Whilst still at primary school I can recall being taken to Blackburn Model Railway Exhibition when British Transport Films were shown on the stage, one of them and perhaps the most exciting was Snow Drift at Bleath Gill !
My first encounter of the Stainmore Line in the flesh was when I was 13 and had started riding ” Shotgun ” with the the drivers from the haulage contractor just across the road from where I lived. My favourite wagon was MUP 875J, an ERF eight wheeler bulk powder tank as driven by the late Neville Oliver, who was originally from East Anglia, she was rebuilt by the company from an accident write-off. Her main work was delivering Ribble Cement from Clitheroe throughout the north of England, that’s how I got to go to Hartley Quarry near Kirby Stephen !
That particular day we went via Sedberg, ( the line from Clapham Junction to Low Gill was still being dismantled for scrap at the time ), but on another occasion we used the M6 to Tebay, then up the slowly rising new road on the former track-bed of the North eastern line from Kirby Stephen East as far as Ravenstonedale. There was officially a weight limit on it due to the steep gradient up and then down to Kirby Stephen West station on the S&C, perhaps fear of a runaway plus relatively low bridge. Local plod didn’t enforce it, one coming in the opposite direction even gave us a friendly wave, plus it was part of the Commercial Motor North of England Test match route.
At that time the track was still in at Kirby East, which formerly had a shed probably to provide4 banking engines, the track was also in at Hartley Quarry over the low arch bridge at the entrance from Winton. Fast forward to 1982 when I was into CB radio and from my spot on the north side of Pendle Hill I got really good friends with the late Thomas Dunn, the gamekeeper who lived at Stainmore Old Hall. He invited me to stay over one Saturday night and I met other CBers in the Pub at Winton, the locals all had great affection for their former railway.
The Achillies Heel of the Stainmore Line was always Bealah Viaduct, a magnificent cast iron structure spanning a valley towards the summit and which was designed by Daniel Booch, same guy who designed the original ill fated Tay Bridge. I was therefore inadvisable to use anything heavier than a BR Standard Class 2 ( several were sheded at Kirby East probably for banking duties ) although Class 4 engines were used on weekend north east Blackpool excursions.
Like on the Somerset & Dorset they had tried using BR Standard 9f’s to cope with the steep gradients and although they were a success, despite the low axle load the civil engineers had nightmares about their total weight on aforementioned viaduct. There was no way that any diesel locos would have been allowed to use the line even if the traction motors didn’t overheat on the long gradients.
On one trip we were sent to Ribble Cement Shap Depot, which was supplied by rail at that time for an urgent load to Workington, so I got to scout the line from Penrith to Cockermouth as well. There was still a DMU service to Keswick but using Class 50s on specials must have rendered the bridge infrastructure totally unsafe resulting in closure, they were also still dismantling the line past Keswick at that time.
One summer evening my then girlfriend and i went for a run to find what remained of the infamous viaduct but its been wiped from the face of the Earth, the low arch bridge into Hartley Quarry has been demolished to allow modern tanker access. The main haulier from there is ( former BRISCA Formula1 Stock Cars Red Top star ) Sam Ostle, who’s business is based in the yard at Kirby Stephen West station !