Whistle-stop walks: Dent to Ribblehead, Leeds- Settle-Carlisle line
February 01, 2020 by Extinction Rebellion
I alight at Dent station, at 1,150ft the highest in England. Up here even the names are short, as if to save breath.
It’s from a lonely stop like this that I imagine Mary Lennox being driven in a carriage up into the moors to remote, mysterious Misselthwaite Manor in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden… “It’s just miles and miles and miles of wild land that nothing grows on but heather and gorse and broom, and nothing lives on but wild ponies and sheep.”
Dent is the summit of the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line. It was the railway barons’ daftest, most heroic achievement, driven across desolate mires, aslant howling moors and speared through the sinew of the Pennines.
I’m walking to the next station but one, Ribblehead. It was the poor condition of the mighty 24-arch viaduct there that BR’s grey men in accounts took as the pretext to close this line in the 1980s.
Outrage gathered like snowdrifts on the flanks of nearby Pen-y- Ghent, and good sense prevailed. Funds were found for repairs, and the Settle-Carlisle was reborn as one of the UK’s most thrilling public transport experiences,
as well as a lifeline to isolated communities.
Using my phone’s Ordnance Survey app, I plot a seven mile route, shadowing the railway. I pass under Great Knoutberry Hill and over Arten Gill Force (no such thing as a mere stream up here). Water the colour of Islay malt cascades off rock shelves. Sheep like wizened Yorkshire aldermen chomp the sparse grass.
I reach Blea Moor signal box, as remote from Clapham Junction as Ulan Bator, and walk down to the famous viaduct. Even today, trains pass gingerly over, as if out of respect for a national treasure. It is one of the few places in Britain where even non-trainspotters gaze in awe at a mere diesel loco.
At an immense height, a single plume of water hangs spookily from the stonework, coalescing into bloated, shuddering globules that burst around me. The only sound is the wind moaning under the arches.
I rejoin the train at Ribblehead station. The Pennines conquered, we freewheel down the 14-mile ‘Long Haul’, back into the gentle landscape of the lower Dales.