Beautiful Wensleydale by Train and Foot

Today we will learn about the origins of the Redmire Line, some reminiscences regarding the use of the guards’ vans of the goods trains that were often parked at Castle Hills Junction in the 1950s and 1960s and a big plug for the excellent Wensleydale Railway  – oh, and a nice walk from Redmire back to Leyburn. You’ll get a bit of history to boot.

Today we’re going to Redmire using the excellent Wensleydale Railway and then walking back over Leyburn Shawl so here’s the history

Leyburn Shawl

Mary Queen of Scots had a colourful life acceding to the Scottish throne at only 6 days old; however, she spent most of her childhood living in France whilst regents ruled Scotland on her behalf. At 15 she married the dauphin who eventually became King of France which meant she briefly became Queen of France until a year later when he went feet-up and she returned to Scotland. The moral here is “Make hay whilst the sun shines as tomorrow you may die”.

Four years later and she married her cousin Lord Darnley.  Fickle buggers these royals!

At this point, you might think, ‘What the hell is he rambling on about?’, well please bear with me.

They produced a son, James then a year later the house was destroyed in an explosion and Darnley was found murdered in the garden and James Hepburn, 4th Early of Bothwell was believed to be implicated but acquitted at trial. 

…keep bearing with me…

A month after the acquittal Mary and the Earl got married and the Scottish folks took umbrage, threw a tantrum, binned them both, locked Mary up and forced her to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son James. The moral here is don’t act too quick even in love and especially after a murder. 

Now keep an eye on James, he’s only a baby but you never know what life will throw at you.

Mary makes a break into the northern counties but Elizabeth I of England is a bit twitchy about her motives as Mary had previously made a bid for the English throne and there was a significant number of English Catholics that supported the idea so – long story short – Liz locked her up for 18 years. In fairness, her incarceration was in luxury because she was of royal stock but Liz moved her about to ensure there was no chance of a build-up of allegiance and any consequent threat to the English throne.

One of the places that she was purported to have spent her time was Bolton Castle where she managed to contrive an escape into the woods near Leyburn. They let the dogs out and chased her of course and she made a tremendous attempt to lose them by running and hiding in the thick woods around the castle but eventually, she lost her shawl in the prickly gorse and it was this that gave her away. She was eventually moved to Fotheringay Castle where she was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by beheading. 

These days the executioner would have been subject to a personal improvement plan and ordered to undergo retraining as the reports were thus.  

“The first blow only cut into her head, the second blow cut through some of her neck but a third piece of sawing action was necessary to complete the separation”. There are two morals here:

1. don’t upset the monarch…
2. should the above advice be too late then ask for an executioner trained to Level Three City and Guilds in Assorted Death Penalties  who’s studied the Advanced Cerificate in Head Removal then buy him a new, recently sharpened axe and finally, offer him a huge tip for a clean strike.

Baby James was destined for greater things and became King James I of England and VI of Scotland unifying the two countries but the two bits of his mum would never know this.

Now what the devil has this got to do with walking near Leyburn you may ask? Well, the ridge that we would be walking is called Leyburn Shawl and legend has it that Mary’s break for freedom and loss of her shawl is the reason for said name. 

Of course, there is a counter-claim that shaw’el means ‘woodland on a hill’ and this is the reason for the name but I prefer the former.

I have a starting point at York and TP Express cancel my train so the irony is that I may miss the walk due to a failure on the national network causing me to miss the Wensleydale Railway connection from Leeming to Redmire; however, a passing LNER train to Edinburgh saves the day although my ticket doesn’t technically cover me for travel on their enhanced rolling stock. Like before, I’m keeping my head low with my story of the cancelled train at the ready but it’s not necessary and within 20 minutes I’m at Northallerton station and heading for my car to head for Leeming and the excellent Wensleydale Railway service to Redmire.

The Redmire Line

It was closed to passengers in 1954, three years after my birth but kept open to haul stone and keep heavy lorries off the tiny roads through the dale. It also has a strategic aim in as much as heavy military machines can be transported quickly and efficiently from Catterick should the need arise.


The car park at Leeming is nearly full and I’m lucky enough to get one of the last spaces but there is ample space on the road if you take advantage of this service. 

There is the smell of coal and steam that immediately reminds me of my childhood near the main East Coast Line linking Edinburgh to London. We lived in an end-terrace house in Castle Hills.

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Living at Castle Hills

We lived in the end terrace house with a long back garden that ran adjacent to the embankment carrying the main north/south railway line. The edge of the garden and the embankment was defined by a wooden fence that would be painted with creosote every couple of years and during the summer the smell would be pungent and if we played on the fence there would be repercussions from my Mam regarding, “Your stinking clothes!’ You may think a fence has just one objective in life and that would be to keep people from wandering onto railway property, after all, there was little chance of stopping the trains passing at sixty or seventy miles per hour whether it was an emergency or otherwise. However, we discovered another use.

If we put milk bottles on the posts we found that the firemen and sometimes the driver of those huge steam-breathing beasts thundering up and down the mainline from Edinburgh to London and back would throw coal at them as they passed. They rarely hit one so the harvest of coal that we gathered from the garden was well worth it and filling the coal house throughout the year became a novelty rather than a necessity and some of the hard winters were well catered for with free coal. For interest, the reason for the exclusive use of milk bottles was that lemonade in bottles was rarely bought because we didn’t have a lot of money and if we did there was 3d (three old pennies or just over a new penny) on each empty bottle if we returned them. Bear in mind a three-penny-bit had considerable buying power for a small boy on his way to school so even though the chance of breakage was tiny, we never took the chance.

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…Back to the smell of steam

As I walk onto the platform I see the culprit, it’s a J27 although I don’t know that yet, I have to Google it but what I see makes fascinating reading. This is a fabulous machine first designed in the early 1900’s the first batch being produced in 1906. The one that I’m looking at was actually built in 1923 and weighs 86 tons, it had a brush with death in the mid-’60s when it was sent to Tyne Doc for dismantling and breaking. In 1967 it was bought by a dedicated group of enthusiasts and beautifully restored then purchased by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and maintained by them still. It’s currently on loan for us to enjoy and it’s worth spending some time here or at any point along this fabulous railway to see the spectacle of a ‘steamer’ in full flow in this glorious dale.

Click on any photo to be able to page through at full size

Please remember though that this is not a commercial organisation, it needs our cash to sustain it so, when possible, please use it or give generously to any of the appeals, it really is worthwhile.

Yorkshire Ramblings

The ‘boys’, I use the term with affection (average age is now 70+) but our heads are 17, are waving enthusiastically from the buffet car, it’s Yorkshire Day and we’ll be celebrating with a cup of Yorkshire tea on the way to Leyburn.

Ensconced now in the standard livery seats we’re in full flow, it’s astonishing the noise that a group of enthusiastic ‘mature’ gentlemen can make but we’re tolerated for the wit.

Young Michael is looking after us and he’s out on the platform ensuring there are no stragglers as the doors are closed then with a loud and meaningful whistle he jumps on board, closes that last door and we’re ready to go.

I’ll not describe every aspect of the rail journey save to say we’re well looked after by the team. Michael, the ticket inspector, and guard; Nigel, the train manager; Niall and Keeley, both on day release from ‘proper jobs’ and manning the buffet car with smiles and enthusiasm; Vince is the driver today and his expertise ensures a safe and smooth journey to Redmire. Thank you to all of you, you’re a credit to the Wensleydale Railway and I urge readers to take a trip up to Leyburn or beyond just for a day out. It’s about an hour and the scenery is wonderful.

Redmire Station

We alight at Redmire and although being able to pee standing behind a bush is an advantage of being a man we call in at the portaloo just to check it’s clean!

The first part of the walk is ‘up’. It’s better that way. We do occasional walks where the ‘up’ is at the end and they’re a bit wearing if you’ve already covered seven or eight miles.

So we’re looking for a lane that heads off the main road towards Redmire Scar but we find that much of the area has been fenced with “Do Not Enter” signs indicating the quarries as no-go areas. There has been a new footpath established but we’ll only know that when we reach the top as the signage doesn’t start until we’ve actually arrived at the footpath (not helpful); however, we have GPS and a paper OS map so follow the track as designated and risk the wrath of the man with the clipboard if it happens (it doesn’t).

