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Introduction | The Ribblehead Viaduct | North to Carlisle | Tebay to Ingleton

THE RIBBLEHEAD VIADUCT

 ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The most famous structure on the line, if not on the entire English railway network, has to be the legendary Ribblehead Viaduct over Batty Moss.

It's actually situated in North Yorkshire almost at the feet of "Whernside" to the north, one of the legendary "three peaks" of the area (the others being Ingleborough to the south and Pen-y-Ghent to the east).

The viaduct the destination of endless streams of visitors, but not as many as those who came in the late 1980s possessed of a real fear that they might never see it again.


cars parked at the roadside ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

This photo, looking in the direction of Pen-y-Ghent, will give you an idea of how many visitors come here to see the viaduct. There is no other attraction here save the viaduct, apart from the wonderful scenery that is, and there isn't really anywhere to park except at the roadside.

But at least there is one enterprising businessman around here. If you look very carefully at the line of vehicles, you can just about make out the burger van, or "roach coach" as these ... er ... establishments are known in the vernacular. The coffee wasn't up to much, but then again neither was the price.


diesel locomotive hauling electric train ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The first thing that we did upon arrival back in April 2007 was to unsling the Pentax to take a photograph of a passing train.

Back then, the West Coast mail line was still closed to traffic following the derailment up near Shap. This meant that all of the West Coast traffic was being diverted down here, and with this line not being electrified, the high-speed trains had to be pulled along by any old spare diesel lying around - in this case an old "Brush 47"


 ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The Ribblehead Viaduct, originally known as Batty Moss Viaduct or Blea Moor Viaduct, was designed for the Midland Railway by the company's own engineer, John Sydney Crossley, who served the company from 1857 to 1875. Bulding began with the ceremonial laying of the first stone by William H Ashwell, agent for the contractors, on 12 October 1870, and took about four years to build.

It is a quarter of a mile (just over 400 metres) long, and is 104 feet (32 m) high from ground level. This height however only tells half the story. It was necessary to dig down through the peat and soil to find solid rock on which to build the foundations. Nowhere was this less than 25 feet (7 and a half metres) and in places the depth of the foundations is such that the height of the construction from bedrock to the top of the viaduct is 165 feet (50 or so metres).

There are 24 arches in the viaduct, built in the traditional solid Midland fashion, and every 6th pier was built extra-solidly. 30,000 cubic yards of limestone from the nearby Littledale quarry as well as one and a half million bricks were used in the building of the viaduct arches and the stone blocks were lifted into place by a steam crane. An enormous wooden scaffolding was used to support the construction and it was this scaffolding that almost led to the downfall of the viaduct, as I will explain in due course.

Regardless of whatever name it might or might not have been called, it is officially Bridge 66 in British Rail parlance.


The winds that roar down the valley here can be savage, and it has been said that on more than one occasion a train has stalled on the viaduct due to the wind, and the following train has had to advance very carefully in order to give it a push-start - in total defiance of the "one engine in steam" and "block" regulations. On other occasions heavy trains have had to pause in the sidings at the station in order to build up a decent head of steam so as to be able to take the viaduct with a running start.


northern embankment spoil blea moor tunnel ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

The northern embankment seen here is actually the spoil from the nearby Blea Moor tunnel, together with discarded rock from the building and subsequent repairs.

And although the viaduct is said to have been built on wool, the foundations for the piers are set in concrete. The reference to wool refers to the fact that the line was financed to a great extent by the rich woollen merchants of Bradford.

Over 2000 navvies ("navigators" as they were known in the days of canal-building) were employed in the construction of the viaduct, and they and their families lived in a series of shanty towns around the site. These had such delghtful names as "Inkerman", "Sebastopol" (two battles of the recent Crimean war) and "Jericho".

Life here as a navvy was tough. It is said that there was on average one death per week on the viaduct, and this does not include the deaths from epidemics such as smallpox or the violent way of life of the workers. One local undertaker is said to have handled 110 funerals in the first three years of construction, and it is said that at St Leonard's Church at nearby Chapel-le-Dale the Midland Railway was obliged to pay for an extension to the graveyard. The curch has a fine memorial to those who lost their lives in the construction of the viaduct.

site of shanty town and railway ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

What is thought to be the site of a shanty town can be seen in the middle distance of this photograph.

On the right of the image is a railway embankment. A light railway was built at Batty Moss to assist in the construction of the viaduct, and there was an engine and wagon repair shed near this spot. The embankment carried the railway line that ran to the repair shed, and a little further along can be seen the remains of an inspection pit.


old railway embankment ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

This is a better view of the old railway embankment. You can see in the middle distance that it curves round to the right, and there is what looks like another embankment coming in to join it from the left.

In the distance, what look like ruins of a building actually seems to be a limestone outcrop. But there are in fact all kinds of spoil heaps that appear to be the remains of buildings and sites that were used in the construction of the viaduct. I would really like to find an old plan or map showing the layout of the site during the construction of the viaduct.


west side of ribblehead viaduct looking south leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

From the west side of the viaduct looking south, you can have much more of an idea of the curvature of the viaduct, and the line.

There is said to be a signal box north from here by the next important landmark, the Blea Moor Tunnel, so my money is on this old Rover being the signalman's car, and that he parks it here and walks along the track to his post. Much better that than he relies upon a late-running local trainvto take him to work, as did one of his predecessors on another part of the railway network in 1915.


old platelayers hut ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Back in the dim and distant past, railway companies used to employ lengthsmen who would have a section of the track to walk to make sure that all was well. This is of course a memory now, and bolts can come out of railway fastenings without anyone noticing, and with catastrophic consequences. But never mind, the deaths and destruction are paid for by insurance, whereas the wages of the lengthsmen were paid for out of running expenses and would thus reduce the shareholders' dividend and of course we can't have that now, can we?

