Settle-Carlisle Railway

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Doctor Beeching slashed our national railway system to the bone in the 1960's, closing 2128 stations and ripping up over 9000 miles of track in what turned out to be one of the most short sighted acts of vandalism ever to be foisted on the British Public.

How many of these towns and villages would benefit from light rail systems now is almost uncalculable.

Some lines were privately saved and there are a number of successful heritage railways throughout the UK.

One of the lines which remains open despite further attempts to close it in the 1980's is the 73 mile long Settle to Carlisle line, often thought to be England's most scenic route.

The line has a fascinating history and was almost never built in the first place.

The Midland Railway was in a battle with the London and North West Railway over rights to use their tracks to Scotland, with the latter making it very difficult for the former to use their line in many devious ways.

The Midland Railway thought they could force the hand of the opposition by proposing and designing an alternative route which would take their business. The line was approved by Parliament in 1866.

A changing economic climate and the closure of a number of rival companies however, meant that the construction became unviable and an application was made to withdraw the proposition.

The remaining railway companies, realising that they would be able to use the line whilst contributing nothing towards the build costs, put pressure on Parliament and Midland Railway was forced to build it.

Work began in 1869 and more than 6000 navvies, mainly of Irish origin, lived in makeshift townships amongst the remote and inhospitable countryside. They had shops, bars, post offices and schools and records show that these were wild and raucous places. The remains of one such township can still be seen at Batty Green near Ribblehead Viaduct.

The work was deadly and dangerous with many men killed during construction. Eighty died in a smallpox outbreak at Batty Green alone.

Many were buried in small churchyards along the route which can still be seen today.

The line travels through wild and beautiful countryside in North Yorkshire and Cumbria. It has 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts, the most spectacular being at Ribblehead.

This creation stands 104 feet above the valley bottom, stretches over a quarter of a mile and has 24 huge arches. Just along from this point is Ais Gill, the highest point of any main-line railway in England and just beyond is Dent Station, the highest railway station in England.

The line was opened in 1875.

It is only open today thanks to pressure and 'friends' groups who battled attempts to close it over the decades from the 1960's.

It is now a well used freight route and has become a tourist attraction in it's own right, with many passengers travelling from Leeds to Carlisle and vice versa. It is also a popular trip for walkers who alight at Ribblehead for day walks around the area.

Saved for posterity, it is truly one of England's Great Railway Journeys.

Further details may be found at and tickets may be booked at

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