As we reach the top of Redmire Scar the full extent of beautiful Wensleydale becomes clear, it’s fabulous at any time but even better today in the sunshine.

We manage to find a style next to a sign indicating that we should not enter; however, there is little option so we scramble our way up the scree and emerge at a point that we recognise from last time. It turns out that this path has been closed and rerouted around the other side of the quarry but we’re on top of it now and only a couple of hundred metres from being ‘legal’.

To the North, there is a column. None of us have any idea what it is and it’s too far away to walk to it to find out so if anyone could throw any light on this mysterious column in the middle of the Preston Moor or thereabouts I’d appreciate it.

We stop for lunch and a steam train whistles its intention to pull the train out of Redmire back towards Leyburn and we strain our eyes trying to identify it in the row of trees that camouflage the line, especially in the cuts. We do get a few sightings and they’re fabulous but at 1000 feet (300m) plus the linear distance, it makes it impossible to get good photos without a long lens. 

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The sight of the smoke and steam reminds me of adventures with my best pal Stuart when we were eight or nine. We played in the fields and along the embankments, especially near Castle Hills Junction where there had been allotments along the wide verges North of the track.

Two things spring to mind.

One was the wonderful soft fruits like strawberries, raspberries and brambles that we could pick and gorge ourselves with – and we did.

The other was the goods trains that would be parked there sometimes for weeks. The Guards Van was always unlocked and it had a pot-bellied stove that could be lit and fed with the coal that was stashed in a cast iron container that we could hardly lift so we just picked the coal nuggets with our hands and placed them on the pile of twigs that we’d acquired from the hedgerows and lit using some matches that I would ‘borrow’ from my dad’s Swan Vestas box. He was a pipe smoker so there was never any issue with the supply. This cosy box on wheels would be our den through the winter months until…

…one day, I’d managed to steal a cigarette from my mam’s pack and we’d gone to the Guard’s Van to smoke it. However, Stuart’s dad had recognised the furtive signs of mischief and followed us and came bursting in just as we’d managed to get it lit. Stuart shot out of the other end of the van like a bullet. He’d cleared the rails and was partway across the meadow adjacent before he was caught. He was giggling and crying at the same time which made his dad worse but the whole thing was a great adventure and whilst I took the silly route and started smoking, Stuart took the sensible route and didn’t. I think Stuart’s dad won!

Whilst I think of Castle Hills Junction. One day in the 1950s my mam called us in and we were washed and changed into clean clothes then we walked up to the Junction where a VERY posh train was standing. We walked along its length in the field adjacent until we saw the faces of Prince Philip and the Queen smiling at us and waving very regally as we waved back in an exaggerated and self-conscious manner.  There was no security that I remember and we dispersed fairly rapidly after we got the smile and the wave. Apparently, the Royal Train was parked up there for a while and word had travelled fast!

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Another 200 yards (190m) we turn down towards Preston-Under-Scar ensuring that, on this occasion, we walk to the left of the fence and avoid the bollocking that Pete got from the farmer last time we were here.

The name Preston-Under-Scar is said to be derived from “Priests Farm Under Rock (or Cliff)” and seems entirely appropriate when the ecclesiastical activities in these parts especially in the early years are considered,

Later, there was significant lead processing conducted here and there is still evidence and buildings in Condenser Wood nearby. It is said that the processing of the lead and the low chimneys meant the fumes would cling to the valley and not disperse; because of this, they built a flue that extended over 2 miles (3km) and fed into a chimney at Cobscar Mill over 1200 feet (380m) above Preston-under-Scar.

We leave the village along the tarmac road and within a couple of hundred yards bear left onto the public footpath across the field and into the woods where we cross a number of streams (or it could have been the same stream several times) over simple plank bridges. This part of the walk is pleasantly cool and we take advantage of the new atmosphere by slowing down and enjoying the birdsong and odd rabbit in the glades.

As we leave the wood the track bears left then cuts across two fields well out in the open then goes up and the incline increases steadily as we traverse the open ground. At the top, we’re out of breath and stop. We can see the rolling expanse of Wensleydale including Penhill, the views are astonishing.

