The Northern Viaducts – Upper Eden Valley

Starting at Hartley Quarry on the outskirts of Kirkby Stephen the history trail follows the trackbed of the former Stainmore Railway crossing the two viaducts of Podgill and Merrygill.

Welcome - Northern Viaduct Trust

Welcome - Northern Viaduct Trust

Being a former railway line the path is well drained and  ideal for wheelchairs, horses, cyclists and walkers. It is a permissive right of way.

The route is owned by the Northern Viaduct Trust.

Set up in 1989 to to acquire, restore and maintain the spectacular Smardale Gill viaduct near Ravenstonedale the Trust then moved on to this second project and has created a circular walk which takes in some spectacular views and has preserved some of our Cumbrian heritage.

Merrygill Viaduct

Merrygill Viaduct

Passing the noticeboards that give a history and brief overview of the project you arrive at one end of the Merrygill Viaduct.

With a total length of 366ft, 9 arches built from local limestone span the Hartley Beck valley.

Originally being one track wide it cost just over £3k to build and it is over 70ft from the beck below.

Work to widen the viaduct to two tracks was completed around 1892.

The restoration of this viaduct cost around £50k  and was completed in 2005.

Children and animals are protected from the view as the high stone sides offer great natural security.

The platelayers hut and the Merrygill viaduct in the distance

The platelayers hut and the Merrygill viaduct in the distance

With the gradient of the walk sloping gently downhill you find a former platelayers hut to your right.  Pictures from former times when the railway was in full usage are displayed on the walls along with the history of the area.

Hartley Quarry is a good source of high quality limestone and operations were started in 1925 by Sir Hedworth Williamson‘s Limeworks Ltd. 

During the Second World War the limestone was needed in ever greater amounts for the steel industry and as a ground powder to improve fields for food production.  This work at the quarry became a reserved occupation as it was essential to the war efforts.

Two lime-burning kilns were in operation at the quarry upto 1996.

As you continue along the path you may spot some out of season flowers or other quirks of nature.  

The high, sheltered sides of the railway cuttings have created a unique micro climate.  

Trees, planted along the edge of the embankments, create a canopy from harsh sunlight and are helping to trap self seeding plants and no doubt sustaining animals and insects.

The gentle walk continues towards the next viaduct, Podgill.

The 11 arches span the 466ft valley of Pod Gill

The 11 arches span the 466ft valley of Pod Gill

You could continue straight across the bridge however to your right is a steep set of steps to some picnic tables and a great view back up underneath the viaduct.  A word of caution here is needed as these steps are steep so please take care.

If you do venture down to the bottom of the viaduct you will be able to see the full glory of this local limestone construction.

Originally only 12 feet wide between parapets for single track, it was built by contractors Chambers & Hilton at a cost of £6,189.

Sir Thomas Bouch was the engineer on this project and the Merrygill viaduct visited earlier.

Looking up from below - The Podgill viaduct

Looking up from below - The Podgill viaduct

He was born at Thursby in North Cumbria and is best known for his work on the Tay Bridge in Scotland.

When the Podgill viaduct was widened, around 1890, a new, almost identical, viaduct was built alongside the existing, to which the new structure was tied.  You can still see the join if you look up from below.

Podgill Viaduct was acquired by the Northern Viaduct Trust direct from the British Rail Property Board in 2000.

As you continue along the upper path another platelayers hut comes into view. Here you will find details of the hayday of the railways in this area.

The South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, connecting the Eastern coalfields to the Western iron ore and the evolution of the many single rail companies into the larger railway boards is all explained using maps, photographs and text.

Poem in stone

Poem in stone

Art meets industy

Keep your eyes alert as your journey continues because hidden in the woods is some heavyweight art.

The Poetry Path comes into contact with your railway walk as large carved stones appear.

Square poems

Square poems

Depicting a year in the life of a hill farmer. The Poetry Path is a celebration of the hill farmer’s ancient and enduring relationship with the beautiful landscape in and around the upper Eden valley.

Twelve short poems written by local poet Meg Peacocke have been carved by lettering artist Pip Hall into blocks of stone.

Further details of this trail are available below.  

You are almost at the end of this trail as your route now takes you back towards Kirkby Stephen  however one last delight remains.

Spanning the River Eden

Spanning the River Eden

From the approach you see the bright blue railings and can hear what sounds like steam escaping from the trains of former years, but as you cross the Millennium Bridge you are in for a surprise.

Bubbling and dramatic

Bubbling and dramatic

Below you is the bubbling and dramatic River Eden on its way towards Carlisle and the sea.

The bridge was designed by local civil engineer, Charles Blackett-Ord.

It is constructed of galvanised steel with a pre-cast concrete deck and a span of 65ft.

This spectacular bridge provides the access between Stenkrith Park at the south end of Kirkby Stephen, to the trackbed of the former railway which forms the footpath to Hartley from where you have just walked.


Further information

The Northern Viaducts Trust brochure can be found via  –  [download#2#nohits]

Further details on the walk and the trail are via  – [download#3#nohits]

Details about the Poetry Path are via  – [download#1#nohits]

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