Quest for the viaduct

We awoke to a grey, drizzly and windy morning after deciding the night before to mount a trip to find the viaduct at Ribblehead. After driving to Settle and parking the car, we set off on foot to the station. With tickets purchased to Appleby we stepped out upon the windswept platform and once over the marvellously refurbished footbridge we headed immediately for the waiting room, desperate to escape the biting gale.

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The plan was to ride the train to Appleby, hence traversing the viaduct in question to hopefully get a unique perspective from atop. Unfortunatley the carriage was somewhat occupied that day which sadly obstructed our view. Not to be outdone we alighted in Appleby and spent a pleasant hour wandering around the main streets taking in the delightful atmosphere of the town and it’s buildings.  A hour later and we were back on the train making the return journey to Settle and planning on driving to the viaduct to meet the edifice face to face.

The drive over was uneventful but as we neared the site the sky became grey, and then nearly black as the laden clouds brushed over the peak of Whernside, sometimes appearing that they would rip off the summit with their black presence. We parked the car opposite the moor the viaduct sits upon and tried to take in it’s enormity and majesty from a distance.

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As we walked towards the viaduct, the wind threatened to take our feet from under us and the sheep looked worried they would become woollen balls for the gusts to play tennis with. The strength of the winds in this valley are the stuff of folk lore, reaching speeds of over 90mph at times and necessitating the use use of men on ‘gale duty’ during the use of steam loco’s crossing the viaduct. They would tighten up the tarpaulins of the wagons before the trains crossed to prevent them from being blown away.  There are tales of children making their way to school in the shanties across the moor having to put rocks in their pockets to prevent their coats from blowing up into their faces. One story tells of a ‘ganger’ making his way across the viaduct and having his cap blown from his head. The cap blew through one of the arches and landed back on his head! His only complaint was that the cap was now on the wrong way round with the neb at the back.

The viaduct itself sits upon Batty Moss and traverses the valley floor for 440 yards (400m) utilising 24 spans, all measuring 45 ft wide. The piers taper to just 6 ft (1.8m) at the arch springings. There are 3 King piers (No’s 6, 12, 18 – numbered from the south). These were thickened to 18 ft (5.5m) to prevent progressive collapse (meaning if one part fell, it could only take down 5 arches). At its highest the viaduct stands approx 104 ft (32m) from the ground, with the North end being some 13 ft (4m) higher than the Southern end due to the 1 in 100 climb on the line from Settle to Blea Moor, known to the enginemen as ‘The Long Drag’. The climb then continues (albeit at a gentler incline) until it reaches the railway’s summit at 1,169 ft (356m) at Ais Gill and the highest peak of any railway in the UK.

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While planning this particular blog, the amount of information I managed to uncover about the line, the structures and the workers who toiled tirelessly on the Settle-Carlisle railway has made it so I feel I need to do another blog about this in more detail to do the whole project justice and bring to light the conditions and the harsh enviroment this line was constructed under.

Only when you get up close to the viaduct do you realise the magnitude of the engineering feat that stands before you and the hardiness of the 1000+ navvies who toiled for 5 years to bring this to fruition.

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The story of the construction of the Ribblehead viaduct and the shanty towns that sprang up around it alone would fill a book! I will endeavour to cover this in more detail in a later blog (most likely the next one).

By now the weather had worsened and as well as the wind trying to rip off our faces it was now joined with ice cold horizontal rain which was trying it’s best to bore through us. At this point we both decided we should head back to the shelter and warmth of the car, at least pleased that we had been able to take shelter at times under this testament to victorian engineering and finally make it’s acquaintance face to face.

Batty Moss Railway Viaduct

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 23 November 1988
English Heritage Building ID: 324565

OS Grid Reference: SD7594479471
OS Grid Coordinates: 375944, 479471
Latitude/Longitude: 54.2104, -2.3703

Location: Ingleton, North Yorkshire LA6 3AU

Locality: Ingleton
Local Authority: Craven District Council
County: North Yorkshire
Country: England
Postcode: LA6 3AU

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