Contributors: Kathy Trimmer, Stan Frost
Smardale is a beautiful secluded valley that offers a variety of easy circular walks amid beautiful undulating scenery. Walkers can start either from Ravenstonedale or from Newbiggin-on-Lune and return to either village. All options can be completed in about 2 hours but another hour can easily be added for pausing to enjoy this hidden and peaceful part of Cumbria.
A beck runs down the length of the valley then on through Smardale Nature Reserve to join the River Eden north of Kirkby Stephen. A disused, dismantled railway also runs the length of Smardale offering walkers a gentle route through the valley. The disused track crosses an impressive viaduct that traverses the valley. The best circular route from Ravenstonedale is to walk down one side of the valley, cross the viaduct and return down the opposite side, an easy walk of 2 hours or so.
Visitors can park their cars on the triangular car park next to the village school. From the car park walk down the road past St Oswald's church on the left, over the stream and turn right at the road junction. About 100 yards on the left is a stile with signpost. Climb the stile and cross the field diagonally right to a second stile that leads onto the A685. Across the road is another stile with signpost that leads into Smardale. The track from here is easily followed.
The path leads across farmland, between copses, to county bridge which is crossed by the coast-to-coast walk. Don't cross the bridge but walk a little up the track, walled on both sides, to a stile in the wall on the left hand side. Once over the stile the valley opens up and Smardale Gill viaduct can be seen in the distance.
The track is easily followed as far as the viaduct which offers a fine stopping point with views back up the valley and into the wooded nature reserve downstream. This is the midpoint on the walk. Cross the viaduct, continuing along the track which was the route of the former Tebay-Darlington railway line.
After a short distance some unusual lime kilns will be seen on the right. These kilns are exceptionally large and once formed the basis of commercial lime production with the railway offering a means of transporting the lime to industrial centres.
Some distance after the kilns are some abandoned houses on the same side of the track. Shortly after these derelict houses is a stone bridge crossing over the track.
There is a choice of routes from this point. You can either continue along the track to Newbiggin-on-Lune or go left up the embankment to return to Ravenstonedale.
This alternative is preferable if children are involved as it avoids the eventual need to walk along the busy A685 between Newbiggin-on-Lune and Ravenstonedale. After passing under the stone bridge go left up the embankment to a wooden stile which takes you safely over the fence which borders the old railway line. Turn right and walk down towards county bridge. Cross the bridge and take the gate immediately on the right, returning to Ravenstonedale by retracing the route taken earlier.
Continuing along the old railway track brings you to Newbiggin-on-Lune. Simply continue along the track as far as you can and you will end up in Newbiggin-on-Lune. Lune Springs Garden Centre is located in the centre of the village across the A596 and offers teahouse refreshments in a lovely setting. Return to Ravenstonedale by first walking through the village before emerging on the A685. Walk along the verge for about half a mile before taking the first road right into the village and past the King's Head hotel to return to the car park. This is the most unattractive part of this route as it is heavily used by fast-moving traffic. Great care is needed.
Perhaps the easiest walk if you're not into mountains, maps and compasses, is to start from the Garden Centre at Newbiggin-on-Lune and walk to Smardale Gill Nature reserve. Park your car at the Garden Centre and Norman or Gabriel or whoever else is working at the Garden Centre will point you in the direction of the Nature Reserve. The footpath follows the route of the Darlington to Tebay Railway. Be careful crossing the main road opposite the garden centre. This is the most dangerous part of the walk.
The nature reserve is home to roe deer, red squirrel and 20 different varies of butterflies, including the rare Scotch Argus. You will also find a wonderful variety of wildflower, including a few rarities such as Globe Flowers, Bloody Crainsbill, Wintergreen and several different Orchids. I have walked this route in late June and counted more than 100 different varieties of flowers in bloom on one day but do please remember that this is a Nature Reserve belonging to English Nature and you must not damage the trees or pick flowers. The footpath is not actually a right of way but English Nature is happy for people to enjoy it, as long as they do so with respect.
The railway line, which served Ravenstonedale, and Newbiggin Railway Station, were Beeching casualties during the 1960's and, although the rails were removed, you can still see where the sleepers were laid in some parts. If you look across the main road and just to your left from the Garden Centre, you can see the old Railway Station, which is now a private house.
After a couple of miles walking along the old track bed, you will pass a couple of derelict Platelayers Cottages and then you will come to two magnificent Lime Kilns. You will find many lime kilns in the area but they are mostly small ones that just served the farm on which they stand, but the ones by the old railway line are more on a commercial size and one can surmise that the railway, during its short existence, permitted a commercial lime burning business to thrive. Half a mile further on, you will come to the spectacular Smardale Gill Viaduct. In the early 1980's British Rail asked for permission to demolish this magnificent Victorian structure as it was declared unsafe. There was public outcry, both locally and nationally. A successful appeal was made and funds were raised for its restoration and Sir William Whitlaw reopened it in 1986.
Walk over the viaduct and you should easily find a way-marked permissible path, heading back in the direction you came from. This will take you onto the 'Coast to Coast' Footpath, heading westbound, and ultimately back to the Garden Centre. Norman will be quite happy for you to leave your car in his car park and will be delighted if you decide to treat yourself to a well-earned cuppa or something from the Garden Centre or Craft Shop to remember a delightful day.