Nestled in the rolling hills close to the border of Yorkshire and Cumbria, Dent viaduct is just one of the reasons why the Settle to Carlisle railway is so iconic.
Built by the Midland Railway, the project was as much political as it was a demonstration of the ambition and vision of Victorian engineering.
Previously the company had shared a line into Scotland with London and North Western Railway, but after a series of disputes they decided to go it alone and build a new line. Construction began in the winter of 1869 and relied on the blood, sweat and tears of 6,000 navvies, many of them from Ireland, who endured some of the worst weather many could remember.
Not all would live to see the completion of the line. A plaque was installed at the church at Chapel-le-Dale in memory of those who died from both disease and as the result of accidents. The final death toll was never known – but on one section alone, a smallpox epidemic claimed 80 lives.
As makeshift camps sprang up along the route, those behind the project began to see their dreams realised. However, it was not easy and Dent, along with Ribblehead, proved to be one of the most tricky stretches.
The viaduct was made from large blocks of Dent marble – a dark limestone with a high fossil content – and it crosses over the quarry where the stone was first hewn. At 100ft high and 10 arches wide, the viaduct, which sits 1,150ft above sea level, is undoubtedly one of the most impressive structures on the entire line.
Four miles away is the Grade II listed Dent Station, which has the claim to fame of being Britain’s highest mainline station. It’s hard to believe now, but in the 1970s after a number of years of under investment, the Settle to Carlisle line was threatened with closure. British Rail seemed intent on abandoning it to the elements, but they hadn’t bargained on the determination of campaigners.
The Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line worked doggedly to save the railway and in 1989 the Government announced the line was to remain open and the restoration of its many tunnels and railways finally began.
Technical details: Fuji Finepix x20, 1/800th sec @ f12. ISO 400.
Picture: Tony Johnson
Words: Sarah Freeman