This was the last great main rail line to be constructed in England, completed in 1876 by the Midland Railway Company after six years of blood, sweat and tears as the builders overcame major natural obstacles to create 116 km (72 mi) of track frequently described as ‘the most scenic rail journey in England’. The romantic Victorians and Edwardians certainly thought so, as they loved taking this picturesque route when heading north for their annual summer holidays – using a through service from London to Scotland that lasted until 1977.
Those skilled 19th-century railway engineers built 14 tunnels and 17 major viaducts to create a route through the magnificent Yorkshire Dales, on through the lush, gently rolling hills of the Eden Valley with its charming villages and traditional market towns to Carlisle, gateway to Scotland. Their work has proved enduring, as the Settle to Carlisle line still has regular scheduled services much used by locals, as well as discerning tourists drawn by the opportunity to view some of the country’s finest scenery from the comfort of a train seat.
The full journey actually begins in Leeds, with its connection to the intercity rail network. Also, the so-called ‘Lancashire Dales Rail’ service runs on many Sundays between the beginning of May and mid-October, offering a through trip from Blackpool via Preston and Blackburn on to Settle and Carlisle. This has associated guided walks and coach trips from certain trains to beautiful parts of the North Pennines and Yorkshire Dales. For those drawn by the romance of bygone travel, charter trains with vintage carriages – pulled by classic steam locomotives – regularly do the Settle to Carlisle run (usually as part of a longer journey). But whichever way you choose to go, it will be an experience to treasure.
WHEN TO GO:
April to October to see the countryside at its best.
TIME IT TAKES:
Just under two hours (Settle-Carlisle) or two-and-a-half hours (Leeds-Carlisle).
The amazing 24-arch Ribblehead.
The long tunnel beneath Blea Moor – as the train enters the southern entrance it passes under Force Gill Aqueduct that carries a stream over the line.
Delightful Appleby Station – built by the Midland Railway as one of the major stations on the line – spot the water tower and crane that service steam specials.
The Eden Lacy Viaduct between Langwathby and Lazonby, for as fine an English landscape view as you’ll ever see.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
When the Government proposed closing the line in 1988, a petition with the signatures of 32,000 protesters resulted in a change of mind.