Settle-Carlisle Railway

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Horton in Ribblesdale Station on the Settle-Carlisle Railway MYD36736 (c) YDNPA, 2023

Horton in Ribblesdale Station on the Settle-Carlisle Railway MYD36736 (c) YDNPA, 2023

The building of the Settle-Carlisle Railway across some of the most difficult terrain in England has been described by some as one of the most extraordinary feats of Victorian railway engineering, by others one of the most foolhardy. In today’s terms it cost nearly £200 million to build and it is unlikely that the route ever made a profit.

To find out why the Midland Railway decided to undertake such a venture, one has to look back to an era when cut-throat competition was the order of the day and when the government was fearful of ‘Railway Monopoly’.

The Midland Railway decided it wanted a share of the lucrative London to Scotland passenger traffic but was thwarted by having to send its traffic over the lines of its rival west coast company, London and North Western Railway

Midland first of all tried to form partnerships with its rivals but failed at every attempt. The only solution was to build a new section of railway bypassing the LNWR line north of Ingleton. In 1865 a Bill was introduced to Parliament for:

“Enabling the Midland Railway Company to construct railways from Settle to Hawes, Appleby and Carlisle…”

Midland’s rivals fought the Bill hard but lost. Then all went quiet. The high cost of the project probably began to scare Midland’s shareholders. In 1869 the Midland struck a deal with LNWR and together they tried to get a Bill through, abandoning the line, but Parliament, still wary of anything which looked like monopoly, refused. The die was cast and construction of the last navvy-built railway line in the country was begun.

An army of skilled workers and labourers from all over the country converged on the Ribblehead area of the line where the major construction work was to take place including the Ribblehead viaduct and Blea Moor Tunnel. At its height, around 7000 men worked on the project, nearly 2000 of them on the Ribblehead section.

Sprawling shanty towns grew up to house the men who were to build the Ribblehead viaduct and dig the Blea Moor tunnel. The settlements had romantic names such as Sebastopol, Jericho and Batty Green but they were overcrowded and unhygienic.

The line opened for passenger traffic in May 1876 and provided the height of luxurious travel to Scotland in American style Pullman coaches. During the 1980s attempts to close the line were thwarted by massive public opposition. Today trains still run across the famous viaducts and through the tunnels while an army of supporters continues to ensure that the line flourishes.

Horton in Ribblesdale Station on the Settle-Carlisle Railway MYD36736 (c) YDNPA, 2023

Horton in Ribblesdale Station on the Settle-Carlisle Railway MYD36736 (c) YDNPA, 2023


Jenkinson, David (1980) Rails in the Fells. Seaton: Peco Publications

Joy, David (1984) Portrait of the Settle-Carlisle. Clapham: Dalesman

Mitchell W R (1989) How They Built the Settle-Carlisle Railway. Settle: Castelberg


The railway connects Settle with Carlisle and there are numerous viewpoints and walks alongside the line. See for ideas and guided walks.

Public Transport Details

Call Traveline on 0870 608 2 608 to plan your journey. After the welcome message key in 885 for North Yorkshire information or 874 for Cumbria.


See for accessible facilities.