His­tory Boy rec­om­mends: ARTEN GILL VIADUCT

Motorcycle Sport & Leisure - - Long Ride -

This month’s his­tory des­ti­na­tion is from a fo­lio that burns like a white-hot cru­cible in the heart of ev­ery de­cent Bri­ton – rail­ways. As a young­ster, I’m aware that my gen­er­a­tion is pre-dis­posed to­wards train sets. I hate be­ing dragged to church ev­ery Sun­day (that Fa­ther Les­lie Carter keeps look­ing at me) but I would gladly walk across bro­ken glass and swim up­stream in shark-in­fested choler­awa­ter to wor­ship at the al­tar of Hornby. Yes read­ers, let us clasp our hands in prayer and give thanks for the joy­ous mir­a­cle that is the Set­tle to Carlisle Rail­way!

Many of you grown-ups, I know, with li­cences and mo­tor­bikes may have al­ready parked for a mo­ment of quiet awe be­fore the ver­i­ta­ble tem­ple-cum-shrine that is Rib­ble­head viaduct. But read­ers, I must re­spect­fully sub­mit that this is old news. The true believ­ers, the most ar­dent apos­tles, pass through the con­flu­ence of the B6255 and the B6479 and then head seven miles north, up into Dent­dale to stand in hushed won­der be­fore the epic Arten Gill Viaduct.

Arten Gill is the in­ex­pli­ca­bly un­der-recog­nised jewel in the Set­tle to Carlisle Crown. Rib­ble­head, the over-vis­ited over-val­ued Kim Kar­dashian to Arten Gill’s far more stylish (and ac­tu­ally MORE beau­ti­ful), Julie Christie. I have a Czech pen pal who lives un­der the Soviet yoke in a place called Bratislava. My dad says there’s talk that he might get to come over on an ex­change pro­gramme through the Scouts. If he does, and I had one chance to show him why the Bri­tish are the su­pe­rior species on this planet, I would whisk him up the M6 to Arten Gill!

What makes it spe­cial? Well, if it wasn’t the clean, ta­per­ing col­umns of its lofty piers I would have to plump for sheer re­mote­ness. I put it to you, O read­ers of MSL that Rib­ble­head is a char­la­tan, 24 piers of a pretty much even 105ft. At Arten Gill we have no two piers the same height and like the mighty ice­berg, so much of each pier is hid­den from view. Even in these lime­stone rich York­shire Dales, the engi­neers were not over-run with solid bedrock and had to dig deep to be as­sured a firm foot­ing.

So what’s the story? In the mid 1800s Vic­to­rian rail­way-ma­nia was in full swing. I am ob­sessed with trains, but model trains. It’s hard to imag­ine a so­ci­ety fix­ated on ac­tual REAL rail­ways! It’s worth point­ing out that the rail­way build­ing boom wit­nessed in Bri­tain (by far the most pro­lific ex­plo­sion of its kind in any coun­try of the world, ever) wasn’t driven by a phil­an­thropic de­sire for in­fra­struc­ture, it was driven by profit and yup, if you want, greed. Ev­ery sin­gle

MSL

Same in­tro as last time please – we will tweak on screen, thanks.

rail­way, how­ever much you love Thomas the Tank En­gine and train sets (which I do), was built, first and fore­most, as a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise. Loads of one-off ‘lo­cal’ lines came into be­ing purely through cyn­i­cal spec­u­la­tion much as the dot.com boom that we wit­nessed a decade ago. All those for­got­ten search en­gines, Zoot, Ask Jeeves etc. ex­isted as money mak­ing ven­tures and as you know, they with­ered on the vine. Back in the 1850s and 60s, if an ill thought­through pri­vate ven­ture rail­way got into fi­nan­cial trou­ble, it could ei­ther close, or, if it was lucky, be bought for a song by a neigh­bour­ing or com­pet­ing rail­way com­pany. This was hap­pen­ing at a fairly fe­ro­cious scale in the mid­dle of Eng­land and by 1865, a con­sor­tium call­ing it­self the Mid­land Rail­way was sit­ting on a fairly sub­stan­tial tan­gle of lines that we would nowa­days call a very healthy port­fo­lio.

