How the West Riding Ramblers led the way to save the Settle-Carlisle line

Many people believe that this special Ramblers train run on 9th June 1974 was directly instrumental in saving the line from imminent closure.

Geoff Grange, former West Riding RA Rambles Secretary, recalls the pioneering work by West Riding Ramblers which led to the saving of the Settle-Carlisle line, one of the most popular railway lines serving walkers in any National Park in the UK or mainland Europe.

June 9th, 2019 will mark the 45th anniversary of the running of a special charter train which was organised by Geoff Grange on behalf of the West Riding Area of the Ramblers Association. This was only after a prolonged debate by Area EC [expand initials?], with the decision to go ahead only with the casting vote of our then Chairman, Harry Smith.

The train, which set out from Leeds, Bradford, Shipley, Bingley, Keighley and Skipton carried a total of 578 passengers, was heading for Appleby and special consent had also been given to use the closed stations at Garsdale and Kirkby Stephen, for at that time on the Settle to Carlisle railway only Settle and Appleby stations remained open.

Several guided walks took place from each of the three stations and when the train arrived in Appleby we were greeted by the local brass band and the town’s Mayor at a time soon after the abolition of the County of Westmoreland of which Appleby was the principal town, with Courts of Assize located there. Appleby was also very busy that day for it was the weekend of the annual Horse Fair.

The huge success of this train prompted the newly established Yorkshire Dales National Park Committee to introduce the Dales Rail service which led to the re-opening of many more of the stations on the line. This service was so popular that a Lancashire portion was added with the two trains joining up at Hellifield. This continues to the present day as the Lancashire Dales Rail service.

The financial risk taken by West Riding Ramblers had proved worthwhile as did the ensuing long negotiations with Midland Region of British Rail to get the additional local stations at Horton, Ribblehead, Garsdale, Dent, Kirkby Stephen, Langwathby, Lazonby & Kirkoswald and Armathwaite reopened for use by walkers, before full regular passenger services were eventually restored.

Now very many more people were able to enjoy what the line had to offer, but the threat of closure remained high with British Rail saying it would cost £7 million to restore the famous viaduct at Ribblehead. Friends of Settle Carlisle did a survey of their own which showed that only a few hundred thousand pounds would be the most that would be needed. When the viaduct eventually came to be restored it cost more than FoSCL had claimed, but only a small fraction of the original BR figure.

When the line’s future was debated in Parliament, the MP for Penrith said that if the line were to close, both a wonderful asset for local communities and for walkers and a great piece of British Heritage would be lost forever.

Thankfully, in May 1989, it was eventually announced that the line would remain open because of its importance to the local communities of the Yorkshire Dales and Eden Valley, both as a local transport lifeline and as an immensely important heritage and tourism asset. But the major contribution of the West Riding Ramblers to the saving of the line should never be forgotten.

The story of West Riding RA’s involvement in charter trains didn’t end there. Working closely with British Rail In 1974 and 1975 Geoff Grange and the late Eric Barker organised special trains from Leeds to Windermere and Barrow in Furness for walks in the Lake District, and in 1976 to Whitby and, memorably, along what is now the Wensleydale Railway line from Bradford to Redmire. Another forgotten hero of the excellent programme of walks from these trains was the late Jim McDermid, a postman from Pudsey, who used his extensive knowledge of footpaths in the Dales to arrange many of the very well supported walks.

Geoff Grange