When the Settle-Carlisle line was built in the second half of the 19th century its sole purpose was to provide the Midland Railway with an alternative route to Scotland during a bitter feud with rival company the London and North Western Railway.
Today, the latter’s disputed line at Ingleton lies long-abandoned, and despite all the engineering and financial challenges of keeping it open, the Midland’s Settle-Carlisle is still the main route heading north of the border from West Yorkshire.
More than that, though, not only does the line act as a lifeline for villagers in the western Yorkshire Dales and the Eden Valley it is also a major conduit for walkers. This new role has inspired a great annual walking festival, the ride2stride, the seventh of which begins next week.
I”t started as a conversation over a bottle of wine,” I’m told by one of the organisers, Chris Grogan.
She and husband Tony set up ride2stride after writing a guide to walks beginning and ending at stations on the line.
“We’d just published the book and to launch it we thought we should have a walk from the train, ending at a pub with music,” she said. “By the bottom of the bottle it was beginning to sound like a festival.”
The line has always been central to Chris’s life. She grew up within a few yards of the tracks, in the shadow of Dentdale’s Arten Gill viaduct.
“As a little girl out playing with friends I knew to run home for my dinner when the up-train went across the viaduct at ten past twelve,” she recalls.
Now, Chris studies the timetables to devise walking routes for ride2stride, which was hailed as best walking festival on the British mainland in one survey.
The guided walks range from a two-mile stroll round the remains of Jericho, one of the shanty towns build to house navvies and their families during the construction of the Ribblehead Viaduct, to a 15-mile circular hike from Settle station to Malham Tarn.
More strenuous are a 14-mile slog from the station at Appleby-in-Westmorland to the spectacular glacial valley of High Cup Nick, among the highlights of the Pennine Way, and another 14-mile circular from Garsdale over to Snaizeholme in the Wensleydale satellite of Widdale, where a red squirrel sanctuary has been established.
There’s also a programme of talks about the life along the line, including one on the Dent-born founder of modern geology, Adam Sedgwick, by his biographer Colin Speakman.
Numbers attending ride2stride have steadily grown since the first in 2012, and last year around 900 people came from as far afield as the USA, New Zealand and Denmark.
In 2015 a couple in Vancouver were so impressed by the Settle-Carlisle’s scenery when they saw it on a TV programme about railway lines they Googled ‘walking in Yorkshire’, found ride2stride and immediately booked flights and a week’s stay at a hotel in Settle.
For more information on this year’s festival visit www.ride2stride.org.uk