Getting to Smardale
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 (although this covers a large area)
GPS co-ords: 54.470130, -2.398110 Please note that this route follows narrow lanes with limited passing places.
From here you can walk about 1½ miles along the former track bed to Smardale Gill Viaduct. On the way you will pass under Smardale Viaduct (a national monument) on the Settle & Carlisle line of the former Midland Railway, the highest viaduct on the line with 12 arches of 45 feet span and a maximum height of 130 feet. You will also cross Drygill Bridge).
If travelling from Ravenstonedale, park your car near the Kings Head and follow the footpath to the north, crossing under the A685 road, alongside the Scandal Beck and over Smardale Bridge to reach the viaduct in just under two miles. Return across the viaduct then walk along the track bed, deviating to the left to rejoin the outward route near Smardale Bridge after about half a mile.
The footpath along the former railway is part of a National Nature Reserve owned and managed by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. The reserve is rich in wildlife, including red squirrels. It is particularly noted for its wild flowers.
According to Cumbria Wildlife Trust:
- Smardale Gill is one of the only two sites in England that’s home to the scotch argus butterfly. The tiny northern brown argus can also be seen here
- Discover a range of unusual plants: bloody crane’s-bill, rock-rose, horseshoe vetch, frog, fragrant and greater butterfly orchid can all be seen in the grassland
- Redstart and pied flycatcher can be seen in summer, whilst green woodpecker, treecreeper, raven and sparrowhawk are resident year round
- In spring bluebells, primrose and early purple orchid.
- In summer orchids, bird’s eye primrose, melancholy thistle, bloody cranesbill and butterflies. In summer, bird species include redstart, wood warbler and pied flycatcher whilst buzzard, treecreeper and sparrowhawk may be seen all year round.
- In autumn find fellwort, devil’s bit scabious, scotch argus butterflies. Later in autumn and through the winter flocks of birds such as goldfinch, field fare and redwing feeding on the berries.
- At any time look out for red squirrels and roe deer or explore the archaeology and geology.