When you say “Stainmore” most folk think of the main climb over the Pennines and in particular the ridiculous and curvaceous climb from the west, the impossible behemoth Belah Viaduct, and the mishap of plucky Standard 2 mogul 78018 and the 4-20am Kirkby Stephen to Darlington goods on Thursday, 24 February 1955, immortalized in “Snow Drift at Bleath Gill” . All good stuff, but as we've explored in previous blogs, this is very much a line of contrasts, and even more so now Shap is in the mix.
I describe it as such incorrectly, given it was the original aim of the SD&LUR to link to the WCML at Tebay to access Barrow for reciprocal coke, coal and iron ore, and the Eden Valley Railway was a separate, if highly cooperated, undertaking. My bias is perhaps more down to my over-fondness of the CKPR and its co-existence with Stainmore via the EVR, plus the passenger operations that saw the Tebay section as the branch connection before its earlier demise.
Without doubt, the section of the line through Smardale is as dramatic as any, indeed it is fair to take my customary pop at the Settle & Carlisle to say the section that passes beneath Smardale Viaduct and over Smardale Gill Viaduct eclipses in beauty and drama (if not sheer bleakness!) anything the Midland came up with. If you’re ever in the area, I can wholeheartedly recommend a walk from Smardale hall along the trackbed, over the viaduct (now owned and preserved by the Northern Viaduct trust http://www.nvt.org.uk/ ) and on to the lime kilns.
Nor is it the flat section after the main event. On departure from Kirkby Stephen, the line twists sharply to the south to use Smardale Gill as the only viable route by Ash Fell and climbs with gradients of 1 in 77, 96 and 79 for 5 miles with only half a mile’s respite through Smardale station to Sandy Bank summit at 889ft – comparable with the final assault on Shap. Likewise, freight was usually banked.
Smardale is a tiny curiosity of a station(See Above Image) by the “feature building” that is Smardale Hall(Image Below) with its Rapunzel-like towers, a solitary platform and a siding. The station remains as a dwelling, though difficult to recognise as its original form. The station was a block post prior to around 1924 and had a much larger signal box than would seem required. The section west was over the summit to Sandy Bank, which lost its signal box at around the same time and neither survive in more than a solitary photograph of each. This left a long section of 8 miles from Kirkby Stephen West to Ravenstonedale, which perhaps demonstrates the low traffic level after the great War.
The line was double tracked from Sandy Bank to Tebay (which seems extravagant!) though was cut back to single line from Ravenstonedale when the box was removed.
Ravenstonedale is a picture postcard of a rural station, with its extravagant architecture, quaint wooden goods shed, dumpy signal box and staggered platforms. It remains beautifully preserved today, though hangs precariously above the A685 that later stole the trackbed of this section. One thing that became apparent to me is the extent of groundworks carried out for the A685 was significant, and included a major diversion of the River Lune from one side of the old line to the other. What I had thought was a gentle stroll through the Lune Valley is in fact quite a lively run, with frequent crossing of the Lune itself, multiple tributaries as well as access roads and accommodation crossings. The gradient itself shouldn’t be dismissed – 8 miles with a ruling gradient of 111 is a “drag” and certainly a longish one at that!
Gaisgill closed early and seems little photographed or remembered, though noted as a rare level crossing on this line and for its immaculate station garden. The building exists as a dwelling, though modernised and alarmingly close to the A685.
Tebay East quickly follows, the sweeping curve into the station being a favoured spot of Ivo Peters and Derek Cross for capturing the double-headed Newcastle to Blackpool summer Saturday specials. The station itself was better known for the London Midland side of the station, but the eastern side boasted 10 or so roads of mineral sidings, a goods shed and a 4 road shed with turntable.
The last spin was taken by now preserved J21 65033 on the RCTS (N.E. Branch) and Stockton & Darlington Locomotive Society 'J21 Rail tour' 7th May 1960 - the last J21 working over the Stainmore route - this featured a run from Darlington to Tebay, over Shap to Carlisle with just load 3. Reportedly, the engine made a very assured climb of Shap, and quite possibly the first and only for the class!
More Soon. . . . . . . . .