Spring has already arrived and summer is well under 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 Northeast’s most popular tourist attractions?
The North York Moors Railway (NYMR), a 24-mile line that stretches from Pickering to Whitby, is about an hour and twenty minutes’ drive from Hull, a perfect distance for an exciting day out, but in time for tea.
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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 in Whitby at 1.45pm. The return trip left the resort at 5:10 p.m. and was due to arrive in Pickering at 6:40 p.m.
Due to our numbers, we were assigned our own compartment, which comfortably accommodated six people. An off-peak Seaside Special compartment for six adults costs £110, but £121 with an additional 10% donation. A single adult ticket for the Seaside Special costs £41 off-peak and £43 at peak, while compartment prices start at £120 for peak Seaside Special services.
Traveling the entire line, you can expect the incredible experience of traveling in historic steam trains.
For Whitby our locomotive was LMS 5248 Eric Treacy, named after the retirement from the main line in honor of a railway photography enthusiast who was also the Bishop of Wakefield. Built in Newcastle in 1937 as part of the largest locomotive order ever placed by a British railway company with a private company, it was in service for 30 years. On the way back, a 1960s diesel engine takes us to Grosmont before being replaced by another steam locomotive, an LNER Q6, which has been running on the NYMR since 1970.
I’ve traveled on heritage lines before, but the sight of the steam train rolling or being supplied with water is still captivating. Likewise, I love the feeling of time travel in historic cars. There are few experiences that can match this feeling.
Amenities and information
Although you may feel like you’re traveling back in time, that doesn’t mean you’re getting away from modern conveniences. Facilities are available at or near each regular station, including tea rooms in Pickering and Whitby, and a gift shop in Pickering with an impressive range of souvenir options to celebrate a day on the NYMR.
A buffet service with snacks and drinks was also available on both train journeys. The buffet attendant was the only paid NYMR staff member on the trip.
The most surprising feature of traveling on the NYMR was an informative guide riding the train, available to answer any questions visitors had about the line and the scenery. I have traveled on a number of other UK heritage lines and cannot recall encountering volunteers dedicated solely to the educational aspect of traveling on a heritage railway.
Paul, the information guide we met, was a source 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 appeared in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as Hogsmeade Station, is defined as a 1920s station. Goathland was used as a filming location for the short term with local school children used as extras.
According to Paul, many extras hoped to take home their Hogwarts uniforms as souvenirs. But these were unfortunately counted by the costume department.
NYMR has approximately one thousand volunteers, 230 of whom are involved in locomotive engine-related activities. It usually takes five to ten years to go from being a locomotive cleaner to driving a train. With enthusiastic and helpful volunteers like information guide Paul, the line is healthy.
The landscape and the outings
The NYMR is also a starting point for new adventures. Traveling on the latest Seaside Special service offered three hours to Whitby. It was enough time to climb the 199 steps to get a closer look at Whitby Abbey, walk along part of the harbor defences, along the historic town street and eat chips in a restaurant.
A recurring feature at stations along the way between Pickering and Whitby were clearly marked walking paths for exploring the North York Moors. I love a good hike and I’m sure the next time I travel the Heritage Line I’ll want to see for myself the spectacular natural amphitheater that is the Hole of Horcum, located near Levisham station.
Along the way, the railway follows a series of becks or rivers, including passing the spectacular Larpool Viaduct over the River Esk just outside Whitby. Although it winds through valleys, the highest point of the line still reaches 532 feet above sea level.
If I had one complaint, it’s the limited time trains stop at stations between Pickering and Whitby. Aside from Grosmont, most stops are less than a few minutes long, making even a quick photo in Goathland a risky business. Still, that means there’s plenty more to explore on future visits.
All in all it was a wonderful day. The NYMR is a fantastic experience on its own, but there are also plenty of options for using it as a launchpad for wider excursions, including moorland hikes.
The line opened this year on April 4, a little later than normal due to the installation of a bridge just before Goathland, and will run until October 30. To find out more about the North York Moors Railway, Click here.