Day trip to Whitby- Esk Valley Line

If it’s Friday and the day after Peter’s 70th Birthday then we must be going to Whitby. Just to add a bit of interest I go from York and this includes 2 changes of train with ten minutes between connections.

So I’m checking the departures board on York station and notice the train that’s taking me to Darlington and the first change, is running late. No probs, thinks I, until I conduct a few mental gymnastics with arrival times and departure times and finally come to the conclusion that if I go on my designated train, I’m doomed to failure so I hitch a ride on a passing LNER (Richard’s failed enterprise that makes a profit in public hands but fails miserably in the private sector). I’m old enough to still be irritated with the fact that it’s a national rail service but my ticket won’t work on some trains. So, now the subterfuge; I’m not meant to be on this train but I do have a ticket so I’m keeping my head low and rehearsing my speech should I be challenged. I learnt all this from a master, the illustrious internationally renowned folk singer, Mr Fleming.

We’re well past half way when the guard tells us that the next station is Darlington and we’ll be there in 11 minutes, now I can’t hold my breath for 11 minutes but I’m beginning to feel confident when the carriage door does its Starship Enterprise ‘sssshhh’, and a lady in a uniform steps in. My heart sinks but I’ve been rehearsing some bullshit and do a final silent run through when she walks past and ignores us all to deal with a lost bag. 12 minutes later I’m standing on Darlington Station with breathing returning to normal, and waiting for the Saltburn connection. I’m not sure I’d make a good fraudster, they’d see it on my face.

The Saltburn train makes an appearance bang on time so no subterfuge necessary. It looks quite old but internally it’s well kitted out and very nearly comfortable. It stops at every station and halt on the way with the guard ensuring folks exit and alight safely and offers assistance without prompting. We stop at Middlesbrough and the guard, once again, offers help regarding the platform for the Whitby train.

Now for the wonderful Esk Valley line – this is ‘a great service’ AND ‘great service’.

We’re all aboard the Whitby ‘express’. It also calls at James Cook Memorial Hospital so Graham, the guard, is on standby yet again to ensure infirm or anyone struggling is taken care of.

As the train begins to move he announces the route and the stops along the way, he mentions the quirks of any of the stations and throws in a few safety instructions too but here’s the twist – he does all this in rhyme! As I look around the coach everyone is smiling.

The tiny, two coach unit is jogging along now and Graham, is checking or selling tickets but, with each one, he adds some pearl of advice, “Be careful when you step out at that one, there’s a bit of a gap” or, “There’s some lovely walks from that station”, all delivered with a smile.

He’s joking with some people buying tickets, there’s a few of them so he’s referring to the roll of tickets winding their way off his machine, “You’ll be able to decorate your house when I’ve finished”, he says, then someone asks for a discount, “Discount, you’ll wanting Green Shield stamps next”,. He’s none stop and wonderfully refreshing. Ok, it’s not going to win any prizes for intellectual humour but it’s first rate fun.

The stations along the way are decorated, some are festooned with knitted lambs, others have pictures of cartoon sheep on ships and all are interconnected by this fabulous line winding its way through countryside that would do justice to any chocolate box or act as inspiration for a new Constable.

We stop at Battersby Junction and here’s a tip. If you want to complete the rest of the journey to Whitby pointing forward, make sure you go into Battersby sitting with your back to the front of the train. At this station, the driver walks from the current front to the new front and the train leaves the station the way it came in. As we leave I see a scarecrow sheep with a smile on its face and a pointer indicating the way to Whitby.

We’re heading for Kildale now which is a halt servicing a community of 147 in an area of 5730 acres and it’s here that we pick up the rest of the team. The station itself nestles in a glade surrounded by broad leafed trees with a footbridge usually associated with another platform, but not this one, it leads to the church! There’s also a tiny free car park with toilets looked after by ghosts that are never seen but the facilities are always clean and, more importantly, open.

The ‘boys’, I use the term with a touch of irony as Peter’s birthday has just tipped the balance from average age late 60’s to just over 70.

The rest of the journey is through Postman Pat countryside with lanes and narrow roads linking the stations and halts to villages of 5 or 10 properties and the occasional minor town but all seem to have a pub or tiny shop and sometimes both.

