Western Howgills

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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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132.  Three Viaducts and a Tunnel of the Settle-Carlisle Railway

kendal mint I was pleased to see that throughout the 80-page Yorkshire Dales National Park's Conservation Area Appraisal of the Settle-Carlisle Railway the viaduct below Whernside is referred to as Batty Moss Viaduct. It is conceded that the viaduct is now more commonly known as the Ribblehead Viaduct but the Area Appraisal itself does not use that name. It also describes the Settle-Carlisle Railway as “a folly that was an accidental by-product of two rivalling companies”.

kendal mint In The Land of the Lune I had suggested, not altogether seriously, that the viaduct should be called Batty Moss Viaduct, for four reasons: (1) Batty Moss Viaduct is the original name; (2) It is the convention to name viaducts after what they cross, which here is Batty Moss; (3) The viaduct does not cross the Ribble and is not really at the head of Ribblesdale – if anything it is more at the head of Chapel-le-Dale; (4) The construction of the viaduct was somewhat batty.

By the last point I meant that it seemed strange that in order to connect Ribblesdale with upper Wensleydale the railway line was taken over into Dentdale and out again, necessitating the building of three large viaducts and two long tunnels, when there was a more direct route through Widdale, where the B6255 now runs, which would appear to need no viaducts or tunnels. No doubt, there were reasons but, on the surface, it seems a foolish or batty decision. I wouldn’t, however, consider the Settle-Carlisle Railway to be a ‘folly’, in the sense of a whimsical structure intended to amuse us. It was a very serious undertaking, costing a great deal, in money and lives.

The plight of those who helped build the railway deserves a fuller discussion which I will leave to a later Sauntering. On this occasion we focussed on the structure itself, which the Appraisal considers to be “arguably the finest example of a ‘totally integrated’ engineering approach of Victorian times”, “the most scenic railway line in England” and “the last British line to be largely built in the traditional ‘manual’ way” using a workforce of thousands of navvies.

We got off the bus at Ribblehead Station, where the bus waits for rail passengers wanting to transfer to the bus in order to get to, say, Swaledale. The whole area around Ribblehead was packed with cars, basking on a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday. We walked past Batty Moss Viaduct along with many walkers heading for Whernside but we left them to walk up Blea Moor on the path that runs directly above the Bleamoor Tunnel, which at 1.5 miles long is the longest tunnel of the Settle-Carlisle Railway. Reaching a height of about 500 metres, we had the tunnel some 150 metres below us. This tunnel was the most expensive structure of the whole line, being dug primarily by hand, although today, of course, there is relatively little to show, above ground, for all this effort. There are piles of stone debris and a few air shafts, through one of which we heard a whoosh as, we assume, a train passed below.
bleamoor tunnel

A shaft of the Bleamoor Tunnel (Ingleborough to the left, Whernside to the right)

Dropping down into upper Dentdale through the remains of the conifer plantations there were spectacular views of Dentdale with the railway line sweeping along the eastern flank. Beyond Dent Head Farm, there’s a view of the Dent Head Viaduct of ten arches. We paused at Bridge End, where we had said that we would review our plans. I had originally thought of walking to three viaducts but it was a hotter day than we were used to. I would have been content now with two viaducts and a long siesta. But Ruth was for pressing on, keeping us on our legs for most of the 7½ hours that we had to fill between the buses. It was certainly pleasant enough strolling down Dentdale alongside the River Dee shimmering over little waterfalls. We passed a body spread-eagled on rocks by the river-side, sun-bathing or dead, we weren’t sure.

Dropping down into Dentdale, with the railway line emerging from the tunnel to the right

dent head viaduct

Dent Head Viaduct

After reluctantly repelling the entreaties of a lad at Stone House tempting us with ice-cream, we paused for a sandwich (ice-cream before lunch is just not de rigueur) by the path that passes under the Artengill Viaduct of eleven arches. This viaduct is made of the local ‘Dent marble’, a fossil-rich form of limestone. On an earlier occasion we had paused to look at the fossils in the large limestone blocks at the base of the viaduct but this time we continued, rather wearily, up the long track, until we reached the Pennine Bridleway at a height of about 500 metres again and could at last begin our return towards Ribblehead. Most of this bridleway path was as smooth as a snooker table and it was possible to walk barefoot, which is to be recommended. Ruth said that she got a second wind during this stretch. I was still on my first wind but I had little of it left.
artengill viaduct

Artengill Viaduct

We continued accompanied by many skylarks and with fine views, as we’d had throughout the walk, stimulating reminiscences about previous expeditions over these hills: Great Knoutberry Hill, Wild Boar Fell, Middleton Fell, Dodd Fell, Pen-y-ghent, Pendle, and Ingleborough. Crossing the road, we now joined the Dales Way, where Ruth glided ahead like a gazelle over the moors (if we had gazelles on our moors) while I trudged, exhausted, behind. I restrained her for a while with a drawn-out exposition of the plot of a Friday Night Dinner episode, the one where Jim tips paint over himself. But then she was off again.

At last, the end was in sight, the Station Inn at Ribblehead (for us, the bus stop thereat, not the pub). We dropped down to the road but walked across the moor ten yards above it rather than beside it, since it was busy with cars and motor-bikes. At this point, I realised that, in the urge to get underway in the morning, we had passed the Batty Moss Viaduct without really paying much attention to it and without taking any photographs. So, as we had a little time to spare, I summoned up my last dregs of energy, to follow Ruth over the moor to the limestone outcrop of Runscar Scar, from where there is a grand prospect of this magnificent structure.
batty moss viaduct

Batty Moss Viaduct, from Runscar Scar

Returning to the road, we had an ice-cream, our first al fresco ice cream since the summer of 2019. By such small steps we are measuring our return to ‘normality’. And by such a multitude of steps, I am exhausting myself (Ruth less so, it seems).

    Date: May 30th 2021
    Start: SD764790, Ribblehead Station  (Map: OL2)
    Route: NW past Ribblehead Viaduct, N on Three Peaks route – Little Dale – N, NE over Bleamoor Tunnel, N – Bridge End – N – Stone House Bridge – E up Arten Gill, S on Pennine Bridleway – road – NW, S on Ribble Way, SW, SE past Winshaw – B6255 – SW just north of road, W – Runscar Scar – S – road – SW – Station Inn, Ribblehead
    Distance: 13 miles;   Ascent: 420 metres

The two following items:
     134.   North and South in the Arnside and Silverdale AONB
     133.   The Limestone Hills East of Settle
The two preceding items:
     131.   A Taste of the Kendal Mint
     130.   By the Lancaster Canal and the River Lune
Two nearby items:
     173.   Early Spring in Chapel-le-Dale
     102.   Upper Ribblesdale: Drumlins, Three Peaks and a Cave
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell