Full steam ahead – 8th October

Happy Birthday, John Tracy.

Okay, ignore the fact that I’ve just wished a character in a children’s television show a happy birthday.

(Happy birthday for yesterday, Steve. Now that’s a real person!)

Report to be loaded tomorrow. I hope.

Loaded report:

8 October 2015

Michael and Rosemary had been keeping today a surprise for me, but did tell me yesterday afternoon. We were off to a heritage steam railway track!


And so was the weather. After the grey, drizzly showers of yesterday, today was bright and blue. A perfect autumn day. (In fact I measured the temperature using my phone at one point when we were out enjoying the sun and it said it was 23°C.)

Getting there meant another long car trip, this time skirting York and heading for the town of Pickering. As the 11:00am run was scheduled to be pulled by a diesel locomotive, we were aiming to catch the steam “guaranteed” 12-midday run.

We had considered riding the train all the way to Whitby (where Captain Cook was born), but didn’t think that would give us time to look around.

We pulled into the North Yorkshire Moors Railway’s Pickering Station carpark and was told by a fellow attendee that the carpark was already full. After a quick spin around the carpark to get out of it, we were directed into another spot by a member of the station’s staff. It was in such a tight squeeze that I got out of the passenger side before Michael parked the car.

Following the signs we wandered along and reached the platform just in time to see the 11:00am run leave… Pulled by a steamer.


Next week they’re having some kind of WWII re-enactment/commemoration, and they were decorating all the stations along the track the same way that it would have during the war. Some alcoves were “bricked up” using “wallpaper” giving the impression that it was imitation John Palmer. (See Bath.) Other windows had crosses taped on them, and there were period posters all around the place.

Anyway, we had a look around and bought some souvenirs. The souvenir shop had Dad’s Army merchandise, probably because of the WWII thing, but even so it seemed a little odd when Dad’s Army was set in Walmington-on-Sea on the southeast coast of England and we were in Heartbeat/James Herriot/Last of the Summer Wine country.

Our train arrived and we chose our carriage, selecting four seats with a table so that Michael and I had window seats. That changed when Michael discovered that the windows in the corridor opened and he could stick his head out and admire the view. (Despite the signs saying not to stick your head out.) He got me and soon I was sticking my own head out to get photos of the train in motion. The guards weren’t worried.

I’m amazed at the English attitude to dogs. One the first leg of our trip a couple got on with (at a guess) a Labrador and a Whippet. They then sat in the seats opposite us with their dogs under the table and overflowing into the aisle… And smelling. And they weren’t the only ones of board. If I had a dog that size I wouldn’t dream of taking him on public transport unless there was an insurmountable reason for doing so.

We had several stops at stations on the way out, but didn’t get out ourselves until Grosmont. (If you want to speak proper Yorkshire, drop the “S”. “Gromont”.) First stop was lunch in the tearooms, served by a less than enthusiastic young man.

Then we had a look around the station and environs as various locos came and went. One of the engine drivers gave his loco’s valves a real burst as he trundled through the station. It looked fantastic, but was rather painful to hear. I had to give up on having my trigger finger glued to my shutter button, and shove it and its opposite number into my ears.

We had a look around the engine sheds and bought some souvenirs.

The 18 mile track from Whitby to Pickering was proposed in 1831, and the Whitby to Grosmont line opened on 8th  June 1835 – being extended from Grosmont to Pickering in 1836. Trees and Heather Moore, bound in sheepskins, were used to create a firm base for the track in boggy areas. This reminded me of the Manuka that was used as a base for New Zealand’s Main Trunk Line across the Waimarino (and I’ve probably got that wrong – check Wellington’s blog) wetlands.

For the first eleven years carriages were dragged along by horses… All except for the climb to the highest point. This is 500’ high and has a 1-in-15 incline and was originally negotiated by a hauling the carriages up by rope using a self-balancing system of water-filled tanks. Later they replaced this with a steam-winding system. Nowadays you can really hear the loco pulling up this incline, and some even have diesel engines at the rear for that little extra grunt.

