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Following on from my previous post when I showed a picture of Ribblehead Viaduct, I had several comments and emails asking for more information about it – which I’ll answer in this post. I have also added a little about my attempt to climb it when I was young and very foolish (& very drunk). I’ll probably lose a few followers after this post, but I have grown up (somewhat) and have more sense. I hope you’ll forgive me 🙂 

So here you are…

Great Whernside and  Ribblehead Viaduct
Ribblehead Viaduct is one of 22 viaducts and 14 tunnels on the 71 miles of line which make up the Settle-Carlisle line. This is one of the most picturesque railway lines in the country and traverses the North of England towards Scotland.  The line was built by over 6000 navies who lived in shanty towns and the line was opened in 1875. You can read more about the line here
Great Whernside and Ribblehead Viaduct

During the 1980’s the line was under threat of closure and massive protest resulted in the line being saved.

Ribblehead viaduct is 440 yards long, and 104 feet high. It comprises of twenty-four arches of 45 feet span, with foundations 25 feet deep. 1.5 million bricks were used in the construction and some of the limestone blocks weighed 8 tons each.

Ribblehead Viaduct and Whernside

It was designed by the engineer John Sydney Crossley. The first stone was laid on 12 October 1870 and the last in 1874. It took over 1000 navies to build the viaduct and over 100 died during it’s construction.

Ribblehead Viaduct and Ingleborough


I have a friend who lives in Llangattock in South Wales and many years ago I spent a glorious summer with him and his wife exploring some of the huge Welsh river caves  –  caves with jaw cracking names such as ‘Ogof Ffynnon Ddu’, ‘Porth-yr-Ogof’, ‘Ogof Craig A Ffynnon’ & ‘Ogof y Daren Cilau’ – if you haven’t guessed ‘Ogof’ is Welsh for ‘cave’.

Arriving back home after being away I wanted to meet up with my fellow caving buddies and we agreed to meet at the ‘Station Inn’ next to the Ribblehead viaduct, spend the night camping there and get a good early start to go caving in the morning. We normally camped up the road at ‘The Hill Inn’ but ‘The Station’ was decided upon as Chris fancied the barmaid. The cave we were planning to go down was ‘Black Shiver Pot’ a notoriously difficult and flood prone cave containing a very large pitch – so we needed to be fresh in the morning and we planned on having an early night with no beer….

Eight pints later someone decided it would be a good idea to have a race to the top of the viaduct. At that time there was a lot of scaffolding on the viaduct and to make the game more interesting we had to do it whilst carrying a glass of beer in one hand. The first to the top with a full pint wins!

Being mid winter was a bit of a handicap as the scaffolding poles were covered in snow and ice, and it was pitch dark. But being 20 and full of ‘piss and vinegar’ a couple of us had a go. Obviously no one got anywhere near the top and most of the beer was drunk or spilled on the walk to the viaduct.

I got about 10 foot up before I fell off and landed on a beer glass – I still have the scars. I also broke a finger and hurt my neck. Later that same night we had to extract young Chris who managed somehow to get stuck halfway under a cattle-grid on the road to Chapel-le-dale!

A good night was had by all – and we didn’t get an early start – but we did bottom Black Shiver, only 3 of us managed it – the rest didn’t go as they were too ill! All I remember of the trip was huddling on a tiny ledge 90 ft. down a 270 ft. shaft under a waterfall pulling ladders up & putting them in the tackle bags. According to my notes the trip took us 11 hours! Unfortunately I didn’t take a camera as it would have been hard to use it with a fat finger, and there was enough tackle to carry anyway.

Several weeks later I was sent by my GP for an X-Ray because of I had constant pain in my neck. The X-Ray discovered that I had a hair line fracture of the vertibrae – no doubt acquired from falling off the scaffolding. The GP said that it was a close call and I could have been paralysed! I was very lucky and promised myself that I would never climb a 104 ft viaduct in winter, in the dark carrying a glass of beer with a gallon of John Smiths best bitter inside me.