TRAVEL NORTH - 12: TAKE THE STRAIN FROM HERITAGE TRAIN TRAVEL, Destination Western Dales

Take in the views, let the scenery absorb you

Ribblehead steam with Ingleborough behind. The locomotive is one of the preserved ex-LMS fleet
Ribblehead steam with Ingleborough behind. The locomotive is one of the preserved ex-LMS fleet | Source
The Settle & Carlisle Railway, the Midland Railway's route to Scotland. 'Planning' consisted of a line on a map, yet the route has stood the test of time
The Settle & Carlisle Railway, the Midland Railway's route to Scotland. 'Planning' consisted of a line on a map, yet the route has stood the test of time
The Northern England network set against an outline of Britain - Italian source, note 'Londra' for London
The Northern England network set against an outline of Britain - Italian source, note 'Londra' for London | Source

The Midland Main Line to Carlisle - the line along the spine

You can't beat it for scenery, walking, cycling or driving along the Settle & Carlisle Railway past Horton in Ribblesdale and Ribblehead with its long, high stone viaduct. This is Three Peaks country, Pen Y Gent, Ingleborough and Great Whernside overshadow the railway. Use Ribblehead's small station as a centre of operations if you plan to walk or cycle. There's usually a mobile snackbar at the car park by the Hawes-Ingleton road. Or stop off at the walkers' cafe at Horton with its wide choice of meals, snacks, hot and cold drinks and sweets (such as Kendal Mint Cake, useful as an energy boost for cyclists and walkers). 'Clock in' if you plan to walk, and tell the counter staff when you expect to get back.

A guide to the myths behind the history of the Midland Railway's Settle & Carlisle route with its history and lore, ghosts abound on the bleak mountains and moorlands. Suicides and tragic accidents, negligence and sheer miscalculation helped put the Midland Railway's 'finger' on the map to Carlisle. A director said, "Build the line here", and drew a line in one of the least hospitable stretches along the Pennines from south to north. The gangs of navvies who built the railway came from across Britain, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, many - with their kith and kin - also died from disease. The survivors went on elsewhere to build other lines or mines.

One of the more historic and scenic railways still extant in the British Isles, the line was threatened with closure by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. Thanks to Michael Portillo, then Transport Minister - and public pressure - it was reprieved. Although not as expensive as initially estimated, a large cash injection was necessary on one of its greatest landmarks, the Ribblehead Viaduct, in order to ensure the line stayed open for the foreseeable future.

Treat yourself to a spectacle

Steam special on the S&CR headed by one of the preserved LMS locomotives
Steam special on the S&CR headed by one of the preserved LMS locomotives
A1 Pacific 'Tornado' heads an up steam special over Ribblehead viaduct on a sunny afternoon
A1 Pacific 'Tornado' heads an up steam special over Ribblehead viaduct on a sunny afternoon | Source
D49 246 at the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway
D49 246 at the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway
Bolton Abbey Station near Skipton
Bolton Abbey Station near Skipton
The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway near Skipton
The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway near Skipton
Midland Railway styled Embsay station bench
Midland Railway styled Embsay station bench
Steam locomotive cab on the E&BAR
Steam locomotive cab on the E&BAR
Tank locomotive 'Monckton' with a short train on the E&BAR
Tank locomotive 'Monckton' with a short train on the E&BAR
Damems Station on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway (K&WVR)
Damems Station on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway (K&WVR)
...And again, with its 'boxed' lever frame
...And again, with its 'boxed' lever frame
Diagram of the K&WVR, Keighley to Haworth
Diagram of the K&WVR, Keighley to Haworth
J72 65023 of North Eastern Loco Preservation Group on loan to the K&WVR
J72 65023 of North Eastern Loco Preservation Group on loan to the K&WVR
'Oxenhope and all stations... Close the doors please!'
'Oxenhope and all stations... Close the doors please!'
The Railway Children filmed on the K&WVR in 1970
The Railway Children filmed on the K&WVR in 1970
Keighley Station, used in the film 'Yanks', about US troops camped in the north in 1943 before D-Day
Keighley Station, used in the film 'Yanks', about US troops camped in the north in 1943 before D-Day
Vintage 1950s diesel railcar on the K&WVR
Vintage 1950s diesel railcar on the K&WVR

Taking a trip to the Dales? Why drive if you can take a leisurely ride on a train?

On the south-western side of the Dales there are three railways to choose from. Two are preserved railways, one is still part of the British railway network.

Let's take the shortest first. You can take the longest one - the Settle & Carlisle or S&CR - to get to Skipton in what is now part of North Yorkshire, but is traditionally the West Riding. Skipton is close to Embsay at one end of the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway (E&BAR), itself run by volunteers of the Yorkshire Dales Railway Trust (YDRT).

Before going on through Skipton to Embsay, take a good look at the solid Skipton Castle. Once owned by the great Lady Anne Clifford - who through marriage at one time owned a string of fortified properties in the north, including Danby Castle near Whitby - Skipton was restored by her from its ruinous state.

At Embsay Station you can buy a return ticket to Bolton Abbey Station and ride on a short train through the undulating, lush green countryside of the lower Dales. Bolton Abbey Station is used as a working base by several smaller preservation groups, including one I am loosely connected with that is restoring a 1903 North Eastern Railway petrol-electric railcar and passenger trailer. The railcar was 'pensioned off' in the late 1930s, from when it was used as a static caravan near Pickering from where the group acquired it a few years ago for restoration. Nearby are the famed ruins of Bolton Abbey, an Augustinian priory laid waste under Henry VIII's orders during the dissolution. The great challenge here is the line of stepping stones across the upper River Wharfe that you need to cross to reach the abbey on land owned by the Duke of Devonshire.

