Walk date – 3rd February 2024

Distance – about 5 miles, probably a bit less

Weather – very windy but dry and sunny


We have been battered day after day by very strong winds and heavy rain since our last walk. The countryside is littered with trees felled by the strong winds, becks and rivers are close to overflowing and the surrounding fields are waterlogged. We have managed to take a couple of local and unrecorded walks when the rain slowed down to a drizzle for and hour or so but all in all it hasn’t been a very pleasant few weeks. There was a chance of some brighter weather today although it would still be very windy and, given that there was a possibility that the east of Cumbria might have the best of the sunshine, we decided to go and see what the results of the repair works to the Smardale viaduct and lime kilns were like. The route had been closed during the latter part of 2023 while the repair works were carried out but as we’d heard that they were now finished it seemed a suitable day to go and take a look for ourselves. The walk along the dismantled railway track towards Smardale bridge would be sheltered enough and the wind would be at our backs as we made our way across Smardale Fell back to the Smardale hamlet and that’s how it turned out to be. The mileage given above is approximate as the tracking facility on the gps didn’t get turned on until we reached the viaduct. Oops!


Smardale hamlet – Desmesne Wood – Smardale Bridge – Smardale Fell – Smardale hamlet

We didn’t have a promising start to our walk. We made our way to Waitby village, then made our way along the very narrow and winding lane towards the parking area only to find it padlocked all of which resulted in having to continue on to Smardale Mill before we could turn the car around and drive back to Smardale hamlet. When we arrived notices on the gate informed us that this parking area (for the disabled only) was closed as was the footpath through Demesne Wood until further notice. The closure was explained by a reference to ‘ash die back’ and that the affected trees were being felled as a result. There was no sound of any tree felling activity, and likely there wasn’t going to be given that it was now 10.45 am on a Saturday so I, being the anti-authoritarian person that I am, decided to ignore all of it. J wasn’t in the mood to be put off either given that he had just had to deal with the locked official car park issue so off we went through the little handgate to begin today’s walk.

A quick peek up the private approach to Smardale Hall as we cross over to the gate. Everything might be damp and soggy but we have bright sunlight and blue skies at last.

Walking along the old railway track through Demesne Wood with sawn off bits of ash trees lying along the route. Walking along here on a hot summer day would provide plenty of cooling shade but quite the opposite in winter when the absence of leaves allows the winter sun through and lights up everything ahead of us.

Approaching a viaduct which carries the Settle/Carlisle rail line. When we reached it the white notice attached to the other side of the gate ahead informed us that no unauthorised persons were allowed to proceed beyond it. So on this side of the gate we were unauthorised but the minute we passed through the gate we were authorised. We’ve already met runners and dog walkers on the path through Demesne Wood and exchanged cheerful hellos so we weren’t the only ones ignoring the notices it seems.

More notices fixed to the gate across the entrance to the viaduct. All of them forbidding various activities including cycling and horse riding. These viaducts were built to take the weight of steam locomotives pulling dozens and dozens of heavily laden wagons and yet the occasional cyclist/ horse rider isn’t supposed to cross it. They all carried the same message ‘No you can’t’. The old information board telling folks all about the history of the railway line and the viaduct was nowhere to be seen. I’m getting sick  and tired of all this ‘nannying’ nonsense and the erasing of our history. Over on the left of the above photo is a stile …..

….. which took me down the path on the opposite side of the beck which offers a splendid view of the viaduct …..

….. and the beck which it was built to cross. There is plenty of information about Smardale and its viaduct on the web if you are seeking further details. The strong wind whooshing through the valley stopped me in my tracks for a couple of seconds as I made my way along the path.

Back up to the viaduct which now sports new railings and a tarmac surface and don’t you dare to ride your bike across it. Just as a matter of interest who is going to stop anyone doing so?

A look back as we reach the end of the viaduct and take to the gravel path once more.

We reach the area where the former quarries used to be worked …..

