Steaming through Yorkshire with Great Rail Journeys
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From Harrogate to Haworth and Whitby on heritage trainlines
If you love the classic film The Railway
Children, then a steam train trip in Yorkshire will be just your cup of tea.
You could even wear scarlet underwear as a tribute to Jenny Agutter and her red
petticoats. (We’ll keep that between ourselves.)
I sampled a little taster of Rail
Discoveries’ 5-day Yorkshire By Steam tour and the hiss of the engines and toot
of the whistles made me want to run down the platform shouting, ‘Daddy, my
daddy!’ I can’t remember the last time I actually did run anywhere but that
doesn’t spoil the fantasy.
My trip started in Harrogate, on the edge of
the Yorkshire Dales, where I checked into the historic Cedar Court Hotel,
established in 1671. With time to explore, I was keen to experience tea and
cake at Bettys and visit the Royal Pump Room Museum.
Famous visitors to the Georgian spa town
include Charles Dickens who declared: ‘Harrogate is the queerest place with the
strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading
and dining.’ Sounds all right to me.
At the Cedar Court’s Porterhouse Restaurant a juicy rib-eye steak daubed with truffle oil
is served with parmesan fries. Instead of suggesting a quick polka, I retired
to bed with a copy of Jane Eyre, in preparation for the morning’s outing to the
Brontë Parsonage in Haworth.
We’re travelling on the Keighley & Worth
Valley Railway which opened in 1867 to carry coals to local mills. It was
closed by Beeching in 1961, then reopened in 1968 as a 5-mile heritage railway.
Steam engines and vintage carriages are such
a passion for rail connoisseurs that many hundreds donate their time, savings
and expertise to keep them running. Spare parts are cannibalised from old
trains all over the world and working locomotives have to be regularly stripped
and overhauled which is a very costly business.
Our two guides, David and David, explained
how a steam train boiler is a bit like a pressure cooker. The Goods Sheds at
Haworth is where many are carefully maintained with all manner of giant bolts,
washers and rivets.
Pace yourself for the walk up steep Main
Street to the Brontës’ former home because it’s worth it. This fascinating
museum has many of the family’s possessions on display, including Charlotte’s
silk and lace wedding bonnet. It’s easy to imagine how the blustery moorland
behind the parsonage inspired sister Emily’s novel Wuthering Heights.
A vintage 1965 bus then took us onto Oxenhope
and we popped into Keighley & Worth Valley Railway’s two Railway History
museums at Ingrow, the Engine Shed and Carriage Works, before returning to
Harrogate at gin o’clock.
The Slingsby Gin Experience at Spirit of Harrogate is
definitely the way to do aperitifs. Experiment with creating the perfect
G&T while learning the amazing story of gin, a base spirit flavoured with
juniper, thought in the 14th century to ward off the plague. (£40
per person for 4 drinks and generous nibbles, a 2.5 hour experience.)
I decided Slingsby Yorkshire Rhubarb Gin
mixed with Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water is nectar, especially if accompanied
by giant green olives.
North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a Charitable
Trust, operates an historic line between Pickering and Grosmont and joins Network
Rail to continue to seaside town and former fishing port, Whitby. In 1845 steam
engines were introduced and it cost a shilling to sit on the roof, more to travel
Closed in 1965, a preservation group formed
and steam locomotives began running again in 1976. We breakfasted in a retro
carriage and wondered if one particular volunteer, who travels all the way from
New Zealand each year to drive the train, was in charge up front.
At the mouth of the River Esk, Whitby was the
town where Captain Cook learned about sailing. The clifftop view to Whitby
Abbey on East Cliff through the Whalebone Arch is a postcard location and the
bones once signified that whalers had survived a whale hunt. The current pair
(not the originals) come from a bowhead whale killed legally by native Alaskan
Bram Stoker visited in 1890 and the windswept
headland, black Whitby Jet jewellery - made from fossilised wood - and dramatic
ruins inspired his horror novel, Dracula.
On our return journey after takeaway fish and
chips on the pier, the train stopped at Goathland, which doubled as Aidensfield
in TV's Heartbeat and featured as the Hogwarts Express stop at Hogsmeade in the
Harry Potter films. Dedicated JK Rowling fans can rent a carriage in a siding
at Goathland for a holiday stay.
The front of our engine was adorned with a pretty wreath and, when we enquired why, found out we were travelling with a bereaved family on a special memorial trip. By special arrangement, a railway enthusiast can request their ashes are placed in the firebox and turned into steam at one of the loveliest spots along the track.
It’s a beautiful idea.
By Steam on an escorted group tour with Rail Discoveries, visit www.raildiscoveries.com or call 01904
734 812. From £375pp, the 5-day trip includes 3-star and 4-star hotel
accommodation, all rail and excursions and selected meals.
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