Smardale Gill viaduct stands nearly 90 feet high and over 550 feet long, on 14 spectacular stone arches. It once carried the old North Eastern Railway line across the dramatic valley of Scandal Beck, a few miles west of Kirkby Stephen.
Built in 1861 by the Cumbrian engineer Sir Thomas Bouch, the railway crossed the Pennines to carry coke from the northeast to the iron and steel furnaces in Barrow and West Cumbria. The line was closed in 1962 after steelmaking was ceased, and the viaduct fell into disrepair.
The viaduct, built of locally quarried limestone, has since been restored and a public footpath now runs over it across the valley. The grassland and woodland that have developed along the old disused railway provide a rich, diverse natural habitat. It’s a fantastic place for flowers, birds, and butterflies, including some rarer species like orchids.
Farther down the valley, along the old track bed, you’ll find the remains of several lime kilns. They are unusually large and historically were used for commercial lime production, with the railway offering a convenient means of transporting the lime.
Know Before You Go
The viaduct runs through the Smardale Gill Nature Reserve. You can walk to the viaduct along the old dismantled railway line from the car park at Smardale village, or a longer walk starts from the other end of the nature reserve in Ravenstonedale. It's a delightful way to spend half a day. Further walking directions can be found here and here.