Railway ramble to Ribblehead

Spending a few days with my wife and friends in the delightful village of Dent meant the chance to match a love of walking with another passion for railway photography on a challenging 10-mile walk from England’s highest station to equally remote Ribblehead.

While those at Wimbledon and in much of the south endured cold and rain, it was a case of warm sunshine in the Yorkshire Dales that made for near perfect walking conditions on Wednesday, 30 June 2021, and the chance for some  panoramic photography of scenery and passing trains.

Dent station (1,150ft above sea level) is a wonderfully remote spot, with a listed station building in private ownership. It is almost five miles from the village and might more accurately be called Dent Parkway (but for the rather limited parking), or Cowgill for Dent, to reflect the hamlet just below the station. 

A view of Dent station looking south

A bus service links village and station on Saturdays only, otherwise it’s a 20 minute drive or two hour walk.

Both Dent and Ribblehead stations were closed to regular passenger traffic on 4 May 1970, along with most other intermediate stations, but having survived for use by the seasonal Dalesman services, were fully re-opened on 14 July 1986 and are now served by almost all the Leeds-Carlisle services that operate at roughly two-hourly intervals.

158755 has just emerged from Blea Moor Tunnel with 1M53 from Leeds (09.20) to Carlisle

Following a walk published by the Yorkshire Dales National Park (link below) we set out from Dent station on a route that would take us past the impressive Arten Gill Viaduct then on to the northern portal of the 1.5 mile long Blea Moor Tunnel, before a gruelling 500ft ascent over the top of the tunnel.

The view down Dentdale from high above Dent station looking towards Dent village

On a fine day this is a pleasant walk that takes around 4½ hours, beginning with a steady mile-long ascent on the road leading north from Dent station then continuing right along a good a level track for a couple of miles, before another  sharp right turn and a descent alongside Artengill Beck towards and under Arten Gill Viaduct.

158755 crosses Arten Gill Viaduct with 1M53 from Leeds (09.20) to Carlisle

After a turn left along a quiet road that runs alongside a near dried-up river bed, there is then a very challenging climb from close to the north portal of Blea Moor Tunnel onto Blea Moor, with the 500ft ascent in just three-quarters of a mile as you head directly above the tunnel to tunnel shaft No. 3.

GBRf 66704 crosses Arten Gill Viaduct with cement tanks from Carlisle to Clitheroe Castle Cement

From here there are fine views of Whernside to your right and Ingleborough straight ahead as the path gradually levels off, before descending down past tunnel shafts no. 2 and 1, then taking you on the north side of the railway, and behind England’s remotest signal box on a wide track running close to England’s finest railway viaduct and on to the Station Inn at Ribblehead

The view down Artengill Beck with Arten Gill Viaduct below

The 11-arch Arten Gill Viaduct, one of numerous similar structures along the S&C is 117ft high and 220 yards long. It was constructed using a stone called Dent marble, a dark limestone that is quarried locally and a renowned source of fossils. 

A view of Dent Head Viaduct from above Blea Moor Tunnel with Shaft No. 3 in the foreground

Just to its south stands the slightly smaller 10-arch Dent Head Viaduct, which can be seen in the distance from Dent station, stands 100ft high, is 199 yards long and was also built from blocks of Dent marble.

Ingleborough, second highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales (2,372ft) rises above the S&C, as seen from this spot on the path leading down to Ribblehead near Blea Moor Signal Box

Blea Moor is the longest tunnel on the S&C and was completed by the Midland Railway in 1875 after a four year construction period that involved the sinking of a total of seven shafts from the moor, of which four were filled in, to leave the three that survive to this day and which you will pass on the walk from Dent Station to Ribblehead.

DRS 66430 crosses Ribblehead Viaduct with a short freight from Carlisle to Crewe Basford Hall

Until the re-start of the popular and seasonal Staycation Express charter services from Carlisle to Skipton (two return trains daily from 18 July) passenger services comprise two and three-car Northern Rail Class 158-operated services, which seem pretty well patronised and even offer a buffet trolley service.

Colas Rail 70810 crosses Ribblehead Viaduct with a trainload of logs from Carlisle to Chirk

Freight traffic on the S&C is somewhat patchy these days, but 30 June proved pretty busy, with my walk giving me the chance to photograph GBRf 66704 crossing Arten Gill Viaduct with cement tanks bound for Clitheroe.

158859 approaches its stop at Ribblehead with 2H93 from Carlisle (14.50) to Leeds

Later, while enjoying a pint of Black Sheep Bitter in the Station Inn’s garden there was the chance to photograph DRS 66430 passing with a short southbound freight to Crewe, closely followed by Colas Rail 70810 on the regular working of logs from Carlisle to Chirk.

DRS 66430 approaches Ribblehead with its freight from Carlisle to Crewe

The Station Inn stands opposite the approach to Ribblehead station and is the perfect place to rehydrate and sample some fine food and ale while watching trains crossing the famous viaduct as you wait to make your 9-minute return journey back to Dent Station.   

Full details and a map of the walk can be found here: https://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2020/06/linear-walk-dent-to-ribblehead.pdf