The line was closed in 1965. In 1967 the North Yorkshire Moors Railway Preservation Society was formed and it is this group that keeps the track open as a going concern. And judging by the number of people there today – a working Thursday not in the school holidays – they are doing very well.

The clock at Grosmont dates from 1870 and belonged to the Northallerton Station. It was derelict when it was giving to Grosmont but was restored into a working timepiece.

The tunnel that offers a foot traffic link to the engine sheds had been designed by Frederick Swanwick, engineer George Stephenson’s assistant. It is 130 yards long (sorry it’s imperial – I’m going off a photo of a sign), 14 feet high, and 10 feet wide. Wide and high enough for a horse drawn carriage on rails. It is believed to be the world’s earliest passenger railway tunnel.

I assume that the bigger tunnel next to it was added later for the rail fleet.

When we had finished looking around Grosmont we planned to catch the train on the return journey and get out at Goathland for another look around. But the train was held up by another train closer to Whitby being delayed and we wound up with about half an hour less to explore.

Once we got moving we could really hear the engine pulling up the incline.

The town of Goathland seems to be principally a pub, the Goathland Hotel, a souvenir shop, a souvenir shop, tearooms with a souvenir shop attached, a garden art shop with a souvenir shop attached, and a souvenir shop. There wasn’t much more to the town aside from a few houses looking out over the Yorkshire Moors.

The reason why the town was so commercialised? It’s where they filmed the TV series based on Constable Nick Berry’s books – “Heartbeat”. The Goathland Hotel is also known as the “Aidensfield Arms”. The first souvenir shop is also the “Aidensfield Garage” and had the Ford Anglia used in the series as a police car outside.

We were just heading back to the station when the train arrived. As we sat in the six-seater compartment of a corridor car, we realised that we didn’t need to rush.

The train started moving again, and then stopped at Levisham. This was basically to give the train heading to Whitby a chance to get passed, and to swap over what I think are called (in New Zealand at least) the warrant. It basically works that the only train that can travel over a section of track with the one carrying the warrant. If you don’t have it, you can’t go. It’s like having the key to allow you access to the rails.

As the stop went on for a time, I asked if I could get out and take photos. I was told that there was no problem with this, so long as I made sure I was back on the train before it left. The best indicator of when that might be was when I heard a whistle.

So I got more photos. And then got back on in a hurry when I heard the sounds of the last train to Whitby.

We arrived back at Pickering very thirsty, but after 5.00pm, so the refreshments room was shut.

Walking back to where we had left the car, I got even more photographs. Especially when the train reversed back past us.

By the time we had pulled out of the carpark, we were all very thirsty, so we turned into the first service station we came across and Rosemary got us all a bottle of drink. Then we headed back to Leeds.

As you know, we’re in autumn and the sun was low in the sky. So low that it was shining below my sun visor (I was in the front passenger seat) and the best I could do was shut my eyes against it or look away from the road. Thank heavens I wasn’t driving!

But Michael didn’t have any problems and we made it safely to the Fox and Goose pub. I’d told the Blakes that I was going to pay for tonight’s dinner, and was lucky to discover that on Thursdays all food was 50% off. I thought today was Thursday, but I wasn’t 100% sure. (I haven’t been 100% sure since the plane left Auckland.) The Blakes hadn’t know about the 50% Thursdays, either, and now they’re planning on coming out here for the occasional meal.

The service there was not up to scratch. All the cutlery was placed on the table for us to share about and the wait staff had no problems about leaning over the table to serve the person on the other side. And my Hunters chicken with peas and mash looked a little lonely on the plate, but it tasted all right. The apple crumble came in a bowl that must have been about 25cm in diameter and was enough for decent sized helpings for four people! It was nice though.

All in all it was a great day, with great sights, sounds, and smells.

Foggy Dewhurst from “Last of the Summer Wine” (Full Steam Behind):”Warm oil and steam. It they could bottle that smell they’d make a fortune. Hundreds of placid, middle-aged men would be dabbling it behind their ears before they went out on a Saturday night.”

I don’t know that I’d go quite that far.

But it was fun and Yorkshire’s proven to me that it can have wonderful weather to go with its outstanding scenery. I can see why people like James Herriot loved it and so many TV series have been based here.

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