Friday, October 25, 2013


Yesterdays's Guardian Country Diary described a walk around the Cumbrian market town of Kirkby Stephen. All the pictures below enlarge if you double-click on them.

This path out of the town takes you through the village of Hartley and then onto the disused South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, where freight trains once hauled coal from the Durham coalfields and haematite ore from Cumbria across the notorious Stainmore Summit - the highest railway line in England. Now the section of the track bed that passes through Kirkby Stephen is a popular public footpath through wonderful scenery.

The line and its viaducts was engineered by Sir Thomas Bouch and three of his fine viaducts, including the Merrigill viaduct and the Podgill viaduct (above), are now in the care of the Northern Viaducts Trust. They seem to be as sound as they were on the day that they were built, unlike Bouch's Tay bridge which collapsed, taking a train and 75 passengers with it and inspiring what is often described as the worst poem in the English language, The Tay Bridge Disaster by William McGonagall

The line was originally single track but was eventually doubled - when you stand under the viaduct you can see where it was widened - the size of the blocks and their patterns of construction are different.

This is the view down from the Podgill viaduct into the valley cut by Ladthwaite beck, on a fine spring day earlier this year.

The viaduct casts an imposing shadow...

...... and provides a kestrel's-eye fine view to the north of distant Cumbrian fells, in between showers and rainbows.

It's a shame that these rural railways have gone but the old track beds are a superb legacy, providing rural walks with gentle gradients that accessible to all.

Part of this route forms part of a poetry path, with verses carved into local sandstone and limestone at intervals along the route.

This is the view towards the fells to the south as the path nears Kirkby Stephen.

At this point you can choose to walk on, to reach the finest of the three viaducts at Smardale Gill, or you can cross the river Eden where it forms a series of waterfalls at the Millenium Bridge.

From there the route back into Kirkby Stephen follows foot-worn paths through farmland and woodland where you can sometimes see red squirrels and which have fine displays of wild flowers in spring.

The route back involves recrossing the river Eden at this point, where it's shallow and stony and is a perfect spot for watching dippers all year-round. There are often herons here too ....

... which is why the last of the twelve  poems carved in stone, on across three rocks, reads as follows:

"There sails the heron / drawing behind him a long / wake of solitude"

On cue, just as we reached these stones, a heron did indeed rise from the Eden further downstream.

You can find more information about the viaducts and footpath maps at the Northern Viaducts Trust website and also in their downloadable brochure


  1. It is a beautiful area. Your photographs do it justice.

  2. Such wonderful images. I live near a viaduct and an aquaduct so I have the best of both worlds.


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