Contributor: Jack Kernahan
The nearest railway station to Ravenstonedale is now Kirkby Stephen on the Settle and Carlisle line (www.settle-carlisle.org).
Indeed between 1900 and 1935 that station was named ‘Kirkby Stephen and Ravenstonedale’. Until 1952, however, Ravenstonedale had its own passenger station, and goods services were still available until the total closure of the line in January 1962. Although named Ravenstonedale, the station was actually on the western outskirts of Newbiggin, and the attractive building can still be easily seen from the A685 road. Indeed the straightness of the A685 road from that point to Tebay is an indication that it is mainly constructed over the trackbed of the old railway.
Ravenstonedale station lay on The Stainmore Railway ( or to give it its correct title The South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway) which was opened in 1861 with the object of transporting minerals between County Durham and Furness. Local passenger and goods traffic were very much a secondary consideration. The line started at Tebay, on the West Coast main line, and there were stations at Gaisgill, Ravenstonedale and Smardale before reaching Kirkby Stephen. The line went under the Settle and Carlisle line through one of the arches of the Smardale Viaduct. After leaving Kirkby Stephen the line climbed to its 1370 ft summit at Stainmore before descending to Barnard Castle and thence to Darlington.
There were several magnificent viaducts on the line, the most famous being the iron girder ones at Belah and Deepdale, designed by Thomas Bouch, who also designed the ill-fated Tay Bridge. These viaducts were, sadly, dismantled on the line’s closure, but the beautiful stonebuilt Smardalegill Viaduct remains and has been restored after years of neglect following the closure. There is a beautiful walk from the site of Smardale station to the viaduct and beyond, passing the isolated ruined cottages near to a disused limekiln.
The line was double track through Ravenstonedale and until 1931 the double track continued eastwards to a small signalbox called Sandy Bank, just under a mile from Ravenstonedale. From Sandy Bank to Kirkby Stephen the line was single, although the bridges and Smardalegill Viaduct were built to accommodate double track. In 1931 Sandy Bank signalbox closed and the single line started from Ravenstonedale. It is still possible to see the site of Sandy Bank box on the northern side of the trackbed.
Ravenstonedale was the typical beautiful country station, although in one aspect it was unusual in that it had ‘staggered platforms’. The eastbound and westbound platforms did not face each other as is the situation with most stations. There was no footbridge. A boarded crossing let from the western end of the eastbound platform to the eastern end of the westbound platform. There was a signalbox on the northern side of the track at this point, and, opposite the main station building, was a large goods shed. Virtually nothing changed during the hundred years of the station’s existence, and a photograph taken when it finally closed in 1962 would have been very similar to one taken when it opened in 1861.
A particular feature of many rural stations was the immaculate gardens, and Ravenstonedale was no exception. Indeed it exceeded most stations, as behind the main platform, to the east of the main building, was an immaculate ornamental garden with beautiful paths and trimmed bushes which was fit to grace any stately home!
The station closed to passengers on 1 December 1952, but the occasional through passenger trains continued to use the line, notably Saturday holiday specials between North East England and the holiday resorts of Blackpool and Morecambe. Final closure came on 22 January 1962, and, after a short period of use for wagon storage, the track was lifted. All that now remains is the station building, converted for domestic use, and, on the adjacent road bridge, traces of the soot from engines starting on their journeys to the east over 40 years ago!