The 72-mile Settle–Carlisle Line, built between 1869 and 1875, offers one of England's most scenic railway journeys. Modern diesel trains ply the route between Leeds and Carlisle via Settle about eight times per day, stopping at several Dales stations with good access to hiking. Alternatively, book onto a vintage steam train charter that runs along the same route without stopping.
The line's construction was one of the great engineering achievements of the Victorian era: 5000 labourers armed with picks and shovels built 325 bridges and 21 viaducts and blasted 14 tunnels in horrific conditions – nearly 200 of them died in the process.
The first section of the journey from Leeds is along the Aire Valley, stopping at Keighley, where the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway branches off to Haworth, Skipton (gateway to the southern Dales) and Settle. The train then labours up the valley beside the River Ribble, through Horton-in-Ribblesdale, across the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct and then through Blea Moor Tunnel to reach remote Dent station, at 350m the highest main-line station in the country. The last halts are Appleby and Langwathby, just northeast of Penrith (a jumping-off point for the Lake District), before the train finally pulls into Carlisle.
The entire journey from Leeds to Carlisle takes two hours and 40 minutes. Various hop-on, hop-off passes are also available for one or three days. You can pick up a free SCL timetable – which includes a colour map of the line and brief details about places of interest – from most Yorkshire stations. Vintage steam train charters include the Dalesman and Cumbrian Mountain Express; check www.uksteam.info/tours for schedules.