So now we have no lengthsmen on the railway network, and their little cabins, called "platelayers' huts", have now fallen into disrepair, just like this one.


side of the railway line east looking south ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Seeing as it was such a nice day I set out to walk along the side of the line up to Blea Moor Tunnel to see what I could see, but realising I had someone waiting for me back at the car, I turned round after part of the way and walked back again.

In the centre of the image, just behind the group of houses and close to the clump of trees, is Ribblehead station (railway station, not train station - I hate British people who use that Americanism), at just about 1000 feet above sea level. It is said that in the distant past, the vicar of Ingleton used to travel to here in order to hold church services, which took place in the station waiting room.


ribblehead railway station viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Here's another view of the station in the distance, with Ingleborough rising to the right of the image. All of the stations along the line except one (Culgaith, a little to the north of here) were designed by the company's staff architect, John Holloway Sanders, and they are in the style that is often referred to, with some derision, as "Derby Gothic". No matter what your opinion of this might be, I reckon that it is umpteen times better than modern British Rail "Perspex Bus Shelter" style.

The actions of British Rail in the scandalous attempts to close the line have been descibed so often that nothing will be served by repeating them here (if you don't know about these allegations, I thoroughly recommend this book to you), but following the decision of a Transport Users' Consultative Committee in 1969 that closure of the line would cause severe hardship to people living in the area served by the line, British Rail kept the line open, but closed all but two of the stations (quite!). Ribblehead station was a victim of this axe, and once it was closed the northbound platform was demolished to make way for sidings and a short branch line to a quarry.

Common sense prevailed however (but not without a desperate struggle) and the stations were reopened in 1986, although Ribblehead was one of the stations tentatively reopened in May 1975 as part of the experimental "DalesRail" service. A great deal of refurbishment has taken place since its reopening and the station now doubles as a visitor centre, for which it has won an award (although what kind of award, we have not been told). In 1993, the station finally received a new northbound platform.


I've briefly hinted at "issues" surrounding the viaduct, and I've talked elsewhere about British Rail's desperate, if not underhand tactics to close the line. The tool that British Rail used to chisel away at the line was the viaduct. It was disclosed in 1981 that despite an ongoing repair programme over the preceding 10 years during which £600,000, ($1,100,000, €800,000) had been spent, the viaduct was in an even worse state than before the repairs had started and unless £4,500,000, ($8,000,000, €5,800,000) could be found for a new viaduct, the line would close.

Basically, this was nonsense, although the rights and wrongs of the argument are much better explained in this book. A thorough inspection of the viaduct, probably the first that had ever been undertaken since construction, revealed that the waterproof decking had been breached at some time or other by a whole series of objects that had left small square holes passing right through, and all kinds of water was flowing through these holes into the centre of the piers and washing the mortar out from the inside. Emergency measures were put in place and the line across the viaduct was singled and put in the centre of the viaduct to even out the stresses.

There was much speculation about these square holes - even a suggestion that they may have been deliberately made for demolition charges during World War II, but someone had a brainwave and compared a photograph of the viaduct - with the holes superimposed - with a photograph of the viaduct under construction with the wooden scaffolding in place. And there was an uncanny match. It seemed that when construction was complete, the waterproofing had been applied with the scaffolding still in situ, and then the scaffolding had been cut off flush with the surface of the waterproofing. Over time, the wooden stumps had rotted away, and the resultant holes were acting as water channels.

Consequently, the old waterproofing was stripped off, the decking repaired or replaced, and a new waterproofing was applied (properly, one hopes). This was all carried out during a two-week period at the end of October 1989. Finally, the entire viaduct was repointed, and the total repair bill came to just over £2,000,000, ($3,750,000, €2,500,000). One wonders how much money was needlessly thrown away over the preceding 100 or so years due to inadequate surveying and inspections, and ineffective repairs.


8 car diesel multiple unit ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Since the viaduct has been repaired and line has been saved (at least in the medium term), much more of an effort is being made to attract passengers. Passenger numbers have multiplied five-fold and there has been a considerable investment in modern rolling stock. 25 years ago you certainly would not have seen a modern train such as this, especially one of eight carriages for local traffic.

Marketing is of course the key to everything, and one wonders how the British railway network would have developed in modern times had it been marketed with imagination and enthusiasm, rather than simply abandoned as "not worth the effort" back in the 1960s.


freight train ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

As well as passengers, the line carries a considerable amount of freight traffic. I'm not sure what it is that this train might be carrying. It may well be coal heading for one of the Scottish coal-fired power stations such as Longannet, in which case it's probably been diverted from the West Coast mail line.

As well as long-distance goods traffic on the line, there is also a fair amount of local goods traffic, what with quarries and isolated factories.

There's also a nice view of Ingleborough from here.


good photograph of ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

This is by far and away the best photograph that I took of the viaduct during my visit. It's unfortunate that due to space issues and so on on my web server, I've had to reduce the quality of the images so much. At full whack and 3008x2240 it really is magnificent, even though I say it myself. Ingleborough looks magnificent in the background.

The guy lower down in the photograph was there with a camera and a tripod. Apparently the Royal Train was due to pass by some time during the course of the day, and he wanted to be there with the action. Bully for him!


good photograph of ingleborough ribblehead viaduct leeds settle carlisle midland railway north yorkshire moors avril april 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Here's a view from a little higher up and a little further round, and you can see clearly the 24 arches of the viaduct. It's quite a nice perspective from up here, as well as being quite a nice view.

I don't know my "Three Peaks" very well, but I am told that that one in the background is actually Ingleborough. Well, I'll take their word for it, I suppose. If you have anything to say about it, please . I like to interact with my audience.



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