Southernmost S&C semaphores

Among the numerous (nine) surviving outposts of mechanical signalling along the glorious Settle and Carlisle line, the most interesting and photogenic are those controlled by the route’s two most southerly signal boxes.

Spending a couple of midweek days in the area meant a chance to photograph trains passing the eight semaphores at Settle Junction, as well as those are nearby Hellifield, which boasts almost double that number.

158855 approches Settle Junction on 14 September 2022 with 2Y58 from Lancaster to Leeds

Settle Junction stands almost two miles south of Settle, at the intersection of the S&C with the Bentham Line from Lancaster and Carnforth and is controlled by a wonderfully preserved 1913 Midland Railway signal box that is strikingly similar to the listed and preserved example at Settle station.

From my base near Giggleswick station it took a rather hazardous 35 minute walk along the busy A65 to a farm crossing overbridge, where the friendly farmer greeted me by handing me an extract from the Gospel of John called Love is the Bridge, with a fine shot of a steam special on Ribblehead Viaduct on its cover!

66088 approaches Settle Junction with 6E97 from New Biggin British Gypsum to Tees Dock

Seeing freight action on the S&C is something of a hit or miss affair, with Real-time Trains showing a significant number of daily paths that are all ‘runs as required’ and some which I suspect hardly ever appear.

158593 nears Settle Junction on 14 September 2022 with 2Y60 from Morecambe (10.31) to Leeds

But as my Christian farming friend told me while vaccinating his flock of sheep at one end of the bridge, Wednesday is a good day for S&C freight, so in the two hours I spent there on the morning of 14 September 2022 I saw three Class 66-powered freight workings, along with four Class 158 passenger services.

66713 approaches Settle Junction with 4N00 from Carlisle N.Y. to Cliterhoe Castle Cement

What make photographing trains so attractive both here and at Hellifield is the spectacular scenery, which at Settle Junction provides a dramatic backdrop as you look north towards the four semaphores that signal the two diverging routes.

158844 heads onto the Bentham Line with 2H06 from Leeds (10.18) to Morecambe

From south to north the eight semaphores at Settle Junction comprise a bracket with junction signals south of the box, then up home signals protecting each route that stand close to the signal box and junction.

66756 passes Settle Junction with 6M31 from Hunslet Tilcon (Leeds) to Arcow Quarry

The quartet of signals in view looking north comprise up outer home signals on each route, along with down section signals. As elsewhere on the S&C, all three distant signals controlled by Settle Junction are two-aspect colour lights.

158844 at Settle Junction with 2H06 from Leeds (10.18) to Morecambe

Hellifield station is a magnificently restored Grade II listed building where regular passenger services use the southern end of the station and the station building houses a cafe and rail museum that is open daily until 4.00pm.

70803 passes signal HD23 with the regular trainload of logs from Carlisle to Chirk Kronospan

There are some 15 semaphore signals controlled by the impressive Hellifield South Junction Signal Box (Midland Railway, 1911) with the most celebrated being a shunting arm on a wooden post that controls exit from the down goods loop. It is not wholly original, but its survival alongside modern counterparts is rather impressive.

Apart from this and a couple of other shunting arms the only semaphore to the north of the station is down starter HD40, which stands on a bracket some distance north of the platform end, as seen above as it is passed by 158793, with the wooden post shunting signal to the right.

158758 passes one of the few signal gantries left on the network with 2H95 from Carlisle to Leeds

Up (southbound) trains will pass an intermediate home signal (HD23) midway along the platform shortly before a gantry carrying inner home signals HD24 for the route to Leeds and subsidiary arm HD32 to its right for the freight and diversionary route towards Clitheroe, as seen above.

158793 passes signal HD41 with 2H17 from Leeds (14.18) to Morecambe

From the station platforms the only other semaphores in view are a down home signal on the Leeds route (HD41) with a small junction arm alongside for access to the down goods loop. Tantalisingly out of view are down home signals HD54/56 protecting exit from the Clitheroe line.

For panoramic views of trains, semaphores and scenery at Hellifield, it is well worth taking a 15 minute walk down the station approach, turning left along the A65 towards the village then turning left immediately you pass under the Clitheroe line, from where you will reach a footpath that takes you above the Leeds line and station.

158869/782 approach Hellifield on 13 September 2022 with 2H92 from Leeds (15.18) to Carlisle

Stand in the middle of a field you reach after crossing under the railway here and there is a great view of trains passing the most southerly of the S&C semaphores, which are up section signal HD25 and, most southerly of all, down outer home signal HD42, as seen above.

68016 Fearless approaches Hellifield with a working from Carlisle N.Y. to Crewe Basford Hall

But it is also worth continuing along the footpath north of the railway line, to reach a spot where there is a great view of the line as it sweeps round to the right on the northern approach to the station, with a backdrop of the West Coast Railways depot and its curious collection of derelict former Royal Mail vehicles.

158754 passes signal HD40 on 14 September with 2H90 from Leeds (13.18) to Carlisle

From here there is a chance to glimpse the Clitheroe Line semaphores, with the down junction arms and an up section signal (HD23) all in partial view. This latter signal stands immediately above the bridge carrying the line over the A65, but seems impossible to photograph from anywhere apart from this spot.

Last semaphore on the line: 158850/782 pass HD25 with 2H93 from Carlisle (14.50) to Leeds

One final photo-spot in Hellifield is a foot crossing of the line that is reached by walking up a path called Haw Lane and brings you to a point very close to signals HD42 (down outer home) and HD25 (up section). Climb over a gate to the right here and walk up for about 50 yards for fine view looking north as a Leeds-bound train approaches HD25, as seen above.

66756 storms through Hellifield on 14 September with 6E77 from Arcow Quarry to Hunslet Tilcon

After an enjoyable and successful couple of days at Settle Junction and Hellifield I decided to reacquaint myself with the S&C, so took a bargain priced day trip from Settle to Carlisle and back before returning home via Leeds.

66713 comes off the Clitheroe Line with 6C00 from Clitheroe Castle Cement to Carlisle

As has been written many times before – not least by me in a Sunday Times travel feature at the height of the campaign to save the line in February 1988 – this is a quite remarkably scenic and historic route, with superbly preserved and restored station buildings, in addition to the mechanical signalling interest at places like Garsdale, Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and that elusive trio – Culgaith, Low House Crossing and Howe & Co’s Siding – between Appleby and Carlisle.

158752 departs Hellifield on 13 September 2022 with 1E65 from Carlisle (13.40) to Leeds

There seems something rather special about this line, whether it is all the historic features of a station like Settle that have been so carefully preserved or restored, the clear interest of staff in making passengers welcome or the dedication of the volunteer guide from the Friends of the Settle & Carlisle line with his running commentary and ridiculous jokes on the train I took from Settle (10.22 on 15 September 2022).

For anyone tempted to visit this area by rail, I can highly recommend the Craven Arms (B&B £80 a night) which is right outside the station at Giggleswick and only a 5-minute 581 bus ride or 30-minute walk from Settle station. While in Hellifield I can recommend the Black Horse Hotel, which is a 5-minute walk from the railway station, also has accommodation, and serves a very fine pint of Settle Brewery Ribblehead Bitter (3.9% and £3.90 a pint).

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