The Ribblehead Viaduct

23 August 2018

Between two of the Yorkshire 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 Yorkshire 3 Peaks 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 aged over the years. 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.

Ribblehead Viaduct Three Peaks Challenge

After a number of repairing efforts in the 90s, the viaduct continues to be used by both passenger and freight trains, with re-built 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.

Regardless of whether you are a total novice or experienced hiker, have you considered climbing the 3 highest peaks in Yorkshire? The North Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge gives you the opportunity to climb Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside all in a single day. A 24-mile journey that can be completed comfortably within 12 hours.