For the next half mile or so we only get the occasional teasing glimpse of the dale. We’re on the Leyburn Shawl and there is a sporadic bench seat dedicated to some locals who enjoyed the walk with the odd one highly decorated or carved.

The walking is easy along here and the next mile and a half goes very quickly and before we know it Leyburn is upon us and a place to eat is the only decision left.

We’ve eaten at various establishments in Leyburn and always been well looked after so the ‘all day breakfast’ that two of our midst indulge in are unsurprisingly excellent and we manage to while away an hour before the return leg on the Wensleydale Railway. A word of advice, do leave yourself plenty of time (20 minutes) to walk from town to the station, it’s a goodly walk along the Bedale road.

The ride back is just as scenic as our journey to Redmire but the shadows are longer and we’re pleasantly tired. There is much less talk and banter but that’s a good thing and allows time for rumination about our school years and the impact of these steam-breathing-beasties with such wonderfully social carriages. I think of school and the headmaster…

Applegarth School

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In my dozy/relaxed state, I could feel the wheels hitting the gaps in the railway lines, ra ta ta tat ta, ra ta ta tat ta and my mind drifted back to my idyllic primary school days at the Applegarth.

The sun was shining through the elevated windows illuminating the fine dust in the atmosphere in our classroom like sunbeams depicted in old masterpieces. The windows were deliberately set at that height by the architect to discourage us, daydreamers, from looking out of the window when we should be learning. Miss Wise was reading us a story and Mr Oliver came in to talk to us about poetry. As nine and ten-year-olds we didn’t see Mr Oliver as a teacher, he was the Headmaster so his job was to be ‘in charge’ and do assemblies although he did mix with us children frequently either in class or in the playground when he did playground duty. He encouraged us to use our skates as a primitive form of skateboard by straddling the skate with an old hardback book and sitting on it – but that’s another story.

Today he was talking to us about poetry and asked us to read ‘From a Railway Carriage’ by Robert Louis Stevenson and we all had a go but were reciting it in a flat wooden tone. It rhymed ok, you couldn’t take that away from the prose; however, it wasn’t right so he delivered it to the rhythm of the train wheels as they hit the rails – ra ta ta tat ta, ra ta ta tat ta.

Faster than fairies, faster than witches
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches
Charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows, the horses and cattle
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain
And ever again in the wink of an eye
Painted stations whistle by

I’ve used this wonderful poem in another article but make no apologies as Mr Oliver said adding rhythm will ‘transform your reading’. I’m not sure how many of us understood what he was getting at and I’m certainly not sure I did at the time but I have since. So now I’m gazing out of the window at the ‘Bridges and Houses, Hedges and ditches’ and I’m reciting the words in my head to the beat of the wheels – ra ta ta tat ta, ra ta ta tat ta…

You teachers especially primary/junior teachers have an indelible effect on our lives and the Applegarth teachers will be forever in my heart.

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 The Wensleydale Railway

With regard to the Wensleydale Railway, please support it, use it or volunteer for it, it’s an excellent resource and the track goes through some of the most exquisite countryside anywhere in the UK – indeed anywhere!

This walk is 7 miles long and includes one or two steep climbs but well worth the effort.




Thank you George Renwick, Dave Rider, George Preston and Peter Hymer and the staff of Wensleydale Railway. Outstanding!

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Enjoy the snaps…G..x

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5 thoughts on “Beautiful Wensleydale by Train and Foot”

  1. The “column” on Preston Moor is the chimney of the old Cobscar lead smelter and mill. Your favourite search engine will find plenty of info about it.

  2. Thanks very much Richard. We’re planning a new walk that may take us in that direction. I’ll certainly try to find out a little more about it if we do. Thanks again, George.

  3. Good to read and I had been wondering about the origin of the name of Leyburn Shawl. Nice to get a mention in your blog too! Keeley

  4. I have enjoyed another good read George, and the photos are just beautiful.
    Love your turn of phrase etc and as before, could relate to several things in my own way. The Poem has always been a favourite
    And as a child loved the rhythm of trains and felt it fit perfectly. Thanks. Betty.


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