As a Cumbrian lass, born and bred, there’s nothing quite like returning home.
Not only do I get the benefits of a nostalgic home cooked-meal, I also get to enjoy one of the most scenic rail journeys in the UK.
I was brought up in Carlisle by my Grandparents who, bless them, are still going strong up North. When I eventually moved away from Carlisle and out of my childhood home, they both made me promise that I would come back and visit at least 4 times a year (not including Christmas which, apparently, goes without saying). I still remember that first train ride ‘down South’ to my new home in Leeds as if it were yesterday. I’d been taken out on the Yorkshire Dales before on school trip and weekend hikes, but never before had I seen them from this perspective.
The rail line that runs south, specifically from Carlisle to Settle (a small town on the edge of the Dales), is so well-loved that it is supported by two separate charitable organisations, in addition to the continual servicing it receives from it’s Northern Rail operators. The Friends of the Settle – Carlisle are a group of volunteers who dedicate their time to raising money to support the constant work that is needed to beautify the stations and properties associated with the line, this includes the station buildings themselves, as well as adjacent gardens and houses.
So why all this fuss over such a short piece of track?
Put simply – there are no other stretches of railway track in the UK that can compete in terms of natural beauty.
Construction for the line began all the way back in 1869, as a result of competing rail companies, Midland Railway and London & North Western, vying for market dominance. The line was engineered to carefully trace the natural curves of the Pennines, in order to maximise speed and efficiency – unfortunately, this efficiency came at a cost for some local people, who found that their town’s station could be as far as 4 miles away. After 7 years of construction, involving the work of 6,000 men – the last hand-constructed rail line was completed in 1876.
Many men died throughout the years that it took construct this route, either as a result of small pox or work-related accidents – this is no wonder, especially when you consider the gargantuan effort it would have taken to lay a track that covers 72 miles, running through 14 tunnels and over 20 viaducts. These diversions, combined with the stunning scenery, makes for a dramatic journey, however you’ve got to feel sorry for whoever has the unfortunate job of railway track monitoring such a complicated route!
Tickets for my journey from Leeds to Carlisle can come as cheap as £20, if you book the right train ahead of schedule; an off-peak return is also reasonable at around £36. If you’re only interested in the historic Settle-Carlisle route, then tickets will be even cheaper as the round trip will take you less than four hours. The only downside to catching a ride on this stunning route is the average diesel Sprinters that you travel in, courtesy of Northern rail.