The communities in this dale are scattered but they’re still close-knit and look out for each other. I remember fifty years ago as a fitter with the North Riding County Council working on snowblowers in the depths of winter. I only once had to call upon the hospitality of these lovely people and on the cold snowy day that I did it was warm, generous and without hesitation. The snowblower had water in the diesel and it had frozen and a farmer’s plough had clipped my van when it slid across the icy road realigning the front wheels and rendering it unusable. I was cold and whilst I could have kipped down in the van for the night if I’d left the engine running, it would have been risky due to fumes finding their way back into the vehicle as the heat creates channels in the snow that can bleed back into the vehicle. Apart from all that Ken, the tractor driver that had clipped the van was insistent and we made our way back to his cottage where a fire was lying dormant but ready for the opening of the grate. Even though there were no flames the cottage felt warm relative to the ice and snow outside. Within minutes the flames were licking the fire back and the heat was making our faces glow. I don’t remember seeing a TV but there may have been one, it certainly didn’t get turned on if there was and we just talked whilst his wife, who had been busy in the superheated kitchen making something that looked like stew bubbling on an Arga like oven,  made ham sandwiches the size of doorsteps with what looked like home-made pickle liberally spread on top of butter so thick that, when you bit into this super-sarnie it left tooth marks through the yellow spread. The astonishing thing is that, at the time, I didn’t like pickle; however, I loved it that night and have used it to lift a sandwich from very nice to gourmet ever since. To help you anchor the year The Move were going down the charts with “Blackberry Way” and Peter Sarstedt was on the ascent with “Where Do You Go To My Lovely?”

Onwards we go along the beautiful Esk Valley. The stations are all well kept and have buddleia with attendant butterflies; foxgloves, their spikes bowing to the train; numerous border plants in white, blue, red and viviid yellows, the care and pride is obvious but there is no sign of the guerrilla gardeners, just the results of their labours; whoever, you are, we’re all grateful.

At Glaisdale we learn about the Beggar’s Bridge.

At the eastern edge of the village the bridge was built by Thomas Ferris in 1619. Ferris was a poor man who hoped to wed the daughter of a wealthy local squire who really wasn’t that impressed as poor Thomas was exactly that, poor. In order to win her hand with an option on the rest of her, he planned to set sail from Whitby to make his fortune. On the night that he left, the Esk was swollen with rainfall and he was unable to make a last visit to his intended. This part of the story has all the potential for doom; however, he eventually returned from his travels a rich man and, after marrying the squire’s daughter, built Beggar’s Bridge so that no other lovers would be separated as they were. The real twist is that we learn all this on a two carriage train wending its way through the lush valley via an oratory by Graham, our guard, who tells us all about the Beggar’s Bridge but he does it in rhyme.

The bridge is now grade 2 listed and I’ll tell you all about that in the future.

More walkers embark on the last few stations and they’re welcomed like long-lost friends by Graham as he swaps a small amount of cash or the flash of a card in return for a ticket to ride – cue for a song.

We know we’re nearly there as we pass under the majestic 13 arch Larpool Viaduct near Ruswarp. I have a quick look online and find a few interesting facts. This beautiful structure was built to take a single track railway line to connect Whitby and Scarborough. It was completed in 1884 and mentioned only 13 years later in Bram Stoker’s book Dracula. Two men fell from the arches as it was being constructed but lived to tell the tale. Its 120 feet high (37m) and three of the piers are deliberately skewed so as not to impede the tidal flow in the Esk. The line was closed as a result of Dr. Beeching’s report and subsequent official vandalism in 1965 and became grade 2 listed in 1972 to protect it from the threat of demolition. I’m told that it’s now a wonderful walk and cycle track called the Scarborough to Whitby Rail Trail sometimes referred to as the Cinder Track. I make a mental note to walk it sometime.

The final bridge as we enter the town is the functional but unimaginatively named New Bridge finished in 1980 and carrying traffic that would have otherwise clogged the town especially when the swing bridge is open.

Just before we enter Whitby proper we’re treated to a steam train heading the other way, I’m a bit slow on the uptake but manage to get a shot just as we pass, it sets us up for a great visit.

