Northern Viaduct Trust is a small charity, established in 1989 to acquire and maintain part of Cumbria’s railway history in the Upper Eden Valley in South-East Cumbria. We currently look after Podgill, Merrygill and Smardale Gill Viaducts, Drygill Bridge near Smardale Gill Viaduct and the Millennium Bridge in Kirkby Stephen as well as the track bed between Stenkrith and Merrygill Viaduct. There are permissive footpaths across all our viaducts and between Stenkrith and Merrygill Viaduct.
The Northern Viaduct Trust was first founded to acquire, restore and maintain the spectacular Smardale Gill Viaduct.
Restoration was complete in 1992 at a cost of nearly £400,000. In the Autumn of 1992 it was formally handed over to the trust by the late Lord Whitelaw, together with the nearby Drygill Bridge, to become a permissive footpath. It is now listed Grade II*, and has won a National Railway Heritage Award.
The Trust then spent several years planning its next project, applying for grants and negotiating purchase of property from the British Railway Property Board. British Rail agreed to give a one and a half mile length of trackbed to the Trust, including the eleven-arch Podgill Viaduct, three overbridges and several culverts. Purchase was completed and works were ready to start on this section by the year 2000.
The object of the acquisitions was to create a cycle route and footpath, which would connect with other paths in the locality.
Part of this work by the Trust involved the construction of a new footbridge over the River Eden to provide a walking route from Stenkrith Park, adjacent to the B6259 Nateby Road at the southern fringe of Kirkby Stephen. Named the Millennium Bridge, it was opened in 2002 after delays caused by the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
However, at the Hartley end the path ended abruptly at Merrygill Viaduct. The Trust bought this from the owners of the adjacent Hartley quarry for a token payment of £1.
Restoration to the path included the creation of disabled access at both ends of the route. The entire work was finally completed in 2005 when it was officially opened by Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage. The total cost of the project is estimated at £250,000.
Among the tasks undertaken was the restoration and conversion of two former platelayers’ huts between Stenkrith and Hartley to form interpretation points displaying photographs and information panels about the history of the railway and the quarry.
A second National Railway Heritage Award received in 2005 is marked by plaques on the two viaducts.