Kirkby Stephen’s railway heritage

It is impossible to ignore the legacy of the railways on the countryside surrounding Kirkby Stephen and Waitby School. There are many walks along disused railway tracks, and we have the working line that passes just in front of the school, from which we are occasionally treated to the splendid sight of a steam train making its way through the valley (here’s a tip: if you see cars parked across the road, near the railway junction, that’s usually an indication something special is about to pass through…)

The nearby Smardale Gill viaduct is impressive in all weathers. When it is windy, it sings...

The nearby Smardale Gill viaduct is impressive in all weathers. When it is windy, the metalwork sings…

The Stainmore Line was built as the final link in a plan to make a railway from coast to coast. The tracks ran westwards from Darlington and West Auckland through Barnard Castle and Kirkby Stephen to Tebay and Penrith.

These tracks, which climbed across remote fells in stark countryside, became a vital link in expanding heavy industry in Victorian England. As the highest main line railway in the country, the route became known for its spectacular and beautiful viaducts across Pennine valleys – as can be seen in many of the photos in Waitby School’s site.

The Stainmore Line was closed as a through route in 1962 and the famous wrought iron viaducts were demolished soon afterwards. But many other structures still survive – you will come across former bridges and converted stations.

Waitby Crossing – you can still see the occasional steam train from the school

Waitby Crossing – you can still see the occasional steam train from the school

The Northern Viaduct Trust has safeguarded three of the most beautiful bridges has as part of a network of footpaths.

The Smardale Gill viaduct is a short walk from Waitby School and provides one of the most breath-taking sights within this stunning countryside. The orchid walk described in a previous blog runs along a disused railway line too, as does part of the Poetry Walk, which also features an amazing viaduct that spans a deep valley, providing views across the landscape.

With the closure of the line in 1962, the Kirkby Stephen East station went into decline; in 1992, the ‘Bobbin Factory’ on the same site ceased trading and much of the site reverted to scrubland or was covered by rubbish left by fly tippers.

In 1997 a group was formed to work to restore Kirkby Stephen East as an important railway heritage centre. An area of 6.5 acres, including the surviving building, was secured by a group of enthusiasts whose vision was to restore and develop Kirkby Stephen East as a Railway Heritage Centre. To co-ordinate and manage this project the Stainmore Railway Company was set up in 2000 as a not for profit Limited Company.

All aboard! Ticket to ride...

All aboard! Ticket to ride…

On Saturday, we spent a delightful afternoon at the Stainmore Railway Company, exploring the restored railway station with its fascinating signage and other historical artefacts.

On the day we visited, the centre was hosting a model railway show, with enthusiasts displaying a wide variety of rail model paraphernalia.

Vintage Thomas and friends at the model railway show

Vintage Thomas and friends at the model railway show

We lingered in the restored station, with its historical artefacts, which include old posters, timetables, advertisements, signage and – most poignantly – the stationmaster’s last log recording the final train to pass through the station before its closure.

The steam train getting ready to go

The steam train getting ready to go

But the real attraction was the steam train, which pulled old railway carriages. The enthusiastic and friendly volunteers talked us through the workings of the train from the footplate, before we took our place in the carriages and enjoyed the brief journey along the track. The old carriages, both first and second class, were reminiscent of days gone by and the distinctive whistle of the steam train took us back in time.

The old first class carriages

The old first class carriages

The footplate: all gleaming and highly polished

The immaculate footplate

The Stainmore Railway Company is working on restoring more track, an expensive undertaking that will be funded by voluntary contributions. It organises a host of other events, including murder mystery evenings, family treasure hunts and the ‘Footplate experience’, where participants receive basic instruction on how to operate a steam train.

The centre is open from 10:00 to 16:00 on Saturday and Sunday; well worth a visit!

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