Carlisle.
  • Dent station is four miles from Dent.
  • Kirkby Stephen is one-and-a-half miles from the town it serves.

Click here for Google maps to Ribblehead Railway Station

Further information

Settle Online - guide to the town
Settle-to-Carlisle Railway website

NOTE: if you've enjoyed reading this review, perhaps you would like to let us know your favourite places to visit, eat and stay in North Yorkshire by clicking on the recommendations links on the home page.

NOTE: for information regarding disability access for any of the places mentioned, please contact the sites concerned or check their websites.

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