Steam locomotives on the Settle-Carlisle Railway once assuaged their thirst north of Rise Hill Tunnel. On a straight and level stretch of the line – rare on this “middle route to Scotland” – water troughs were installed at a cost of £4,396. They held between five and six thousand gallons, about a third of which might be taken up by the tender of a single train in a few dramatic moments. Dr Bill Mitchell, of Giggleswick, who has studied the history of the Settle-Carlisle, formed a special fascination for tales about the troughs, which were installed in 1907 and removed half a century later.

By good fortune, long years ago, I was permitted to travel northwards on the Settle-Carlisle line on the footplate of a steam locomotive that was hauling a goods train. It was a joy to peer at familiar viaducts from a new angle. In the confines of long tunnels the sound was ear-tingling.

Rise Hill was the tunnel I best remembered, and not just for its length. When the goods train burst out into daylight, I looked ahead and glimpsed water troughs – a feature of the Settle-Carlisle that had long fascinated me.

The Pennine rainfall ensured there was water in plenty and a stream was diverted into a small reservoir. Work on the dam for the reservoir was carried out by between 50 and 60 men. Building materials were conveyed across the fell on a temporary light railway.

Harry Cox, a principal informant of mine on aspects of the Settle-Carlisle line, said work on the dam went on for nearly 12 months.

So came the day when some “top brass” arrived to witness the stream being returned to its old course and water backing up behind the dam.

Alas, not enough cement had been used on the dam. An attempt had been made to save the Midland Railway’s finances. The dam leaked like a sieve and so the work had to be done again.

When completed satisfactorily, water flowed from here to a lineside storage tank that had a capacity of 43,000 gallons. A liquid mixture composed of several ingredients was drip-fed into the tank to keep the water clean and free-running.

One element in the water softened it. Another element, known as “boiler tan”, prevented the interior of the boiler from rusting. Thirdly, an anti-foam substance prevented frothing.

The tank was kept heated by a boiler. Steam passed through copper pipes. A man on night-duty stoked up the fire, using for some of the time coal that had been washed from the tenders of passing trains. Water was fed, under controlled conditions, into the troughs.

The area being remote, a duty man was appointed to keep his eye on the system. He was also expected to prevent water in the reservoir from freezing over. The troughs were designed to fill up, under normal circumstances, in about ten minutes.

Nearly all the expresses picked up water at the Garsdale troughs, except when they were frozen over in winter or had dried out in summer. They were inclined to be clogged with fallen leaves in the autumn.

The local gang would spend much time in the colder months picking ice from between trough and rail, lessening the risk of a train leaving the tracks. Men on such duty were provided with clogs.

When the first locomotives had used the troughs, folk gathered to watch, attracted by the novelty. Alas, the scoops on the locomotives were not working right. Water was simply being pushed out of the troughs – and sightseers were soaked to the skin. A means of “cutting” the water was devised.

Veteran footplate men told me that collecting water at the Garsdale troughs involved split-second timing. The scoop had to be wound down into the troughs at the right time. A concrete post with an oil lamp was supposed to act as a marker after dark. Being run by oil, the lamp had usually gone out when needed.

If the night was pitch-black – or during wartime conditions – a night driver counted bridges. One. Two. At the third bridge, the scoop must go in. If there had been a train using the troughs not long before, they might still be in the re-filling process.

If the water was frozen, the driver of a locomotive on the “down” line would have to make a stop for water at Appleby. The driver of the goods train I was using recalled: “If there was hardly any water left, I’d get a bit jittery in case the train couldn’t make Appleby in time.”

The scoop must not be put into the water too far – and it must be taken out as quickly as possible or water would pour through a grate and soak the footplate men. If the duty fireman had a poor opinion of the driver, he’d deliberately leave the scoop in longer than was necessary. The driver got a soaking!

In warm weather, the guard walked from carriage to carriage, warning passengers to keep the windows closed.

When steam-heating was introduced at the lineside, there was the assurance of a flow of water to the troughs. OS Nock, the celebrated railway writer, described a journey on the old 40552.

He recalled: “With screaming whistle, she led us into Rise Tunnel; out again on to that dizzy ledge above Garsdale to the highest water troughs in England.

“The driver…lowered his scoop at 60mph. The tender was evidently fuller than he thought, for in seconds it had overflowed and we, on the second engine, were smothered. Involuntarily, I ducked, for the water came over in a solid cascade and hit our cab glasses with a roar rather than a splash.”

Ozzie Nock, as we were inclined to call him – though not to his face – once called at my home at Giggleswick. It overlooks a stretch of the Settle-Carlisle line updale from Settle station. A committee meeting was in progress and he popped in to be updated about recent events.

Then, facing the large window in the drawing room which offered the best view of the railway, he knelt – reverently, we thought. This was not the case. He presumed that the window ledge was level. By kneeling he compared this with the ruling 1 in 100 gradient of the Settle-Carlisle railway!

Other visitors, being told about it, have done precisely the same and had their idea of the gradient visually confirmed.

Back to the Garsdale water troughs. In the 1950s, they were removed for maintenance. A few years later they were taken up – and sent for scrap.