The Last Aerial Ropeway in Britain

A village north of Lancaster is home to a unique piece of industrial heritage.

Ever since I moved to the area I wondered what the strange 'ski-lift' was that crossed the main A683 at Claughton (pronounced Clof-ton) near Lancaster. I've driven under it hundreds of times and just dismissed it as an industrial curiosity. Only recently did I discover that it is an Aerial Ropeway - and it is now the last one in the country.

This aerial ropeway has a simple purpose: it transports shale rock from the quarry on top of the hill at Claughton Moor to the brick works on the A683, a journey of about a mile and a half. Constructed in the 1920s, the ingenious design needs no fuel to power it, relying entirely on gravity.

Just like a ski-lift, the ropeway has an 'up' and a 'down' side with buckets at regular intervals. The buckets are filled with shale at the top of the hill. Then, after they have reached the brick works and been emptied, they return to the top. It is simply the weight of the full buckets coming down that powers the return journey of the empty ones going back up.

The brick works at Claughton produces very high quality bricks, about 50 million each year, and this needs lots of shale. Each day, the ropeway delivers about 300 tons to the brick works.

The journey crosses mostly farm land but it also crosses the main A683 - hence the safety feature of the bridge which is intended to catch any buckets that derail over the road, although this hasn't happened for a very long time.

Aerial Ropeways used to be fairly common but this is now the last one in Britain. And when the quarry is exhausted in 2036, it will close and the ropeway will have to be dismantled. It can't be left as a piece of industrial heritage because it would need to be maintained and kept safe, and that would cost money.

Until then, most drivers passing under the bridge will briefly wonder what the 'ski-lift' is for, and will then forget about it and continue their journey.