In Derby, Manch­ester, Not­ting­ham, Manch­ester and Le­ices­ter, the Mid­land was king and it took lit­tle rail­way busi­ness acu­men for it to carve its own route from its beat­ing heart of the North­ern Pow­er­house down to London. In 1865 the Mid­land ar­rived in tow,n much like the north­ern Bea­tles would do 98 years later, and every­body sat up and took no­tice.

The Mid­land’s gothic be­he­moth of St Pan­cras was the won­der of the age. Se­ri­ously, imag­ine that to­day, a rail­way sta­tion be­ing a tourist at­trac­tion in its own right, and for rail­way com­men­ta­tors it was clear that the Mid­land was no ‘new kid on the block’ – it was here to stay. Apart from just one small prob­lem, the Mid­land Rail­way’s Achilles Heel: Scot­land.

As well as scoop­ing up and ho­mogenis­ing com­pa­nies in the cen­tre of Eng­land, the com­pany’s di­rec­tors had been do­ing the same north of the bor­der. Even an im­be­cile could see the prob­lem, like Alaska and the ‘lower 48’, these two em­pires needed to con­nect. In iso­la­tion they were weak cousins, united, they would be un­stop­pable brothers! At one level though, they DID have a con­nec­tion: a li­cens­ing agree­ment ex­isted be­tween the Mid­land and the London North West­ern Rail­way (LNWR). When Mid­land trains, start­ing out from say, Leeds, headed for Glas­gow, they ran on their own rails, if you like, ‘for free’ and then sim­ply paid a toll to run on LNWR steel up to Carlisle where­upon they were able to di­verge and move back onto their ‘own’ net­work. Get the map out chum but the gap, a Darien Gap, if you will, in the Mid­land’s em­pire was barely 40 miles in span and it stretched be­tween present day In­gle­ton and Te­bay where the con­nec­tion with the LNWR ‘west coast main­line’ proper took the trains on up to Carlisle.

Maybe irked by pride, maybe sim­ply tired of play­ing sec­ond fid­dle, the Mid­land’s board of di­rec­tors re­solved to build their own route across the York­shire Dales thus, fi­nally, con­nect­ing their two em­pires to­gether. What makes this so im­por­tant and, I put it to you, in­ter­est­ing, is a civil engi­neer­ing project on a par with the Chun­nel, or HS2 be­ing con­ceived out of pride rather than clear-headed trans­port plan­ning. In a mod­ern, cen­tralised ra­tio­nal world, the Set­tle to Carlisle rail­way would not only never have been built, no­body would even have thought of it. ’Twas a ridicu­lous idea,

If you talk to a Siberian, or an Amer­i­can rail­road en­gi­neer, and you tell them that about 150 books have been writ­ten about one par­tic­u­lar English rail­way. That is only 72 miles long, the high­est point of which (yes, the high­est) is only

1200ft above sea level and not one inch of it even tran­sits a moun­tain range, they would burst out laugh­ing and then gob into your beer. But they’d be wrong. Mitchell and Mus­sett’s de­fin­i­tive 1976 his­tory of the S&C is, for a rea­son, en­ti­tled: Seven Years Hard. These York­shire Dales are a capri­cious me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal mis­tress. Snow in July, deep driven snow in March and rain, rain, rain. This was a hor­ri­ble place to have a 72 mile long build­ing site.

Get up to Arten Gill, park the bike and walk up to the ac­tual gran­ite ed­i­fice it­self. It’s about 500 yards from the tar­mac but the trail is a by­way so maybe it’s time to join the TRF? Get right up to that cen­tral pier. If it’s your wont, have a burn, or a muesli bar but I bet you don’t leave with­out whis­per­ing “My God, how did they do this…”.

has hired a trainspot­ting school­boy to give us some des­ti­na­tion ideas for this year’s road­trips. Wise beyond his years, Al­fred won the His­tory Prize at St Cuth­bert’s-inthe-Marsh in both the fifth year and the lower fourths, so his ex­per­tise is to be...

read­ers who have taken heed of his rec­om­men­da­tions of bik­ing des­ti­na­tions. You can reach him at msled­i­tor@mor­tons. co.uk

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