….. complete with an information board about …..

….. the repairs to the old lime kilns. Having checked against previous photos I’ve taken of them its difficult to see exactly what has been done as they look just the same as they always did. Maybe quite a lot of pointing work needed to be done or perhaps the interior of the kilns needed some attention. Whatever has been done it wasn’t immediately obvious and nothing stood out like a sore thumb which is exactly what restoration work should be all about.

The fence on top of the limestone cliffs looks a little ricketty.

A couple of walkers reading the info board. They were walking the same route as us but in the opposite direction and we met them later on as we were dropping back down Smardale Fell so they must have had a few minutes of being ‘unauthorised’ too.

Just beyond the lime kilns is the old railway house …..

….. which in the past would have housed the families of a couple of railway workers.

Just beyond the railway house is a bridge where we left the dismantled railway track, climbed the banking alongside the bridge up to the stile crossing and from there we followed the path in the shot over to Smardale Bridge.

Smardale Bridge below us with some of the hazy Howgill fells in the distance.

A closer look at the bridge as we follow the path down.

We paused at the old bridge to take a couple of shots, the above shows the view over to Smardale Fell to the east of the bridge …..

….. this one looks northwards and shows the path we’ve just come down. Plenty of water in the beck today.

A look back at the Grade 2 listed bridge which dates back to the 1700’s as we begin the climb up Smardale Fell.

The view ahead as we make our way up the lower slopes. At the signpost there is the option to take the path on the opposite side of the beck which leads back to the stile at the end/beginning of the viaduct. A solo walker and her dog coming from the Ravenstonedale direction eventually took this path when she reached the gateway. Take a look at our walk of 11th June 2020 for details of the route from the Ravenstonedale direction.

We’re much higher now so we take a look over the wall and get a fine view of the viaduct and the beck plus, over on the left the former quarries and lime kilns. The hazy North Pennines are in the distance.

J matches the height of the tall gate which crosses the path so he deals with the opening of it, the handle at the top being too high for me to exert enough force to open it.  We’re still climbing but the gradient is very gentle.

Even higher now and another peek over the wall to get a view of the railway house, the quarries and the lime kilns.

A close up view of the quarries and kilns from the wall.

We’re just about on the top of Smardale Fell now and, with the wind at our backs, we can look forward to a good tramp across without watery eyes and noses.

Wide open spaces, lovely views and lots of walls to enjoy across the fell. The North Pennines are in the distance.

What a lovely day for a tramp across the moorland.

J does a quick check on the gps to make sure that it hasn’t thrown a wobbly. The signpost tells us where we’ve been, which direction to follow if Kirkby Stephen is our destination but makes no mention of Smardale. Just as well then that we know that we need to keep following the wall.

Demesne Wood comes into view again just below us and we’ve just met the couple who were reading the info board at the lime kilns.

Another tall gate for J to deal with as we begin to descend back into Smardale …..

….. beyond which the handful of houses forming the little hamlet begin to come into view. A photographer had set up his camera and tripod over on the right of the shot so he probably had a better view of the North Pennines from there than we did from the pathway.

Passing by a couple of the houses in Smardale as we reached the dirt road.

The lane is crossed by another bridge also carrying the Settle/Carlisle line.

You can’t not take a photo of this, can you? The three calves showed a keen interest in us as we passed by.

The sunny side of Smardale Hall. Probably the front entrance judging by the cars parked over to the right of the shot.

Almost at the end of our walk now and the waterlogged field bears witness to the amount of rain that has fallen recently. The car is parked just around the corner and as we were preparing to leave another one arrived and parked just behind us. A young couple and three small dogs climbed out, they took absolutely no notice of any of the ‘No unauthorised persons’/’Car park closed’ notices, didn’t even glance at them, passed through the gate and started out on their walk. A good weather day on a Saturday hasn’t happened for a while now so just as we did they were making the most of it. Can’t say I blame them either!