HOPES of reopening a unique piece of Cumbria’s history to walkers has been given a boost after a £5,000 grant.

The Northern Viaduct Trust, owners of the Smardale Gill Viaduct, near Kirkby Stephen, had put out a desperate appeal two weeks ago for funds after it shut the Grade II* listed structure last year because of safety concerns.

The trust needs up to £30,000 to replace the handrails to make it safe for walkers to cross on the permissive path.

It hopes restore access by Christmas until the next phase of larger scale works takes place.

On Wednesday, however, it was announced the trust had received a £5,000 grant from the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership.

The money comes from its Love Your Landscape grants fund, specifically to help restore public access to the site.

The boost has been warmly welcomed by Nanette Rigg, trustee of the Northern Viaduct Trust, but she warns that more funds are needed before public access is restored.

She said: “We are very grateful to the partnership but it is not the total amount we need.

“The handrails are very expensive.

“This will be the first tranche of work that would allow us to open to the public, then we’ll have a lot of other work that needs to be done.

“Two years ago we had a ‘touch and feel’ survey that identified a number of different things, work that needed to be done immediately like the handrails.

“Second we need a more extensive survey that can identify what exactly needs to be done and there is a significant amount of water leakage.

“We have asked people to support us and we’ve had a fabulous response. We know Covid-19 is a problem for everyone so we didn’t want to ask for money in this terrible situation but we felt we had to.”

Neil Cleeveley, chairman of the trust, had previously said: “We want to get it open again as soon as possible.

“As a small charity with no regular income, we need to find the money to supplement our own limited funds for the project.”

Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership is made up of organisations such as Friends of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Cumbria County Council, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Eden District Council, Eden Rivers Trust and many others.

It works with a wide range of community groups, schools, landowners and individuals in the delivery of projects to support local heritage, people and communities.

The viaduct was designed in 1861 by the Cumbrian engineer Sir Thomas Bouch and constructed of locally-quarried stone to form 14 arches of 30ft span, is more than 90ft over the beck below and has a total length of 553ft.

To donate to the campaign go online to www.edenviaducts.org.uk