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Published: September 7th 2014
A big change of scenery today, moving from the industrial West Midlands to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. A morning of train hopping (and seat shuffling when we find ourselves in someone else's pre-booked seats - twice) finds us in the charming market town of Settle, on the edge of the Dales and the Pennines, England's answer to the Alps. Not quite as high, obviously. Along the way we pass Keighley, inspiration for The Railway Children and where the several movies of the same name were made. Just 'up the road' is Haworth, home to the Bronte sisters and angsty, unrequited love which has spawned books and BBC period dramas (of which we own several!).
Consistent with the theme, Settle itself has a picture postcard English village station, featuring restored buildings, gardens, a view across a wide valley and smiling station staff who help us with our bags across the line so we don't have to lug them up and over over the lattice iron work footbridge, also straight from central casting. The station and surrounds were restored by the community after a campaign to save the Settle - Carlisle rail line from closure in the early 80s.
Leaving the station we pass the old railway water tower, which has been turned into a private residence complete with glass enclosed viewing platform at the top in Kevin McLeod 'Grand Designs' style. We traverse the narrow streets to find our pub-turned-guesthouse, The Lion. On arrival it has a log fire roaring, a bit over the top given the weather is currently stunning, but no doubt part of the effect for tourists. We have a quick look around the village and drop into the post office, where we are able to both buy a stamp and have a chat with the very friendly local postmistress - unlike London and Essex, there's none of this 'take a number' impersonal service which seems to take forever. She's keen to know where we are from, where we are going, and it transpires she has relatives in Perth - which is a surprisingly common story among 'locals' we've met on this trip. From watching 'The Force' on Aussie TV I know at least half the WA Police are ex-Poms so they must all come from somewhere...
With several hours of summer daylight left (it's not been getting dark
until around 9pm) we head back to the station for a trip up onto the moors and a walk to the famous Ribblehead Viaduct. This is one of the grandest stuctures on the Settle to Carlisle line. The third great railway route from London to Scotland was driven across the Pennines in the mid 19th century, the last railway to be built in Britain solely by hand, with thousands of navvies living alongside the line in incredible privation. Local Church graveyards hold graves and memorials to those who died building the line - smallpox killed as many as building accidents - and its 20 viaducts and 14 tunnels in some of the most inhospitable areas in Britain. Out on the moors - even on a dull day like today - it's hard to imagine the hardships they would have faced.
Slated for closure in in the 80s, the line 'over the roof of England' was saved by a dedicated public campaign. A petition was signed by thousands of people and even a dog (owned by the chief organiser of the campaign). Passengers on the line rose from a couple of hundred a month to thousands, and today
the bulk of the traffic is made up of tourists and hikers.
Deposited at a remote station up on the moor, we strike out across the heather. We pass serious trampers properly kitted out in walking boots, Goretex waterproof gear and hiking poles, while we plod on in sneakers, jeans and light jackets, but the weather is kind. We scare a couple of sheep and avoid the worst of the bogs, admiring the Victorian engineering of the 400m long, 24 arch, 100ft high Ribblehead viaduct which carries the line over Batty Moss and took five years to build. Somewhat disconcertingly, a sign warns us not to dally too long under the arches as pieces have been known to 'come away'!
After clambering up the far side of the valley for a stunning view back down towards Settle, we tramp back to our lonely station on the moor, where a solitary hiker (suitably attired) is our only companion as we await our train to take us back down the valley for dinner. A motorhome parked in field on the other side of the line is the only other sign of life and it's very, very
quiet until our train rumbles across the viaduct into the station.
Back in Settle, we opt for a quick round at each of the three pubs in the village. One offers a local ale brewed in the village - 'Main Line' - an appropriate name given the village links with the railway. We opt to dine at our own digs, not too close to the still-roaring log fire. The meal is supposedly 'traditional' for the area - cottage pie with an enormous side serve of peas, washed down with (another) local ale and followed up with an enormous cheese board 'for two'. We are suitably sated after a journey of travel and walking and retire up the creaky stairs to our room, which to complete the authentic experience requires an old fashioned key for access, rather than an electronic swipe card common to our travels so far. A pretty authentic English experience all round today!
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