Riding the Sensational Settle Carlisle Railway

Ask most people for their pick of the most scenic rail journeys in the UK and chances are that the Settle – Carlisle Railway will feature high on this list. This 72-mile line running through the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines is a story of survival against the odds.

Despite its recommendation to axe a third of the British rail network, the Beeching Report failed to kill it off in the 1960s. But in the face of a sustained lack of investment and competition from electrified lines, the Settle – Carlisle Railway was served with closure notices in 1984.

However, rail enthusiasts and local authorities saved the day. A successful campaign to retain the line was launched, stations were painstakingly restored and today the line is a triumph, attracting visitors from across the globe.

From Switzerland’s Glacier Express to travelling around Provence by rail to maxing out my JR Rail Pass in Japan, I love train travel and this journey had been on my radar for some time. Here’s how to do it and what to expect.


Stops on the Settle to Carlisle Railway

There are 11 stops along the Settle-Carlisle Railway. From north to south they are as follows:

  • Carlisle Station
  • Armathwaite Station
  • Lazonby Station
  • Langwathby Station
  • Appleby Station
  • Kirkby Stephen Station
  • Garsdale Station
  • Dent Station
  • Ribblehead Station
  • Horton-in-Ribblesdale Station
  • Settle Station


What to Expect on the Settle – Carlisle Railway

I made this journey from Carlisle to Settle on a damp day in July. In this part of England, come prepared for all types of weather, often in one day!

The starting point is Carlisle’s magnificent Neo-Tudor, red sandstone railway station, designed by William Tite, the architect responsible for rebuilding London’s Stock Exchange in the 19th Century.


Slowly pulling out of the station, the train veers to the right and towards the Eden Valley with the distant mountains of the Lake District to the west and the Pennine hills to the east. This mist-shrouded, pastoral landscape is punctuated with dusty-pink sandstone buildings, the River Eden snaking through the pastures like a silver thread.

settle-carlisle-railway-view-of-landscape-with grazing sheep from-train

The first station after Carlisle is Armathwaite, notable for its carefully restored maroon and canary yellow signal box. The stations along the Settle to Carlisle railway line have wonderful names: Lazonby, Langwathby, Appleby, Kirby Stephen. There are 20 stations in total along the line but only 11 of these are open.

At Langwathby, the old station house has been converted into the aptly named Brief Encounter Coffee Shop. If you’ve seen the classic movie of the same name, you’ll get my drift.

Built in the so-called Derby Gothic style, all of the open stations were designed by the architect John Holloway. With their pristine tended gardens, blooming flower pots and lovingly restored buildings, these stations make the Settle to Carlisle railway feel like a heritage line rather than part of the rail network.

horton in ribblesdale railway station sign with station house

At Appleby station, its name spelt out in white stones, the train starts to climb. Jagged-edged dry stone walls crisscross the landscape, and sandstone gives way to limestone. If you look carefully, you might be able to spot one of the small lime kilns.

After Kirby Stephen station, the Settle to Carlisle train starts to climb in earnest and the landscape becomes increasingly rugged. Sheep graze alongside derelict hay barns and there is the occasional small waterfall.

As the train approaches Garsdale, there is a magnificent view across Wensleydale.

rolling fields and stone barn in valley

Dent, situated 1150 feet above sea level, is the highest railway station in England and from here there are magnificent views across Dentdale.

Blea Moor Tunnel is the longest of the 14 tunnels on the line. Emerging from the tunnel, there are views of Ribbledale, Whernsdale and Pen-Y-Ghent, not to mention a brief glimpse of the iconic Ribblehead viaduct.


Leaving Ribblehead station, the train starts its gentle descent through the valley, passing through Horton-in-Ribblesdale before reaching Settle.

Grade II-listed Settle railway station is one of the largest on the line. Its signal box has been restored by volunteers from The Friends of the Settle to Carlisle Line and the station is also home to the sole surviving water tower on the line.

railway station in settle yorkshire

Buying Tickets

In 2024, the price of a ticket for the Settle to Carlisle railway starts at £11 for the one-way journey. For the cheapest fares, purchase an Advance Single ticket for the Settle-Carlisle railway before you travel. These usually go on sale 12 weeks before travel.

You can check fares and timetables here.

Settle Carlisle Railway: FAQs

The average journey time by train between Settle and Carlisle is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

panoramic view of settle yorkshire

Riding the Settle Carlisle railway is all about the views.

Don’t expect a tourist train with table service and panoramic windows. This is a standard, two-carriage Northern rail service with slightly grimy windows and no on-board catering.

There’s not a lot in it but, on balance, if you are travelling from Carlisle to Settle, sit on the left-hand side of the train for the best views. However, if you sit on the right-hand side of the train you will get those sensational views over Wensleydale.

Like many others, I love the romance of steam trains. Sadly, there is no regular steam-hauled service along the line.

However, in the summer months, specialist operators run steam excursions along the Settle-Carlisle line. But as these trains start their journey in other parts of the country, you won’t be able to board or disembark along the line.

tourist train

Why You Should Ride the Settle Carlisle Railway

The super scenic Settle Carlisle railway deserves all the plaudits thrown at it. It takes you through some of England’s most epic scenery for the price of a cheap meal in London. In my experience, the only UK scenic train rides that can equal it are in Scotland: The Jacobite steam train from Fort William and Mallaig and the West Highlands Line which is served by the iconic Caledonian Sleeper.

Why not travel the line as part of a short break, as I did? I started my 10-day break in Newcastle, taking in the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and Berwick-upon-Tweed, before arriving in Carlisle. After leaving Settle, I made my way further down the line to Leeds.

But whichever way you do it, enjoy the ride.

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.

One thought on “Riding the Sensational Settle Carlisle Railway

  1. M Frederick says:

    A really helpful and practical summary of this iconic line along with some helpful, succinct hints.

    Regarding Carlisle, a superb, short film called ‘Railway Town’ by Outset Pictures may be of interest to your readers.

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