Spring has already sprung and Summer is well on its way too and with the change of seasons has come the return of the North York Moors Railway.
What better time to review one of the most popular visitor attractions in the North East?
The North York Moors Railway (NYMR)24 miles of line stretching from Pickering to Whitby, is about an hour and twenty minute drive away from Hull, a perfect distance for an exciting day out, but back in time for tea.
Along with four companions, I went on the off-peak Seaside Special service with tickets provided courtesy of NYMR. We took the midday service from Pickering, arriving at Whitby at 1.45pm. The return trip left the seaside resort at 5.10pm and was scheduled to arrive back in Pickering at 6.40pm.
Due to our number, we were assigned our own compartment, able to comfortably fit six people. An off-peak Seaside Special compartment for six adults costs £ 110, but £ 121 with an extra 10 per cent donation. A single adult ticket for the Seaside Special costs £ 41 during off-peak times and £ 43 in peak, while the compartment prices start at £ 120 for peak Seaside Special services.
Traveling the whole line, you can expect to be blessed with the awesome experience of riding historic steam trains.
To Whitby our locomotive was the LMS 5248 Eric Treacy, named after mainline retirement after a railway photographer enthusiast who was also the Bishop of Wakefield. Built in Newcastle in 1937 as part of the largest ever locomotive order placed by a British railway company with a private firm, it was in service for 30 years. On the return leg, a 1960s diesel engine took us to Grosmont before being changed over for another steam locomotive, an LNER Q6, which has run on the NYMR since 1970.
I have traveled on heritage lines before, but the sight of the steam train chugging along or being stocked up with water remains captivating. Likewise, I adore the sense of traveling back through time in the heritage carriages. There are few experiences which can match that sensation.
Amenities and Information
While you may feel like you are traveling back in time, that does not mean you are traveling away from modern comforts. Facilities are available at, or close to, each scheduled station, including tearooms at Pickering and Whitby, and a gift shop at Pickering with an impressive range of options for memorabilia to celebrate a day out on the NYMR.
A buffet service with snacks and drinks was also available on both of the train journeys. The buffet service worker was the only paid NYMR member of staff on the trip.
The most surprising feature of traveling on the NYMR was an information guide going through the train, available to answer any and every question visitors had about the line and landscape. I have traveled on a number of other British heritage lines and I cannot remember meeting any volunteers dedicated purely to the educational aspect of traveling on a heritage railway.
Paul, the information guide we met, was a font of knowledge. He explained that each station on the line has a different color theme and is set to a different decade of the 20th century.
For example, Goathland Station which featured in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as Hogsmeade Station, is set as a station from the 1920s. Goathland was used as a filming location at short notice with local schoolchildren used as extras.
According to Paul, many of the extras hoped to take home their Hogwarts uniforms as souvenirs. But these were sadly counted in and out by the costume department.
The NYMR has approximately a thousand volunteers, of which 230 are involved in locomotive engine-related activities. It usually takes five to ten years to progress from a locomotive cleaner to driving the train. With enthusiastic and helpful volunteers like information guide Paul, the line is in good health.
The Scenery and Trips Out
The NYMR is also a starting point for further adventures. Traveling on the later Seaside Special service afforded three hours in Whitby. That was enough time to walk the 199 steps up to take a closer look at Whitby Abbey, wander along part of the harbor defences, along the town’s historic street and have some chips in a restaurant.
A recurring feature at the stations along the way between Pickering and Whitby were clearly marked walking trails to explore the North York Moors. I love a good hike and feel sure the next time I travel on the heritage line, I will want to see for myself the spectacular natural amphitheater that is the Hole of Horcum, located near Levisham Station.
Throughout the journey, the railway follows a series of becks or rivers, and this includes passing by the spectacular Larpool Viaduct over the River Esk, just outside Whitby. Despite snaking its way through valleys, the highest point of the line still reaches 532 feet above sea level.
If I had one complaint, it is the limited time the trains stop at the stations between Pickering and Whitby. Grosmont aside, most stops last less than a couple of minutes, making even a quick station photo at Goathland a risky business. Still, it means there is plenty more to explore in future visits.
Overall, it was a marvelous day out. The NYMR is a fantastic experience itself, but there are also plenty of options to use it as a launchpad for wider excursions, including hikes in the moors.
The line opened this year on April 4, slightly later than normal due to a bridge installation just before Goathland, and runs until October 30. To find out more about the North York Moors Railway, click here.