THE last train steamed over Stainmore Summit in 1962. I missed it. It’s not my fault – I was only five-and-a-half at the time. But if I hang around there just might be another along shortly . . .
. . . Because last Saturday morning I spent a leisurely half hour standing in the drizzle on the newly-rebuilt platform at Kirkby Stephen East, watching a group of enthusiasts grinding worn edges off rails with a big yellow machine. This was time well spent. I learnt many new things. And that’s what life’s about.
Kirkby Stephen East – the oldest of the Cumbrian market town’s two stations – is being rebuilt by people who believe passionately in railways. Their aim is to extend their short section of track westwards along an abandoned trackbed to the Eden Valley Railway at Warcop, which, in turn, is very nearly – but not quite – linked to the national rail network’s Settle to Carlisle Railway at Appleby.
I have no doubts, after talking to them, that this will be achieved.
What has captured my imagination, though, is the long-term plan to reconstruct the line eastwards, climbing the Pennines to Stainmore Summit and resurrecting England’s highest mainline railway. This will involve rebuilding the Belah viaduct and driving a cutting parallel to the A66 where it crosses the summit from Cumbria into County Durham. This might sound ambitious, but if it’s been done once by Victorian navvies it can be done again by a bunch of volunteers with lottery grants and 90 per cent of the infrastructure still in place.
The company has recently installed the iconic Stainmore Summit sign on the crown of the pass, which can be seen from the dual carriageway. It looks rather incongruous to anyone driving past – a chunk of railway memorabilia stuck in the middle of an open moor where nothing much has moved for fifty years except sheep.
And this is where I am today – standing beneath a huge, iron replica with a westerly wind whipping the heather and bog-grass, and an empty railway cutting heading east through miles of bogland towards Bowes, Barnard Castle and Darlington.
It’s a funny country this. Rich people with absolutely no use for public transport put a lot of effort into dismantling our railway network, and people who care passionately about railways are spending a great deal of time putting the bits back together again. It’s a good job the wreckers weren’t in charge of our coal reserves and heavy industry. Oh . . . they were. Never mind, it’s a good job they aren’t in charge of the NHS. Oh . . . they are.
Today I’m heading north, away from the Stainmore Railway and back through the centuries to turnpike roads and Roman Britain – because I’ve found something interesting. I haven’t got my head around it yet but it’s coming together. So for now I’ll leave you with some images of the Stainmore Railway’s Kirkby Stephen East station and the Eden Valley Railway’s Warcop sidings four miles down the track. Toot toot.
- For the Stainmore Railway Company’s excellent website click here. I’m thinking of signing up as a volunteer. But I don’t know whether to hang on a couple of months and join the NHS Preservation Society instead.
- For the Eden valley Railway’s site click here.
- For further reading on the Stainmore Railway, it just so happens I’ve written a couple of pieces myself, Bleath Gill: Whatever Happened to the Heroes? and East is East From Stainmore Summit.