Take the Settle & Carlisle Railway also to visit the next railway. Longer (probably about three times the distance) than the E&BAR, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway (K&WVR) takes you from Keighley (surprise, surprise) to Haworth through Bronte country. It is also Railway Children country, the film of E. Nesbit's book was made here in 1970 with Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett, Gary Warren and Bernard Cribbins,

Like the E&BAR and S&CR, the K&WVR was part of the Midland Railway network in the north of England. The British railway totems abound at all the railway's stations, with their characteristic large-windowed 'boxy' signal boxes. There is a variety of ex-LMS locomotive, crimson lake-liveried corridor and non-corridor passenger stock and goods wagons, a great day out for the kids (don't try to put one over on us, Mister, you're a big kid when it comes to steam railways)! At the other end of the line from Keighley is Haworth, home of the Bronte family. The parsonage with its squat church is on the old Main Street, not far from the station. The street is still as it would have been in the 19th Century, with its dark cobbles and the drainage channel down the centre. The Bronte family are buried in their private vault in the church, except Anne who was taken to Scarborough to recuperate from an illness contracted in Haworth and is buried in tSt Mary's churchyard near the castle (the drain down Main Street was polluted).

Now for the big one, the S&CR. Initiated by the Midland Railway to compete in the Races to the North in the mid-19th Century, the railway was hard-wrought from the land. Several viaducts were built to carry the line across steep dales and deep peat bogs that cost the lives of many 'Inland Navigators' as the railway builders' labourers were known, otherwise 'Navvies'. Whole carts with their loads of building stone and the horses were swallowed up until the railway's owners approached George Stephenson for advice (he had already built the railway from Whitby to Pickering and Liverpool to Manchester over similar terrain). In places the Midland Railway's S&CR connected with the North Eastern Railway, as at Garsdale and Kirkby Stephen, one of its main competitors for routes to Scotland. The Midland never actually reached Scotland, converging as it did with the London & North Western Railway from Euston via Crewe and the North Eastern Railway's Newcastle-Carlisle Railway.

For scenery there's little competition. The route originated in the West Riding city of Leeds, and ran via Keighley and Skipton to Settle. Previously the railway finished there, and there was no hardship to it. It was the directors who held the ambition to take it further, and drew a line on the map to 'link' Settle with Carlisle without ever setting foot in the Pennines! Since it is there, many put considerable energy into keeping the line in the 1960s, when it was threatened with closure by Dr Beeching's report, 'Re-Shaping Britain's Railways'. Steam Specials were contracted to run from Leeds to Carlisle to put pressure on British Railways to keep the line open. Local communities tried to impress on the powers-that-be that the railway was a lifeline in winter, where all roads are rendered impassible.

Seeing is believing. If you haven't at least set foot near the longest viaduct at Ribblehead, you don't know what you're missing! The route passes places like Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Kirkby Stephen, Garsdale, Dent and Appleby, passes the Three Peaks, Great Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen y Gent where annual cycle and running races are held for the hardy (some say foolhardy). The cycle race calls for several cycles to be used by each rider for the extremes in terrain. It is also prime walking territory, although care must be taken in wet weather. Those peat bogs are deep! You'd disappear into them if you left the footpaths and no-one would be the wiser.

Still, see the land, and let the train take the strain!

Next - 13: Railway Trips in the Eastern Dales, Moors - and a dream put on hold on the Durham Fell

Take a ride in these pages through Bronte country, Haworth, Oxenhope and Keighley nestling in the Dales where the wild moors loom dark and foreboding behind - a suitable setting for Kathy and Heathcliffe. Lionel Jefferies used the branch to film 'The Railway Children' in the 70's, with Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins in the starring roles.

Keighley & Worth Valley Railway

When looking for locations for his film 'The Railway Children' the actor and director Lionel Jefferies only needed to take one look and a ride down the branch. This is Bronte country, neat villages such as Haworth and Oxenhope nestling in the dales, Keighley at its northern end, high, wild moors and the bass toot of Midland Region steam locomotives echoing in the air. Worth a look - then worth a visit, within half an hour's drive from the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway a little further north. See below...

There are several railway routes across the Pennines and Dales in Yorkshire and the North in general - each can be followed by the reasonably fit and includes a selection of good public houses or inns and hotels

Dales Rail Trails

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Comments 2 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi alan, I always take the train as I don't drive, long story! lol! and it never fails to amaze me why other people don't. I think with all the cars on the road you just can't get to see such wonderful sights as you can from a train. We used to have the Marlow Donkey train here years ago, it was a good old steam puffer and it was lovely. Not so sure about the modern ones for comfort as that one was. I tend to go down from Reading to Bournemouth or farther in Cornwall, its such a lovely train run, through the New Forest and then taking the train across to Clovelly. That way we went on the Tarka line, and followed the stream all the way to clovelly, it was called the Tarka line because of the film Ring of bright Water, really interesting and different hub, thanks! voted up! cheers nell


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Thanks Nell. I'd take the train all the time but to get to some places you have to drive. It's worth taking the day out from driving if you have the time, though.

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