I chose this challenge because it was just one of those things I’d always been meaning to do. Every time we drove along the A65 past Settle on our way to see my dad in Grasmere we’d say “We must go on the Settle-Carlisle railway one day” and that would be all we’d do about it. So given the opportunity to stay for a few days at a friend’s converted barn in nearby Dentdale, we decided to finally seize the opportunity. Although Dent was our nearest station on the line we decided to do the full route, as travelling from Dent we wouldn’t have been able to go over the Ribblehead viaduct, which once you’ve seen it from the road just has to be done. Two further massively impressive viaducts cross the end of Dentdale which you would also miss if you only travelled from Dent station. (Although that said, the viaducts are often scarcely noticeable from the train itself.)
We had a week of very mixed weather, but our journeys on the day were mostly clear, and torrential rain only set in once we were safely back in Settle. We boarded the 9.50 to Carlisle and returned on the 14.04, with just enough time for a quick stroll around the remarkably sunny Cumbrian capital and a very bad lunch in Pizza Express (having a serious off day) in between. And the railway journey really was stunning. It is beautiful every inch of the way, and totally worth the steep £22 return fare. From the forbidding peaks of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough, through dry-stone walled limestone valleys, past remote sheep farms (“Look at baa-baas!” said Charlotte, between readings of the Gruffalo), over the aforementioned viaducts, and then through the lush Eden valley, with the Lakeland fells in the distance, covered in snow like Alpine peaks.
It would be wrong not to pause and remember all those navvies who gave their lives building the Settle-Carlisle railway in terrible weather and working conditions, armed with only their brute strength and the occasional stick of dynamite. We must also give thanks to all those who devoted their lives to sparing the railway from closure in 1989, and who still help run and maintain it as a partial charitable organisation today.