The tracks of Teesdale make up one of the great railway stories. They were created amid great local animosity due to the local landowner’s love of fox-hunting and they ran through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country only to be killed off cruelly by the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.

There is still so much of them to be traced on the ground – trackbeds, parapets, old signalboxes and stations – and now the North Eastern Railway Association has produced a fabulous book that acts as a guide to these lost lines.

It has plenty of pictures and while there are loads of details and diagrams designed to appeal to the railway enthusiast, there is more than enough to fascinate the average reader who perhaps loves the countryside more than the intricacies of rail operations.

Almost as soon as the Stockton & Darlington Railway opened in 1825, the people of Teesdale – particularly the manufacturers of boots, shoes, carpets, flax, twine and rope – were agitating to be connected, but William Harry Vane, the 1st Duke of Cleveland, exerted even more energy opposing the railway than he expended on entertaining his mistress (see above).

The duke lived for his fox-hunting. He even paid his tenant farmers to maintain coverts so there was always a fox on hand when he needed something to chase. He believed a nasty, noisy steam engine would scare the foxes away, and so prevented the rail from advancing into his green and fox-filled land.

After his death in 1842, his son, Henry, maintained the implacable opposition. He said no one needed to be closer than 20 miles from a railway, and “he looked at the beautiful valley of the Tees and said to himself, surely they will never think of bringing one of those horrid railways through this paradise of a country”.

They did. And after the cholera epidemic of 1849 killed 143 people in Barnard Castle, when the dale was even more desperate for the economic boost that the railway could bring, he still refused.

Yet the Darlington railway promoters were convinced they would win, especially as they saw minerals flowing lucrative from east to west and back again over the Pennines on their tracks. They had their surveyor, Thomas Bouch, working out the route from Barney over Stainmore even before they’d linked Darlington to Barnard Castle.

In 1853, the duke raised spurious safety concerns in Parliament about the construction of the proposed line, causing it to be delayed further, but the railway promoters sent Mr Bouch and his party of surveyors onto the land around Gainford to do more preparatory work while disguised as sappers and miners.

The duke saw through the thin disguise and sent his workers to intercept them. “The duke’s men were very rude, and commenced to put us off by force; one fellow drew his stick several times to smash my level and began to push me about,” wrote Bouch’s assistant, George Cowie.

The duke summoned Bouch in person to Raby Castle to apologise for the incursion, and the two hit it off to such an extent that the duke gave the railway the green light (or at least lowered the signals to go). The line from Darlington to Barney opened in 1856, the sensational line from Barney over Stainmore (not really the subject of this book) opened in 1861, followed by the Tees Valley Railway (TVR) through Cotherstone, Mickleton and Romaldkirk in 1868.

The Pease promoters of the TVR imagined they’d be able to tap into the lead industry, but their line had arrived too late – lead went into decline in the 1870s. Instead, it created a new industry: tourism.

The TVR pioneered tourist tickets, which allowed people to walk or cycle between stations and then get back on the train.

At Barnard Castle, the annual Meet became a huge draw. In 1893 it was billed as the “Premier Cyclists’ Meet of the World”, and 6,000 visitors came, 5,271 of whom arrived by rail, many of them carrying their bicycles with them.

During the Second World War, six army camps were established in the dale, with thousands of troops being transported by rail to prepare for D-Day. On October 22, 1943, the US Army Headquarters train parked itself at Barnard Castle station for two days as 70 Allied generals went up on to Bowes Moor to watch the preparations.

It was these excellent rail links that allowed Glaxo to establish itself in the town, the two million bricks and 700 tons of steelwork needed to build the factory beside Barnard Castle station coming by rail. The factory produced the first batch of penicillin in December 1945.

But peace put the first nail in the coffin of the Teesdale tracks. The soldiers withdrew and, on May 26, 1950, petrol rationing ended. Motor buses, and then motor cars, entered into direct competition with the railway.

The Stainmore line closed in 1962, and then the reorganisation of British Rail by Dr Richard Beeching condemned the route from Darlington to Barney and onto Middleton. There was a vigorous campaign to save it, and the suggestion that BR cooked the figures to prove its economic unviability had some merit, but the political will was against railways and it closed on November 28, 1964, with the last passenger train leaving Middleton at 7pm and arriving at Darlington North Road at 7.53pm.

There is still so much to see on the ground, with the TVR still offering a lovely walk over a couple of great viaducts amid beautiful scenery, and now this book, A Ticket to Teesdale, transports its readers back in time to the golden age of the Teesdale tracks.

  • A Ticket to Teesdale: Darlington – Barnard Castle – Middleton-in-Teesdale, by John P McCrickard and John G Teasdale (North Eastern Railway Association, £14.95). It should be available through bookshops, but is perhaps best ordered from NERA’s website,, where postage is included in the £14.95.