Those who know Yorkshire will know that there’s a significant railway heritage associated with both York and its namesake county. We recently took a trip down memory lane to see what the area had to offer. Our trip took in the Worth Valley Railway and then the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
We were to base our stay at the Cedar Court Hotel in Harrogate, so we set off by rail early on our departure day from Cardiff to get to our hotel by early afternoon. Our objective comfortably achieved, we went for a wander around Harrogate town to see what it had to offer.
It’s a prosperous town, with a lot of history. Originally a spa town built around its famous spring, it hasn’t homogenised like many other towns seem to have nowadays. It’s kept a huge amount of character, reflected in the architecture, the beautifully manicured gardens and parks and the wealth of independent businesses, eateries and shops.
One such business is Betty’s Tea Rooms, located right in the centre and offering afternoon teas in style. It’s so easy to succumb to temptation with all those goodies on display – and we did! At least we decided to walk back to the Cedar Court Hotel afterwards to burn off at least a few of those calories.
Choosing to dine at the Porterhouse Restaurant at the Cedar Court, our evening meal was absolutely delicious, with Potted Shrimps, Lamb Steak and Crème Bruleé all washed down with some delicious fizz. By bed time we were podged!
Worth Valley Railway
A one hour coach journey the following morning took us to Keighley, where we took a ride on the beautifully restored Worth Valley Railway. Being one of the railway lines earmarked for closure by the Beeching Report during the 1960s, it was promptly bought from British Rail by a preservation group. Watching the steam engine towing the train into the station was so evocative. I can clearly remember the working steam locos by the local coal mines back when I was a child. I used to stay with my grandparents in the South Wales valleys and I couldn’t help but jump back in time in my mind.
I’m in awe of the sheer passion that the volunteers have on these railways. Their dedication is immeasurable and their enthusiasm is contagious. As we trundled, hissing and puffing, up the Worth Valley Railway towards Haworth, we were given a talk by David Petit, one of the Worth Valley Railway’s stalwarts. There was also an opportunity to visit one of the engine sheds to see the restoration work that was going on.
No visit to Haworth would be complete without a mention of the Brontës and the Priory Museum. Carefully preserved and presented, it’s a fascinating insight into the lives of not just the renowned literary sisters and their father, but the way of life back in the early nineteenth century. There’s a wealth of quirky shops and cafes in Haworth too, but the Yorkshire pasty we had for lunch wasn’t a patch on the good old Cornish variety.
Over the Moors
Our departure from Haworth was on an open-topped double-decker bus, going out over the moors that inspired so many of the Brontës’ stories. We arrived at Oxenhope station in time to have a wander around the Goods Sheds and museum before re-boarding the train that was to take us back down the valley to Ingrow West.
Just outside Ingrow West station is the Worth Valley Rail Story and Carriage Works. Here we wandered around and sat in some of the old restored carriages from different eras. Sitting in a 3rd class carriage from the turn-of-the-century London Metropolitan Line gave a real insight into how train travel has evolved. We saw much of the ongoing restoration work and nothing was any trouble whatsoever to the enthusiastic and interesting volunteers. They even threw in a cup of tea for us.
North Yorkshire Moors Railway
One of the highlights of the trip was our day on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. As the train departed Pickering, another David gave a really helpful introduction and commentary. We headed out over the North Yorkshire Moors towards the coastal resort of Whitby via Grosmont and Goathland. Many will recognise Goathland Station as it was used during the filming of the Harry Potter films. It’s all picture-book pretty and beautifully restored to its former glory.
There’s something very special about riding in an old steam train. It’s the combination of whistle noise, puffs of steam, the smell of the fires and the rattle and puff of the engine as it pulls along. It is nostalgic, scenic and evocative. It reignites that excitement of younger years and blends it with the admiration and respect for the work and effort that goes into building and running these machines. There’s no production-line manufacturing here. Each engine is hand built and lovingly renovated.
Whitby and Chips!
Arriving at Whitby we disembarked into a lively and buzzing town filled with shops, market stalls, and – most noticeably – fish and chip shops. There are loads of them. It appears to be a part of the town’s make-up. So, when in Whitby… The chips were delicious, but beware those gulls. Nasty, cunning gulls that will snatch away your lunch in the blink of an eye. The stand-off is well worth it though. There are several sit-down options too, like the famous ‘Magpie’ fish and chip restaurant and the ‘Quayside’ fish bar. However, prepare for a wait for these on busy days. The contrast between the kiss-me-quick seaside bustle and elegant historical splendour of Harrogate proved the tremendous diversity that Yorkshire has to offer.
If you’re ever at a loose end in Harrogate we can thoroughly recommend the ‘Spirit of Harrogate’ Slingsby Gin experience. A lesson in the origins and history of gin culminating in a tasting of Slingsby Gin’s different products was fascinating. At the end of the experience you’re able to buy any of their products. Finally, just before leaving, you’re given the opportunity to see their latest innovation; make-your-own gins. It’s an enjoyable couple of hours and what with all the tasting, you leave educated and relaxed!
Overall, our Yorkshire trip proved to be a lovely surprise. Above all, it offered a combination of a warm welcome with no shortage of things to see and do. The fun we had riding on those old steam trains really put the icing on the cake.
So Mrs 50 Plus? What did she have to say?
The hours spent trundling through the Yorkshire countryside on lovingly-restored steam trains were very therapeutic. Everything is so fast nowadays and we always want to get everywhere by yesterday. Watching the impressive scenery slowly roll by with our tea and scones with jam and clotted cream, all felt very AgathaChristie-esque. The trip to Haworth and the Bronte Parsonage (my third visit) reawakened in me my love of the various Bronte Sisters’ books. Walking through the rooms where Wuthering Heights was first conceived and looking through the windows, the girls themselves looked out of was strangely moving. ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ is already by the side of my bed waiting for me to finish my current book.
The Rail Discoveries Yorkshire by Steam break was a real revelation to me. It was relaxing, enjoyable and well worth every penny. Would we go again? Well put it this way, we’re already looking at a rail holiday through Switzerland next Summer!”
“Trains & travel apart, The Spirit of Harrogate Slingsby Gin Experience was one of the highlights for me and not just because we were treated to all manner of interesting gin and tonic combinations! The Slingsby Rhubarb Gin with ginger was my favourite by a mile. So good, in fact, that I had to buy a bottle. We learned all about the history of gin over the course of a couple of hours, whilst quaffing ‘Mothers’ Ruin’, Fever Tree tonics and picking on tasty nibbles. What’s not to love!
Experience Yorkshire by Steam on an escorted group tour with Rail Discoveries . From £375pp, the 5-day trip includes 3-4* hotel accommodation, all rail and excursions and selected meals. Visit https://www.raildiscoveries.com/tours/yorkshire-steam-railway/ or call 01904 734 812