My nationwide quest to photograph Britain’s last mechanical signalling, in connection with a new book project, has brought me back to the Settle & Carlisle line, that amazing 72 miles of line between Settle in North Yorkshire and Carlisle in Cumbria, which 30 years ago was under sentence of death.
Reprieve in 1989 has been followed by many years of effort by the Friends of the Settle & Carlisle Railway to sustain the interest which that closure threat generated, and to build a new generation of travellers, both tourists and local users of the many stations on the line that were re-opened, and which now play a key role is sustaining and developing this remarkable tourist corridor.
Network Rail’s New Measurement Train (NMT) passes Grade II Listed Garsdale station on 31 July 2017 with a working from Heaton (Newcastle) to York
Visiting a number of these re-opened stations, now all beautifully restored to their original Midland Railway splendour, brings home how this is so much more than England’s most scenic line – it is also one of the most unspoiled routes in the UK – no cheap bus shelter buildings here on station platforms, everything is either original Midland Railway, or has been designed to be a faithful reproduction of mid-nineteenth century station architecture.
My recent three day visit took me to half a dozen of the line’s finest stations, all faithfully restored and a number now used in part as holiday accommodation, with income from lettings used to help maintain the line’s historic buildings. In the picture above, 66303 passes Kirkby Stephen on 31 July 2017 with a Carlisle-Crewe freight train conveying track and concrete sleepers.
Loss of coal traffic has meant a sharp decline in the amount of freight trains using the Settle-Carlisle line, although there are still significant flows of gypsum, cement and quarry traffic from a rail-served quarry near Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Another regular traffic is timber from Carlisle to Chirk which, on 2 August 2017 and in dismal weather, brought the rare sight of a Colas Class 70 (70804) – seen above approaching Appleby.
Blea Moor to the north of Ribblehead is about the remotest spot on the Settle-Carlisle line and a challenging 30 minute walk from Ribblehead station. Here DB-liveried 66075 has emerged from the longest tunnel on the line, the 1.5 mile long Blea Moor Tunnel, and is nearing Ribblehead on 1 August with a train of empty hoppers from Carlisle to Crewe.
The S&C is one of England’s last main lines to be largely controlled by manual (semaphore) signalling, and there are some great spots along the line from which to see trains of today being controlled by Victorian signalling technology. Among the highlights for me was Settle Junction, where the Bentham Line from Lancaster and Carnforth merges with the S&C two miles south of Settle. On 1 August 2017, DRS-liveried 66303 passes Settle Junction with empty ballast wagons running from Carlisle to Crewe.
In August 1968 the very last steam train to be operated by British Rail travelled over the Settle & Carlisle route on the return leg of what became known as the “15 Guinea Special”. Today the route remains a hugely popular destination for steam specials. On 1 August 2017, a Lancaster-Carlisle charter “The Fellsman” operated by West Coast Railways, was hauled by LMS Royal Scot 46115 “Scots Guardsman”, seen below approaching a signal check at Long Preston on its return journey to Lancaster.