Blea Moor, near Whernside, is best known for the Blea Moor Tunnel, a 2,404m long railway tunnel that passes under the fell.
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Aesthetically speaking Blea Moor is not likely to win any prizes, in fact it is one of the least photogenic hills in the Yorkshire Dales. Of course it doesn’t help that it is situated directly to the east of Whernside whose much greater height renders Blea Moor almost invisible from most directions. All in all Blea Moor would be fairly unremarkable were it not for the Blea Moor railway tunnel.
Built by the Midland Railway the Blea Moor tunnel is part of the Settle – Carlisle line. It took almost five years to build, finally being completed in 1875. The tunnel is 2,404m long from where it enters the hillside in Little Dale before emerging on the other side of the hill at Dent Head. Due to boundary changes in 1974 it also means that you leave North Yorkshire and enter Cumbria, or vice-versa as you pass through the tunnel.
The route of the tunnel can be clearly followed above ground by the line of shafts that were built to aid construction. There were originally seven in total though four have now been filled in the remaining three are still used as ventilation shafts for the tunnel. The figures I’ve come across vary but the deepest shaft is said to be between 350-500 feet deep. Many of the shafts have adjoining spoil heaps that are the remnants of the soil that was excavated during the shaft construction.
The lower southern slopes of Blea Moor is also home to the Blea Moor signal box, at over three quarters of a mile from the nearest road it is said to be one of the most remote signal boxes in the UK. The lower slopes of Blea Moor were also the site of some of the shanty towns that were built to house the workers responsible for the construction of both Ribblehead Viaduct and the Blea Moor Tunnel including one which had the rather delightful name of Batty Green. Sadly very little remains of these towns which must have been quite lively places in their time.
Even for non-railway enthusiasts the walk from Ribblehead to the tunnel entrance is full of interest. This can be extended by following a fairly decent track over the moor following the line of shafts. From the highest shaft it is then a simple walk, initially alongside the fence, up to the highest point of Blea Moor which is adorned by a concrete Ordnance Survey column.
The views are surprisingly good, while Whernside and Ingleborough certainly catch the eye there also good views over to Great Knoutberry Hill, Wold Fell, Aye Gill Pike and beyond to the Howgill Fells and Mallerstang.
Lining the 530m contour, and thus just below the highest point, is a modest rash of gritstone. On the map it is called ‘Crag of Blea Moor’ and is seen on the walk from the right of way to the summit.
One other item of interest in the summit area is the unusual raised line leading down from what seems to be a small quarry on the north side of the fence at grid ref SD772829. On the most recent OS Explorer map it is can be seen as a dotted line at a right angle to the path. I don’t know what it is but my guess would be that it is the collapsed remains of a flue. Alternatively it could have been a former trackbed leading down from the quarried area.
So then despite its rather uninspiring appearance Blea Moor is actually quite an interesting place and is certainly worth a visit. Certainly if you arrive one day at Ribblehead and find the path to Whernside chock full of Three Peakers you could certainly do a lot worse than choosing to explore Blea Moor instead.