Review/gallery: Full steam ahead through God’s own county

Fellsman steam train on the Settle to Carlisle line

Fellsman steam train on the Settle to Carlisle line - Credit: Archant

David Green enjoys a walking holiday in North Yorkshire

Walking uphill with very little visibility – our compass-bearing leader defying the low clouds intent on getting us lost – we suddenly emerged at a remote rail crossing where a small gaggle of men with cameras were staring patiently into the “fog”.

We were of no interest at all to the waiting pack who, glancing occasionally at their watches, were silently focussed on the rail line, gradually being revealed for several hundred yards as the cloud lifted.

Fifteen minutes later, as we stood bedraggled in our “rain-proof” gear, we heard the shriek of a train whistle and into vision came a mighty steam engine pulling carriages packed with enthusiasts.

It was the first of the summer’s weekly steam train excursions on the famous Settle to Carlisle railway, 72 miles of spectacular engineering across hillsides, through tunnels and over viaducts.

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The railway, created in the 1870s, provided the background to my four-night Ramblers Countrywide Holidays break in the dales of North Yorkshire.

On three consecutive days our 15-strong group caught the 9.50am train – unfortunately always a diesel – from Settle Station, heading up the line for a short journey prior to disembarkation and the start of a ten-mile walk.

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Experienced leader, Peter Beaumont, took us over hills and down valleys to explore a countryside which, apart from brief and very welcome sunny interludes, was inexorably clothed in cloud and sometimes rain.

He also timed progress on one of the walks so that we saw the steam train at two points on our route, the first shortly after the walk began and the second at Dent Station as we waited to return to base.

June in the dales! Yet despite the typically “atmospheric” British weather, the hills were alive with the sound of birds, including curlews and skylarks, and with legions of wild flowers – ladies smock, king cups and all kinds of grasses and mosses.

I left the sun-tan lotion behind after the first day and packed an extra jumper although a couple of hardy group members, one of them a similar age to myself, often sported T-shirts in the chill wind, as I cowered beneath several layers, topped by hooded jacket and trousers.

Home base for this “railway walks” holiday was the Falcon Manor Hotel, grand in name only but offering good basic and spotlessly clean “character” accommodation and excellent food together with friendly and very efficient service.

A leisurely breakfast with treats such as “crumpet with poached egg and bacon” was enjoyed before the walking group – armed with packed lunch ingredients purchased from the town’s Co-op - met on the station a few minutes walk from the hotel.

The holiday was described as D/D+ in the Ramblers rating system and this proved very accurate. There were a few challenging sections - up or down fairly steep slopes with soft moorland or marsh underfoot - but most of the routes were on good paths and well-trodden tracks.

On two days the walks ended at the pub near the famous Ribblehead Viaduct, one of Europe’s finest and spectacular feats of 19th Century railway engineering.

There was also the unplanned bonus of a look inside an old-style signal box and a talk by a local enthusiast about its workings.

On two evenings some members of the group went into the town to enjoy jazz sessions and on the other night a group of us made the short journey to a neighbouring village to take part in folk singing.

The walking group comprised people from all parts of England and, excuse the pun, from all walks of life, from retired and semi-retired people such as myself to a couple of “youngsters” in their 30s or 40s. All the walkers were extremely fit and well able to cope with the geography.

For those looking for a less challenging and strenuous holiday, Ramblers Countrywide Holidays is now offering a new “ale and amble” opportunity in the Lake District.

These one week breaks offer leisurely walks amidst spectacular scenery with the promise of a decent pint en route.

They are based at the company’s own property, Hassness Country House on the banks of Lake Buttermere, within easy walking range of two great inns - the Bridge and The Fish.

Included in the package are breakfasts, picnic lunches and three-course dinners, together with freshly baked cakes in the afternoons.

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