All aboard for a trip through historic Yorkshire

It’s recognised as one of the world’s greatest railway trips – like the “Harry Potter Bridge” on the Glasgow to Mallaig route over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, further north.  

But the Settle-Carlisle line was doomed to be closed by British Rail in the 1980s until a former government minister, now a UK and international railway guru, stepped in to save the tracks from being torn up.

As Britain’s transport minister at the time, Michael Portillo, who fronts the long-running TV series Great British Railway Journeys announced a government U-turn for the Settle-Carlisle railway line.

It followed a long campaign by rail groups, local authorities including the county councils of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire, enthusiasts and residents, to keep the line open.

By far the highlight of the spectacular journey is the massive Ribblehead Viaduct, with its 24 arches.

It is 402m long and 32m high and every sixth arch is double the thickness of the others – so if one of these collapsed, only five would follow.

Further down the line, at Dent in Yorkshire, is the highest mainline station in England – and the glorious landscapes continue along the Yorkshire Dales National Park into the Cumbrian countryside.

The train, which now operates several daily services with diesel engines, although there are steam charters now and then, clatters past rolling hills, manicured moorland fields, kilometres of Roman walls, babbling streams, pristine rivers and historic towns and villages.

Although a journey of only one hour and 40 minutes, what this 117km trip lacks in distance is more than made up for in grandeur.

From Settle to the England-Scotland border city of Carlisle, there are 20 stations,11 of them still open, 17 major viaducts and 14 tunnels.

It was the last mainline railway in England built using pure physical strength and was opened to passenger trains in 1876.It has had its fair share of ups and downs since.

The line became famous through the concerted efforts to save it from closure in the 1980s. Since its reprieve in 1989, millions of pounds have been invested in the railway, its stations, and the visitor centre at Ribblehead Station and to preserve signal boxes, including the one at Settle.

Situated in the foothills of the Pennines, Settle is a bustling market town and well worth at least a three-day stopover, allowing travellers to enjoy the sights - including Attermire Scar, with its numerous caves where bones of prehistoric animals have been found.

Among the many other nearby attractions worth exploring are stunning waterfalls; the Settle hydro, weir and salmon ladder; and the dazzling limestone scenery of Ribblesdale.

The landscape here is dominated by Yorkshire’s Three Peaks – Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside – which tower over the surrounding countryside and moors. They are a top drawcard for climbers, hikers and ramblers.

At the end of the line, Carlisle is a 2000-year-old city full of rich heritage and famous for Hadrian’s Wall, the city’s cathedral and Tullie House, where there’s a granite walkway which links it to Carlisle Castle.

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At Garsdale, just north of Dent, there’s a statue of Ruswarp the dog; a very special dog.

Perched on the southbound platform, the statue commemorates the 20th anniversary of the government’s reprieve of the Settle to Carlisle line.

Ruswarp’s paw print was accepted as a valid signature objection to the closure of the line, as he was a fare-paying passenger. 

But, sadly, just months after the re-opening of the line they helped to save, Ruswarp’s owner died while walking with his dog in the Welsh mountains. It was not until almost three months later that his body was found near to a mountain stream. Close by was Ruswarp who had stayed with his dead master for many cold winter weeks. The dog was so weak he had to be carried from the mountain and survived just long enough to be at his master’s funeral.