From the junction with the A689 at Stanhope, the B6278 ascends nearly 800 feet in just over 1.5 miles – it is steep. Climbing north through Crawleyside to Weatherhill, where even the Speed Twin demands a downshift, the one thing you are not thinking is – “what a grand place this would be to build a railway”.
And yet, in the 1830s, this is precisely what was done in order to ship limestone and other raw materials for iron ore production in the northeast and beyond. Rope worked inclines were assisted by beam engines sited at Crawleyside and Weatherhill. According to the North Pennines Virtual Museum:
… the beam engines at Weatherhill and Crawley were part of the 1834 Stanhope and Tyne Railway, one of the first railways in the country, constructed to transport lime from the Stanhope kilns to the many lime depots located at strategic points all the way to South Shields. Its construction presented fantastic difficulties to overcome the rugged terrain and all means of power available were used to haul the cargo of lime from the kilns at Stanhope. Locomotives, horse power, self-acting inclines, cradles and rope haulage by standing engines were all employed in the task. The inspiration behind this railway was Westoe Wallis, a colliery owner from Medomsley in North West Durham. T E Harrison was the engineer and Robert Stephenson was the consultant engineer.
The Crawley incline was only 934 yards in length but by using grades of 1 in 8 and 1 in 12 it gained some 327 feet of vertical height. The haulage engine at Crawley was of 50 h.p. designed by George Stephenson and made by Hawks & Co., with a 2ft. 4in. diameter cylinder and 6ft. stroke.
Wagons were still faced with the long upward haul to the crest of the bleak moorland plateau at Weatherhill. This incline no less than I mile 128 yards in length had grades of 1 in 12 and was exposed to the mercy of the weather. The haulage engine at Weatherhill was another 50 hp. non-condensing engine by Hawks, again with a 2ft. 4in. diameter cylinder but a 5ft. stroke. Together with two winding drums 9ft. in diameter, this was located in a lofty stone edifice on the summit. This incline was on the three rail principle with a passing loop, and wagons were raised and lowered in sets of four or six which balanced up well with the shorter Crawley incline where the rule was for only two or three wagons per set.
The Weatherhill beam engine is now at the York Railway Museum, but at its original site, virtually no evidence remains, other than the Waskerley Way footpath that follows the line of the Stanhope and Tyne Railway. However, at Weatherhill summit, to the east of the main road, a line of vertical sleepers have been erected – at one time they presumably acted as a snow barrier. I like to think they were lifted from the nearby incline: