South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway
Origins to this line was not to move passengers but in aid to move high quality ore from one side of the Cumbrian Pennines to the other side’s Blast furnesses otherwise it’s a long unwelcome trek via Newcastle and Carlisle.
I will start my walk from Barras. Going East the line is mostly consumed by the A66. West has it’s best features before we get to Kirkby Stephen at the Eden Valley Line:
Many railway companies paid attention to it’s potential as it was seen as a very good money maker.
In the end it was awarded to the South Durham & Lancashire Union Railway - a railway line linking the Stockton & Darlington Railway near Bishop Auckland with the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway at Tebay, via Barnard Castle, Stainmore Summit and Kirkby Stephen.
Above: Barras Railway Station now in private hands.
The ceremonial cutting of the first sod for the company was at Kirkby Stephen on 25 August 1857, and that for the EVR was at Appleby on 28 July 1858. Land for two tracks purchased, but a single track line was laid.
Below: Barras Railway Station. After building the line it was opened in 1861 and became known as the Stainmore Line.
Bouch the Surveyor had planned the most economical route following the contours and to avoided tunnels, but there were formidable gradients up to the 1,370 feet high Stainmore Summit so the Valleys were to be crossed by 12 viaducts, including three made from wrought-iron that crossed the Tees, Deepdale and Belah rivers and cost a total of £77,400.
The viaducts at Tees Valley, Deepdale, Belah and Smardale Gill were built wide enough for two tracks.
Below: Track bed from Barras Railway Station. Today Barras station survives with the westbound waiting shelter in the foreground and station master's house beyond the lifted track bed.
Barras (Barras Brow) a hamlet close to the River Belah in Cumbria. The first train to run prior to the station and goods yard being built was of course a mineral train and passed this area on 8 August 1861 - passengers started to use the line from February 1862.
15 years later the station was built at an altitude of 1,100 feet and was the highest station in England until Dent station on the nearby Settle and Carlisle Line when opened in 1877. Its noted this station was host to a camping coach about 1935.
Considering freight was the order of the day the goods yard was discontinued on 1 December 1952 and from that date it had been operated as an unstaffed halt for passengers only.
Above two images: On the route to Belah there is a removed stone bridge nr a farm.
Above and below images - Barras to Belah Cutting: This line was prone to very deep snow drifts. In February 1955 an eastbound steam locomotive and its goods train became stuck for four days in deep snow just north of the station.
Its recovery was recorded in an official film Snowdrift at Bleath Gill. Then the station was closed by British Railways North Eastern Region on 22 January 1962.
Below: Belah Viaduct To the east of Barras station is Stainmore Summit 1,370 feet above sea level. The travelling doen the line to Krkby Stephen is our first railway struture, the substantial Belah Viaduct.
The construction of Belah Viaduct began on 25th November 1857 when the foundation stone was laid by Henry Pease of Darlington. It was built by Gilkes, Wilson & Co from Middlesborough at the total cost of £31,630.
From a popular book sent to me by a Preston chap called Peter on page 77 of Michael Wiliiams ‘This Trains Now Departed’ it makes a reference to this very structure.
“The grandest of Bouch’s Structures – and the only one that would rehabilitate his reputation today if it had not been demolished in the barbaric anti-railway age of the 1960’s – nearly 200ft high and 1.040ft long built on 15 piers – a 16 arch gossamer structure of impossibly slim girders. There was nothing like it in Britian, and possibly nothing anywhere outside the fecund imaginations of animators of Disney or Dream-work movies."
Click below images for larger view.
This unique viaduct at Belah was demolished during 1963 just one year after the last train the "Stainmore Limited" had travelled Eastward over the high girders for the final time. It’s remains are the wonderful buttresses at both ends and the signalbox.
Old image of the box in use and the remains of Belah Signal box 2020
In the Parish of Witon over the river Aitygill the Redgategill Viaduct (Redgate ln) spans the lands. Also knows at Aitygill Viaduct built about 1860. 15 years before the world famous Ribblehead viaduct was opened. Also one of Bouch’s structures but details of this structure are thin unlike it’s beauty.
I was unable to seek out this viaduct under the time constraints - but I will be back to do such.
Merrygill Viaduct (Birket Ln) now a grade 2 listed structure was constructed by Chambers & Hilton for a price of £3,721 is built of local limestone, with nine arches of a 30 ft span, and a total length 366 feet - 78 feet tall it was originally built to carry a single track but was widened to carry double track as part of the same contract for Podgill, completed about 1892.
Below image: Looking over Merrygill Viaduct.
A local quarry here was an important intermediate source of revenue for the railway as line passes Hartley Quarry once connected to this line - The quarry was developed in the early 1920's and a rail connection was provided along with a new signal box - Merrygill - in 1925. Much of the output from Hartley was transported to the North East but when the closure of the Stainmore line occurred a 'freight only' branch remained from Appleby to Warcop and then past Kirkby Stephen as far as this Quarry.
The viaduct was sold by British Rail to the owners of the quarry and limeworks from whom it was acquired by the Northern Viaduct Trust in 2005 – for a token payment of £1. Much restoration of this section has occurred and was opened to walkers in 2005 at a total cost of £50,000.
Above: Podgill - The line traveled over a second local viaduct less than a minutes rail travel away to Podgill. Today you can walk to both Podgill and Merrygill Viaducts from the Stenkrith Park car park in Kirkby Stephen.
Podgill Viaduct is also a listed Grade II structure about one and half miles east of Kirkby Stephen East Station crossing the local the valley of where is bears it’s name.
11 arches built of local limestone each of 30 feet span a total length of 466 feet, at 84 feet tall. Also designed by the famous Cumbrian-born engineer, Thomas Bouch and built by contractors Chambers and Hilton at a cost of £6,189.
Like it’s closest sister Merrygill the widening of Podgill Viaduct, was authorised by the North Eastern Railway on 5th September 1889 by building a identical, viaduct alongside the existing, to which the new structure was tied.
Millennium Bridge - Stenkrith Bridge was a combination of a footbridge later spanned over the railway and now part of the A685. Just outside Kirkby Stephen it stands proud above the little Millennium Bridge where walkers may trek above the river Eden.
It’s told there have been a bridge of sorts here for about 200 years. Now it’s little feature is made of galvanised steel, resembling the wrought iron style of the Victorian age.
Above and below: The old track bed running from Podgill Viaduct to Kirkby Stephen East Railway Station.
Two express trains to Blackpool - one from Newcastle and the other from Darlington stopped here for about five minutes, before setting off towards my home town.
Like the closure of my first station today at Barras this station was also closed to passengers in1962, and was eventually repurposed as a bobbin mill. The bobbin factory closed in 1992 and on the other side of the road bridge, the remaining yard space and goods shed was converted into a caravan park and campsite with the goods shed is still standing today.
Since 1996 good attempts have been made to restore the site into a 1950’s style railway by the name of the Stainmore Railway Co. Aims to build an extensive layout and amoung it’s collection of about 7 locomotive a very special express Locomotive - North Eastern Railway’s No.910 – called ‘the Concorde of its day’ ran along the Stainmore route through to this station, saved from scrapping, now restored and cared for by volunteers of the Stainmore Railway Company it can proudly call it’s home here at the Kirkby Stephen East Heritage Railway Centre.
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I'm fascinated with what surrounds us!
Being out doors is definitely the best form of adventure to us all.