Carving a course through the Yorkshire Dales and along the Eden Valley in Cumbria, the Settle-Carlisle Railway Line is one of the most scenic train rides in Britain.

The route, which was only built through such challenging terrain because of railway rivalry in the Victorian age and happily survived the threat of closure in the 1980s, offers spectacular views all the way.

Looking around as the train crosses the 24 arches of the massive Ribblehead viaduct, you can see what Yorkshire natives will tell you are the real Three Peaks – Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent – before the train plunges into the dark depths of Blea Moor tunnel and emerges high above beautiful and isolated Dentdale.

The scenery softens to the north of the line’s summit at Ais Gill, with the bare hills above the dales giving way to the farmland and woods of the Eden Valley as the railway follows the river down to the border city of Carlisle.

I was lucky enough to ride the line both ways, on a visit to the North West to sample Rail Discoveries’ Lakes and Dales by Steam tour, which offers a mix of rail and water-borne journeys around the region.

The day out on the Settle-Carlisle Line (settle-carlisle.co.uk) allows plenty of time between the trains to explore the historic Yorkshire market town of Settle, with its close-packed stone buildings and narrow winding lanes a stone’s throw from the railway station.

Just behind the Market Square is The Folly (thefolly.org.uk), an impressive edifice built as the home and office of a wealthy 17th century lawyer, which has seen a variety of uses since then, including a stint as a fish and chip shop. Today it houses a café and is home to a museum and heritage centre for the town and surrounding area.

The Oxford Times:

On the far side of Cumbria from the Eden Valley, the western part of the region is perched between the Lake District Fells and the Irish Sea coast.

The village of Ravenglass sits at a pivotal point on the coast, next to the estuary of the River Esk, which provides both a barrier to travel up and down the coast and a route east to the foot of the fells.

The strategic importance of the location led to the development of a Roman settlement and then, in the Middle Ages, to the construction of Muncaster Castle (muncaster.co.uk), which dominates the key river crossing to this day. In the Victorian heyday of British industry, Eskdale became the route of a railway intended to tap its iron ore and granite resources. The castle has been the home of the Pennington family since at least the early 13th century but some records suggest they may have been an important family in the area even before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

The Oxford Times:

Today the family share the castle – a combination of medieval fortifications with later additions to create a country house – with thousands of visitors every year and an array of birds of prey that live at the hawk and owl centre and appear in daily flying displays. These include owls of all shapes and sizes from all over the world that pass just inches from your face in a close-up show.

Down in the village, you will find the railway station, which is shared by Northern Rail’s trains along the coast between Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness and the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway (ravenglass-railway.co.uk).

The original 19th century 3ft-gauge mineral railway track was replaced during the First World War by a 15-inch gauge line, now home to small but sturdy steam engines that can pull heavy loads up the valley to Dalegarth station, just outside the village of Boot.

The smart modern station provides an opportunity for locomotive and passengers to rest and refuel – and enjoy the view of Scafell, the second highest mountain in England and slightly smaller neighbour of the highest, Scafell Pike.

The whistlestop tour, highlighting the variety of landscapes to be found in just one small corner of England, also includes a visit to Lake Windermere, the largest in the Lake District, with a steam train journey along the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway (lakesiderailway.co.uk) and a steamer trip across the lake.

Experience the Lakes and Dales by Steam on an escorted group tour with Rail Discoveries from £395 per person. The five-day trip includes hotel accommodation at the Hallmark Hotel, all rail travel and excursions and selected meals. See raildiscoveries.com/tours/lakes-and-dales-by-steam for more details and tour dates later this year (2020 dates will be released soon) or call 01904 734939.