Smardale Gill Viaduct

Image by Julian Thurgood with many thanks

Smardale Gill Viaduct curves its way across the dramatic narrow valley of Scandal Beck about three miles west of Kirkby Stephen in south east Cumbria.

It carried the railway 90 feet (27m) high above the valley and was constructed of locally quarried limestone.  The viaduct has 14 arches of 30 feet span, and a total length of 553 feet (c170m).

It was designed by the Cumbrian engineer Sir Thomas Bouch as part of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, which crossed the Pennines to carry coke to the iron and steel furnaces in the Barrow area and West Cumberland. and was built in 1861 by Mr Wrigg, a contractor from Preston at a cost of £11,298. (Mr Wrigg also built the section of railway from Tebay to just east of the viaduct at a cost of £44,216.)

The viaduct was built wide enough for double track, but never carried more than a single line of rails.

The line was closed in 1962, after steelmaking finished and, for over twenty years the viaduct stood disused, deteriorating from lack of maintenance and exposure to the weather.

British Rail decided to demolish it as it became dangerous when masonry fell from several of the piers.  Instead, Eden District Council promptly arranged for it to be listed.  British Rail offered £230,000 (the estimated cost of demolition) towards its restoration if a charitable trust could be formed to raise the balance and accept ownership.   The Northern Viaduct Trust was formed in 1989 with funds raised via grants from a number of organisations, including local authorities, the Countryside Commission and English Heritage.

The total cost of repairs came to some £350,000. Several piers had to be ‘stitched’ using over 100 stainless steel rods, masonry needed repair, a new waterproof deck was required, and handrails had to be erected along the low parapets before the structure could be reopened.

 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 track bed for several miles at each end of the viaduct already belonged to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust as a national nature reserve, and the viaduct has become a vital link between the two sections

In 2010 after a harsh winter it was found that the viaduct had frost damage and required a further £30,000 of repairs.

In July 2019 the permissive footpath across the top of the viaduct was closed to the public as the handrails need to be up-dated to modern safety standards. The viaduct also requires substantial repairs to the stonework.  The Northern Viaduct Trust is seeking funding for the required safety improvements and will be launching a public fundraising campaign shortly.

In the meantime if you are prepared to donate funds for this work all your contributions no matter how big or small are enormously appreciated.  Please donate at this link…


Walks in and around Smardale Gill Viaduct. 

All the land around Smardale Gill Viaduct (but not the viaduct itself) is under the care of Cumbria Wildlife Trust.  On our walks page there is a map of a proposed Smardale Gill round walk which is a beautiful and easy walk once the permissive path is open again.

The best way to get to Smardale Gill Viaduct is by car to the Cumbria Wildlife Car Park at Smardale then walk along the disused railway track bed:

To Smardale car park: from the A685 between Ravenstonedale and Kirkby Stephen, take the Smardale turning. Cross over the railway and turn left at the T-junction. Bear right over the disused railway and turn immediately right. The car park is 200m on your right.

Map reference: OS Explorer map OL19.Smardale car park grid reference: NY 742 083; nearest postcode: CA17 4HG (though this covers a large area)

GPS co-ords: 54.470130, -2.398110 Please note that this route follows narrow lanes with limited passing places.