Smardale Nature Reserve – a gem in the Westmorland Dales
Ancient woodland, flower-filled grasslands and stunning scenery ensure there’s interest in every step of your visit to Smardale Nature Reserve.
Lying within the picturesque landscape of the Upper Eden Valley, the nature reserve occupies a section of the now disused railway line that once ran from Tebay to Darlington.
From easily-accessible low-gradient paths along the former track bed, dramatic scenery and interesting wildlife await. Whether it’s the steep wooded slopes that plunge to meet the beck below, or the enclosed cuttings and reas of unspoilt limestone grassland, you’ll be enchanted by truly peaceful place.
What is now the nature reserve was carved from the underlying carboniferous limestone during the construction of the Stainmore railway, which was built to transport coke for the thriving iron industry. The railway opened in 1861 and closed in 1962, after just over 100 years.
Ironically, Smardale’s industrial past has created new areas of fantastic wildlife habitat and has saved others. Within the woodland, the banks on either side of the track would have been kept clear of trees when the railway was in operation. They have now been colonised by ash, birch, hazel and willow, providing a woodland-edge habitat enjoyed by birds like redstart, wood warbler, treecreeper and long-tailed tit.
Fragments of flower-rich grassland that once covered surrounding fields were also saved. These areas around the tracks escaped the agricultural improvements of the twentieth century, which is why the nature reserve is so rich in flowers today.