Stainmore Summit: Signs of the Times

THE last train steamed over Stainmore Summit in 1962. I missed it. It’s not my fault – I was only five-and-a-half at the time. But if I hang around there just might be another along shortly . . .

. . . Because last Saturday morning I spent a leisurely half hour standing in the drizzle on the newly-rebuilt platform at Kirkby Stephen East, watching a group of enthusiasts grinding worn edges off rails with a big yellow machine. This was time well spent. I learnt many new things. And that’s what life’s about.

Kirkby Stephen East – the oldest of the Cumbrian market town’s two stations – is being rebuilt by people who believe passionately in railways. Their aim is to extend their short section of track westwards along an abandoned trackbed to the Eden Valley Railway at Warcop, which, in turn, is very nearly – but not quite – linked to the national rail network’s Settle to Carlisle Railway at Appleby.

I have no doubts, after talking to them, that this will be achieved.

What has captured my imagination, though, is the long-term plan to reconstruct the line eastwards, climbing the Pennines to Stainmore Summit and resurrecting England’s highest mainline railway. This will involve rebuilding the Belah viaduct and driving a cutting parallel to the A66 where it crosses the summit from Cumbria into County Durham. This might sound ambitious, but if it’s been done once by Victorian navvies it can be done again by a bunch of volunteers with lottery grants and 90 per cent of the infrastructure still in place.

One of the two original summit signs

The company has recently installed the iconic Stainmore Summit sign on the crown of the pass, which can be seen from the dual carriageway. It looks rather incongruous to anyone driving past – a chunk of railway memorabilia stuck in the middle of an open moor where nothing much has moved for fifty years except sheep.

And this is where I am today – standing beneath a huge, iron replica with a westerly wind whipping the heather and bog-grass, and an empty railway cutting heading east through miles of bogland towards Bowes, Barnard Castle and Darlington.

It’s a funny country this. Rich people with absolutely no use for public transport put a lot of effort into dismantling our railway network, and people who care passionately about railways are spending a great deal of time putting the bits back together again. It’s a good job the wreckers weren’t in charge of our coal reserves and heavy industry. Oh . . . they were. Never mind, it’s a good job they aren’t in charge of the NHS. Oh . . . they are.

Today I’m heading north, away from the Stainmore Railway and back through the centuries to turnpike roads and Roman Britain – because I’ve found something interesting. I haven’t got my head around it yet but it’s coming together. So for now I’ll leave you with some images of the Stainmore Railway’s Kirkby Stephen East station and the Eden Valley Railway’s Warcop sidings four miles down the track. Toot toot.


Headstrong granddaughter and harassed wife enjoy a stroll along the platform

About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Environment, Hiking, History, Industrial archaeology, Mountains, Politics, Railway goods wagons, Railways, Walking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Stainmore Summit: Signs of the Times

  1. qdant says:

    Timmus Eromniats sounds like a Roman general ? Eagle on a stick and a skirt of leather ties, they got everywhere, you’ll have to get a Bruno (Pieman) lead for the Granddaughter
    cheers Danny


  2. colingriffiths says:

    Well, either you are using an out of date photo for your avator, or you don’t look old enough to have a granddaughter. Either way, lucky you!


  3. Paul says:

    Hi Alen
    I’ve got to love your enthusiasm surrounding the Stainmore Railway, its seems it once was the end of an era, yet through funding & volunteers; the people who do actually care about local heritage can leave there mark, hats of to em I say. It was because of your post on Bleath Gill sometime ago that first got me interested on the Stainmore Railway.

    Bleath Gill was a wonderful tale about hero’s, real hero’s & I hope you don’t mind me including the link again, it really is a fantastic read.



    • McEff says:

      Thanks for that Paul. I think I’ve become obsessed with that area around Stainmore Summit. I’ve been up there today poking around and just marvelling at the place – it’s jam packed with history, from neolithic times right up to the present. Most people just drive through on the A66 and don’t give it a second thought. It would be great to see the volunteers succeed with the railway. I really think I should sign up, but like most things, it’s finding the time.
      Cheers now. Alen


  4. Alen, always a good read on your blog and I enjoy the history lessons on your posts. Would be wonderful to see this section opened up again. Something special to travel through the Northern Pennines by train. I always enjoy a trip along the Carlisle Settle line before a good walk in the hills.


    • McEff says:

      Thanks Mark. Do you know, I’ve never been on the Settle Carlisle line. It’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for years but never got round to. This summer perhaps. Cheers.


  5. Greg. says:

    Enjoyed it as always Alen. You must have a good job as you never seem to be at work! Jammy sod.


  6. David says:

    I have not been over Stainmore on foot for years but yet again you have sparked an interest in returning. In fact it might be a good photo project as well. It’s great to hear about the vision of a few volunteers prepared to get stuck in and produce something of benefit to the area that will attract visitors. Mind you I hate to think of the cost of rebuilding the Belah viaduct. Isn’t it going to cost well over a million – not including the hundreds of thousand already spent in consultancy fees, just to build a pedestrian only rope bridge on the old railway viaduct near Barnard Castle? I hate to think of the cost of building a bridge to bear the weight of a railway. That said if they only linked up to Warcop it would be an achievement in itself.

    In your Bleath Gill post you mentioned the so called “conflict of interest” that went on in government back then. Well if this link about the conflict of interest by those currently in power is genuine then nothing has changed and the NHS is truly stuffed.


    • McEff says:

      I think the Belah Viaduct thing is a long-term project, but they’ve made so much progress in the past couple of years that they give you the impression anything and everything is possible. They are busy buying up sections of trackbed, and several sections are already held by various trusts – the summit included.
      On the conflict of interest thing, that link is truly amazing. Those people should be cleared out of Parliament right now because they’ve obviously got financial interests in how health care is provided. The whole thing is rotten. The expenses scandal was obviously just the tip of an iceberg. They are not acting in the country’s interest – they are acting in their own. Right, that’s got my back up.


  7. Loved the pictures. There’s one in particular I’d like to paint if you don’t mind?


  8. scott says:

    Those are unequivocally the best photographs of A Big Sign that I’ve ever seen.
    Do you think they’d still honour that that dog train ticket deal, incidentally? Jorja enjoyed her trip to Corrour…


    • McEff says:

      I’m good at taking pictures of Big Signs because they don’t move at the critical moment and blur your picture. I thought you’d like the dog poster. Don’t know whether the offer’s still open though.


  9. jcmurray1 says:

    As ever another interesting post Alen. I reckon that railway enthusiasts are my favourite enthusiasts of them all. (apart from walkers, obviously). I’m not sure why though. It may be all that smoke and dirt, or maybe it’s the huge bits of kit, but probably it’s their belief that just by hard work, passion and an unfailing optimism that they can recreate a little bit of a time when life seemed less complicated and things were built to last. Don’t you think that as “stuff” gets more efficient it gets less interesting and has less character? God I sound old!! J


    • McEff says:

      I don’t think you sound old, John – mainly because I agree with everything you say. And I’d love to mess around with steam engines. I think there’s a little bit in all of us that craves to be an engine driver.


  10. beatingthebounds says:

    They’ve got their hands on education too. Bye bye (very quietly) to the Forensic Science service. Post office on its way. Everything else in hock to moronic PFI deals.
    Still, hurrah for the enthusiasts.


    • McEff says:

      Yep. It’s all coming down bit by bit, with plenty of money for consultancies and private enterprise to build a new low-wage, second-rate society. Oh, but the voluntary sector will help paper over all the cracks that emerge. Cheers Mark.
      Alen McF


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