Whitby station feels familiar probably because of its use in so many TV productions. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway have permission to share the track between their own privately funded and operated service at Grosmont and Whitby Station bringing much appreciated extra revenue to the town and adding further to its popularity.

We have a table booked at Trenchers. It’s always good service and excellent quality although I have never had poor fish and chips in the cafes or restaurants of Whitby and would be reluctant to promote it above the others; however, it is nice but top endish on price. As an aside, I’ve had variable quality stuff served in pubs but that’s another story.

After much banter followed by the delivery of several portions of small and medium cod for the jolly band and a large cod for the birthday boy plus a Trenchers Seafood Salad for me; I ask the waitress if I should top it up with some chips and she smiles, “I wouldn’t if I were you, it’s really quite substantial and if you do need some more I can respond immediately”.  There’s a food induced silence for the next twenty minutes with only an occasional interruption by the Trenchers staff to ask if we’re happy with the fayre.  We leave somewhat full in the stomach and lighter in the pocket into beautiful sunshine for a wander around the harbour area and a few photographs of the controversial Endeavour. Apparently, someone had the temerity to build it using steel instead of wood and it’s not appreciated locally. It looks good to me though and I do look forward to being able to go in to it and spend some time mooching around it’s bowels.

We spend a wonderful, relaxing couple of hours appreciating the delights of both banks and walk to the end of East Pier, again we chose this walk because we haven’t done it for some considerable time and it affords another view of this wonderful and quirky town. We follow this with an excellent boat trip up-stream rather than out to sea for no other reason than we hadn’t done it before and I can thoroughly recommend it.

We pass the Little Yellow Cottage currently festooned in scaffolding and ready for renovation as permissions are granted followed by a close quarter look at a fishing boat being refurbished and our skipper tells us about the eye-watering cost of buying a boat, buying appropriate permits, acquiring quotas and the risks of being at sea. I’ll not be complaining about the cost of a cod and chips again although I may whinge a bit about the proprietors of the cafe marking them up when the people who suffer the real risks get all the physical and financial hassle. I’d recommend this little excursion as it takes in one or two parts of Whitby that you’re unlikely to see from the streets.

Our plan is to arrive back at the station twenty minutes before boarding time to ensure a seat as this train is timed such that there is an avalanche of people leaving Whitby and the numbers are swollen by youngsters from the local schools going back to their various homes nestled in this beautiful valley. It’s a little bit selfish in fairness as within twenty or so minutes they’ve all disembarked vacating the carriages and affording seats for for those that came late. We feel a little bit guilty!

A word about the youngsters, you’ll find them loud because they’re teenagers but they’re also full of fun, well turned out and, most importantly, they’re impeccably polite. If you have children that ride this train, take a bow, they’re a credit to you.

Peter, the birthday-boy, is reviewing his photos and occasionally stops to show one whilst the train starts, accelerates to twenty or thirty miles per hour then slows and stops at the next stop. It sounds tedious but the scenery is stunning and the slow rate gives us the opportunity to take it in. It does speed up a bit on the longer stretches but we’re still left with the rhythm of Robert Louis Stevenson:- 

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And 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.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

We’re back at Kildale in the blink of an eye, thanks George Renwick, Dave Rider, George Preston, Robin Wright, Tony Wright, Chris Richardson and Hayden Kirby but mostly thanks to the Birthday-boy himself, cheers Peter Hymer, hope there are many more.

Back to rambling the Moors and Dales next week. Enjoy the snaps…G..x

Lastly, and this is important especially, but not exclusively, for men…
I had an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) repaired nine years ago in August so every day is a bonus and I’m deeply grateful to the clever lady and the teams at both Friarage Hospital and James Cook Hospital.

If you know anyone who is called to be checked please encourage them to go. The scan is painless and quick and, most importantly,

*** Life is great north of the turf***

Enjoy the snaps, Love G..x

If you want to read the story of my Aortic Aneurysm Operation click HERE – AAA – Warning though, there is some graphic detail and sexual content.

The story of the Little Yellow Cottage at Whitby click HERE – LYC – It’s a lovely cottage, and it talks!


I get a lot of feedback from people around the world who are no longer able to walk far and they enjoy our little excursions so please feel free to ‘share’ or ‘like’ and do have a look at our other walks, they’re many and varied and most have a map so you can do them too.

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