Video: Painting the Settle-Carlisle line

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Line Drawing: Sarah Hutton is the first ever artist in residence on the Settle to Carlisle Railway. Yvette Huddleston caught up with her on the historic line.

One of Britain’s most scenic railway journeys, the 73-mile Settle-Carlisle line will soon have a unique record of its landscape, architecture and people. The line, which runs through some of the most stunning countryside in the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines, will be the subject of work by artist in residence Sarah Hutton, who is recording in pictures what makes this stretch of railway so special.

Sarah Hutton is the Settle to Carlisle Railway's artist in residence.

Sarah Hutton is the Settle to Carlisle Railway's artist in residence.

“I grew up in Haworth but I never really got to know the Yorkshire Dales,” says Sarah who has recently bought an old church building in Giggleswick which she is renovating and partially converting into a studio. “I have a studio in Haworth where I have been working for more than 20 years, and I was looking for a new landscape.” Sarah, who studied Fine Art at the Central School in London, Syracuse University in New York and at the University of Leeds, has exhibited both nationally and internationally and will be devoting much of her time over the next year or so to the Settle-Carlisle project.

Her interest in the line began when a friend came over to visit from Hull and suggested they take a ride on the railway. “It was absolutely amazing,” she says. “It was so beautiful and it had a massive impact on me. I was looking for a project and I thought I would love to do some work on this, so I asked at Settle station who I should approach.”

The Settle-Carlisle Railway Development Company was enthusiastic about the idea of an artist in residence and Sarah has been working on the project for the past few months. The resulting drawings and paintings will be exhibited at the stations along the line to coincide with next year’s 25th anniversary of it being saved.

Threat of closure cast a shadow over the line from the 1960s, but a six-year fight, between 1983 and 1989, by a group of committed campaigners was eventually successful. The lack of investment in the previous few decades actually turned out to be a boon. While much of the rest of the network had been modernised, the Settle-Carlisle Railway is now the most complete piece of Victorian railway engineering and architecture in the UK. There are 11 working stations along the line which vary in size and character and Sarah will be exploring all of them in her work.

Sarah Hutton is the Settle to Carlisle Railway's artist in residence.

Sarah Hutton is the Settle to Carlisle Railway's artist in residence.

“One of the amazing things is that you have remote little places like Garsdale and Dent and then somewhere like Carlisle which is quite a big city.” So far she has visited Settle, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Ribblehead, Garsdale, Dent and Carlisle. She is keen to speak to people working, travelling and volunteering on the line and says she has already met some wonderful characters who lend a human perspective to her work.

“I have had lots of conversations. I met an elderly gentleman who has lived in Shipley all his life. He said that the railway was a lifeline for him – being able to get out into such a different environment. Over the years he had made friends in Settle and Ribblehead; he loved the peace and quiet and the extraordinary landscape. There was another guy in a flat cap – we ended up sitting on a bench chatting – he used to work on the line at Horton-in-Ribblesdale and lived in one of the little railway cottages.

“He remembered using paraffin lamps and when there was no gas supply up there. He was completely different because he was born and bred in the country and was used to the landscape. Then there are all the walkers who come from all over Yorkshire and beyond. In Carlisle I met people who work in the cathedral there – everyone I’ve met has been so friendly. I think the line has that effect – it makes people open up.”

Based on those impromptu meetings, Sarah has created what she calls “conversation drawings” – small sketches with lines of text handwritten underneath.

“I am really interested in literature so the writing and the drawings reflect my love of words. They are like a short story really – always on one page of A4.”

Sarah says it has been a humbling experience riding on the line and studying the architecture along the way – not just the stations but also the tunnels, bridges and viaducts; in particular, the famous Ribblehead viaduct, which claimed so many lives during its construction. More than 6,000 navvies were employed to build the line, working in tough conditions and remote locations with large camps being established to house them and their families. The remains of one – Batty Green – can be seen near Ribblehead station.

“The viaduct has the same sort of presence as the Parthenon in Athens. It made me think about the way the line has been engineered and how it connects to the land and the material world. It has a human thumbprint on it.”

In a nod to the Victorian managing directors of the Midland Railway Company who built the line and walked its entire length to assess whether it was feasible or not – Sarah intends to cover the whole 73 miles on foot in stages over the course of the next year and in the long term is hoping to organise more community engagement events.

“It feels like that would be the natural progression for me,” she says. “I hope my relationship with the Development Company will continue and it’s a perfect way for me to launch my work in the Dales.”

On Sunday, September 22, Settle station will be hosting a free one-day pop-up artist’s studio from 11am-4pm when Sarah Hutton will be showing some of her work. www.settle-carlisle.co.uk www.scrdc.co.uk.

To watch a video of her at work go to www.yorkshirepost/videos