Shap has always been a challenge to footplate crews and a magnet for enthusiasts. EVAN GREEN-HUGHES explores this famous location’s history and appeal.

Few are unmoved by the sight and sound of a large steam locomotive working hard against a heavy gradient. For more than 100 years, enginemen battled against the elements to take their trains across formidable hills on routes that taxed their locomotives to the limit.

Amongst these was the line that climbed over Shap Fell, part of the northern Lake District hills which rose to more than 1,000ft. Trains travelling south were faced with gradients of up to 1-in-75 for around five-and-a half miles while those going the other way had a less severe climb at 1-in-125, but for 12 miles. Shap is the highest point on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) in England, topping out in a cutting at 916ft above sea level. Into the diesel era it provided a considerable obstacle to trains, with many requiring banking assistance to get up at all and others crawling over the summit. 

No 46237 City of Bristol climbs Shap with the down 'Royal Scot' on September 14, 1955.Photo:  W.J. Verden Anderson/Rail Archive Stephenson

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