Smardale Gill Viaduct
A stile free, accessible walk from Smardale, along the disused railway track to Smardale Gill Viaduct.
So okay, the postcode for this walk is Cumbrian, but I’m including the route as an Accessible Yorkshire Walk because it is in the Yorkshire Dales. How confusing is that?
It’s a cracking walk which follows the disused railway line from the village of Smardale and is ideal for a seasoned manual chair user (that’s someone with arm muscles like Popeye) as it is relatively flat and it is a solid track all the way along to the viaduct. When I did they walk I used the power wheel attachment on the front of my wheelchair which was perfect for this walk. A mobility scooter would be fine too.
Smardale is a Cumbria Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve and it is free – although donations to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust are gratefully received. The scenery is absolutely stunning and the wildlife is in abundance, including red squirrel and Scotch Argus butterfly.
From the carpark at Smardale follow the boardwalk up the track. This is the only uphill bit of the walk but the effort is worth it. Spend time here looking for red squirrel in the tree tops. There are several benches along this section, perfect for sitting whilst on squirrel watch. At the top of the track pass through the gate and follow the signs back onto the trail.
Good news! The path is flat all the way along the rest of the route. This section of the track passes through Demesne Wood. The embankment in springtime is an explosion wild flower, including pansies and Fly orchids.
About a mile and a half into this walk you will reach the Smardale Gill (or Smardalegill – all one word on the OS map!) Viaduct with its 14 stones arches which take the track over Scandal Beck. It stands 90 feet tall and here you get the feeling you’re in a most remote place. 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. The trains may have gone but the viaduct is still standing and the views are in abundance. The viaduct is in constant need of repair and maintenance and the Northern Viaduct Trust relies on donations and grants to keep this wonderful structure in good repair.
It’s your choice now. You can turn around and return the way that you came – or continue on. After the Viaduct, the track becomes grassy and potentially muddy in places. There are plans to extend the purpose built track, which will be cool but for now I’d recommend this be the turning around point for manual wheelchair users. You really do need a sturdy all-terrain wheelchair for the next section to ensure smooth and safe passage.
If you venture on you will reach Smardale Gill Quarry, the old kilns and a dilapidated house that looks as though it belongs in The Blair Witch Project, which many folk who walk the coast to coast will be familiar with. There’s about another 2 mile of track from here to explore before you reach the road once more.
You can wheel as much or as little as you want along this route…. The main thing is to enjoy it.
Where do I park?
To Smardale carpark: 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. There are some blue badge parking spaces. Parking is free.
What map do I need?
Map reference: OS Explorer map OL19.
Smardale car park grid reference: NY 742 083; nearest postcode: CA17 4HG (though this covers a large area)
Are there any facilities?
Not on this walk. Smardale is a very sleepy little village. There nearest accessible loos at in Kirkby Stephen or Tebay Services.