Back to reserve map

Smardale Gill

Stunning scenery provides a backdrop to this lovely reserve. The steep wooded slopes of Smardale gill contrasts with the views of open rolling countryside from the viaduct. A great place for flowers, butterflies and birds.

Highlights of Smardale Gill Nature Reserve

  • In spring bluebells, primrose and early purple orchid.
  • In summer orchids, bird'seye primrose, melancholy thistle, bloody cranesbill and butterflies.
  • In autumn find fellwort, devil's bit scabious, scotch argus butterflies.
  • Later in autumn and through the winter flocks of birds such as goldfinch, field fare and redwing feeding on the berries.
  • At any time look out for red squirrels and roe deer or explore the archaeology and geology.
  • Walk across the grade2* listed viaduct and share the breathtaking views.

About the Nature Reserve

Smardale Gill National Nature Reserve occupies a 6km/3.5 mile section of disused railway line which once ran from Tebay to Darlington. At the northern end, the nature reserve includes the steep wooded slopes of the gill carved by Scandal Beck, whilst south of Smardale Gill Viaduct the character of the nature reserve changes and you find yourself in open rolling countryside typical of the area.


Woodland has probably been present in Smardale Gill since the medieval period and as a result a great diversity of plant species can be found here. In spring you will find bluebells, primroses, wild garlic and many fern species on the woodland floor. Many of the trees are multi stemmed, evidence that coppicing has occurred in the past. In summer, bird species include redstart, wood warbler and pied flycatcher whilst buzzard, treecreeper and sparrowhawk may be seen all year round.

Limestone grassland

The grassland, which has colonised the railway cuttings and embankments, is also very rich in species due to the underlying limestone rock. Unusual plants to look for here include bloody cranesbill, fragrant and butterfly orchid. Smardale Gill is one of only two sites in England where the Scotch argus butterfly can be seen. Other butterflies include dark green fritillary, common blue, northern brown argus and dingy skipper.

Keeping it special

Non-native tree species, planted in the woodland in the past, are gradually being removed. The grassland areas are managed by late summer/autumn grazing and manual scrub control.

The Trust first purchased land at Smardale Gill in 1978, however there have been a number of subsequent acquisitions. The railway line was purchased from British Rail in 1991. The disused Smardale Gill Viaduct is owned by the Northern Viaduct Trust and urgent repair work was completed in February 2015. The site became a National Nature Reserve in 1997. For further information visit the Smardale Gill viaduct and Trust website

Getting here

Directions to Smardale Gill Nature Reserve


Nearby nature reserves

Waitby Greenriggs
1 miles - Cumbria Wildlife Trust
Tarn Sike
5 miles - Cumbria Wildlife Trust
Augill Pasture
6 miles - Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Nature reserve map

Reserve information

Near Kirkby Stephen
Kirkby Stephen
Map reference
NY 727 070
Great for...
a family day out
geological interest
historical interest
Best time to visit
Apr - Aug
Get directions
Find out here
Public transport
Plan your journey
Opening Times
Open at all times
40.00 hectares
National Nature Reserve (NNR)
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Easy access wide path with slight gradient. There are ramps at the Smardale and Newbiggin ends.
Walking information
The reserve provides 6km/3.5 miles of level walking and connects with a number of public footpaths.
Restricted car parking on site. For directions by car please click on 'read more' in the main text on the left or visit
Dogs must be on lead
Grazing animals
Cattle at times
Reserve manager
Andrew Walter
Tel: 01539 816300