Between two of the 3 peaks is a monumental feat of 19th Century engineering that we call the Ribblehead Viaduct. Built to facilitate the Settle-Carlisle railway line in the 1870s, the viaduct is the longest bridge on that route, as well as the third-tallest. The bridge required a workforce of over 2000 people, living in shanty towns with little to no urban sanitation available.
After four years of exhausting manual labour and 200 deaths from disease, fighting and accidents, the Ribblehead Viaduct was completed, and the line opened in 1876. The shanty towns built to accommodate the workers vanished, and ever since the viaduct has stood proudly over the windswept and barren Yorkshire moors. With Whernside and Ingleborough between the Viaduct, any hikers attempting the 3 Peaks Challenge will get a chance to visit this imposing structure.
The Viaduct has a unique distinction in being one of the last railway structures built purely by manual labour. While this is impressive to us, in an age of machine-assisted construction, the viaduct had its fair share of problems as it grew older. In the 80s, structural weaknesses in the piers made British Rail consider closing the line permanently, but a concerted campaigning effort by local people and the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line made British rail reconsider.
After a number of repairing efforts in the 90s, the Viaduct continues to be used by both passenger and freight trains, with rebuilt steam trains running alongside modern diesel-electric trains. The remains of the construction camps below the viaduct, and the viaduct themselves, are preserved historic monuments, so take special care when you visit the area to avoid littering and damage.
The Ribblehead Viaduct is an important stop for anyone undertaking the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. North Yorkshire Three Peaks is dedicated to giving both novice and experienced hikers a challenge through the North Yorkshire 3 Peaks Route: Taking you over 3 of the highest peaks in Yorkshire – Pen-Y-Ghent, Ingleborough & Whernside – in the space of a single day. 24 miles in 12 hours.