Esk Valley Railway Line and Whitby

So Peeps, we learn about the beauty of the Esk Valley Railway Line, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, “From a Railway Carriage” and the value of friends on a day out.

I get a text from George, “Dave’s had an operation on his eye and not feeling top form so we’re having a day in Whitby”

The plan is to drive to Great Ayton and catch the train that shuttles the Esk Valley line between Middlesbrough and Whitby. I’ve wanted to do this for some considerable time but never got around to it so how could I refuse?

I arrive in good time for the 10:48 train that’ll get us into Whitby at just before Noon which means we’ll be stampeding for fish and chips before the clock strikes the quarter hour.

This what the Sunday Times had to say

“Away from the packed commuter routes and main intercities, the backwaters of our national rail network harbour some of the most beautiful rides in the world.  Leaving Teesside, the train chugs out across the North York Moors … along the leafy valley through Danby, Egton and Lealholm – surely the prettiest village in Yorkshire – to Whitby’s bracing sea air, fine Georgiana and looming Gothic church. This is England’s green and pleasant land, writ large over 36miles … it will make you sigh” ***

The train is running a little late but not enough to complain and there are quite a few people on the little platform. They’re all in good spirit and joking with each other. Bri gets the life story of one of them complete with numerous anecdotes, there’s a lot laughing and they’ve only just met, no commuter gloom here.

There’s a little bit of grey cloud and after the last few days of full-on heat it’s both disappointing to lose the sun and blue skies but it’s also something of a relief to have lost the energy-sapping humidity.

As the doors open the guard invites us on board with a smile and we make our way to the front coach that will become the back coach on leaving Battersby Junction which is about ten minutes away.

Here’s a good tip if you don’t want to travel backwards for the majority of the trip, choose a rear facing seat for this first sector as the train will enter Battersby Junction with what is now the front. At Battersby the driver will walk the length of the train along the platform and assume control from what was the back but is now the new front and here’s the bonus, you’re now travelling forward without changing seats.

This is the prettiest of dales and as we resume our trip there are gaps in lines that produce the rhythm of our childhood as the bogies hit the gaps ‘da da – da da’ slight pause ‘da da – da da’ it reminds me of a poem taught to us by our headmaster Mr. Oliver at the Applegarth School of my infant and junior years.

From a Railway Carriage by 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 hedges, the horses and cattle

We’re picking up speed and the rhythm increases as I think of Mr Oliver and his insistence that whilst some poems have rhyme, others may have rhythm; this one is glorious as it has both.

The fields are defined with hedges and streams on both sides of the train and are verdant.  The sky is beginning to show the odd patch of blue as the blanket of grey melts with the strength of the summer sun. There are brown sheep in a field, not just one or two in a flock but a whole field of them, I make a mental note to try to find out if this a recognised breed (your help would be appreciated if you’re aware of them).

I’m beginning to match the poem to what I’m witnessing as the train approaches Danby:

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

Danby doesn’t whistle by though as the driver gently brings us to a standstill and more passengers embark. The carriages are quite full but there are still seats so everyone is comfortable and clearly eager to appreciate the fabulous countryside on both sides of the track.

We’re off again and passing old saddleback bridges built with stone and very definitely unaffordable if we were to build them today but beautiful in their antiquity and set against glorious fast running streams with oak, mountain ash and the odd willow binding the banks with their roots.

Lealholme is tidy on one side with well-kept buildings newly painted and beautiful; on the other side the platform is equally beautiful because it is overgrown with meadow plants and the odd bramble cane.

Next, there’s Glaisdale then there’s Egton, I’m instantly reminded that my dad worked here for a while with the North Riding County Council and I’m thinking that this delightfully kept station with its buildings and platform would be what he saw sixty or seventy years ago and I’m tearful with nostalgia but happy that his day might have been sunny and carefree like mine today with good friends in equal tranquillity.

There’s a lady stepping off the train with a small child and I envy them where they live. A rambler gazes across the dale at where she’s going to walk and it reminds me of some of our great walks one of which was around the Gothland/Grosmont (Heartbeat) area.

Here’s a child who clambers and scrambles
All by himself gathering brambles
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes
And there is the green for stringing the daisies

Off we go again and it gets better, the line runs in bursts parallel to the stream that gives its name to the dale. The River Esk meanders, cascades and sometimes gently flows along the dale as the track takes a similarly meandering approach but without any ups or downs, or if there are they’re very gentle. It offers us some wonderful glimpses of wooden plank type bridges built possibly as temporary structures to facilitate access to fields and barns across the stream, who knows? But they do their job together with the water-splash routes parallel to them presumably do their bit for the animals.

Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

We stop at Glaisdale and another group of ramblers disembark, just three this time and I’m wondering where they’re going to, it would have been fascinating to have had a conversation with them but too late, I’ve learned for next time.

If you travel this route look for the iron bridges and the saddlebacks, they’re a delight and illustrate an earlier time. Then lookout for the fabulous arched disused railway now referred to as the cinder track as you enter Whitby. It’s as fascinating at the bottom of the columns as it is at the top, at the risk of an enigma I’ll leave it there.

And now we’re in Whitby, where’s Trenchers?

We arrive at Trenchers and join a bit of a queue. There are tables available but are reserved. After some 20 minutes, we’re invited to move into the restaurant but not to a seat. We’re still in good spirit although I must say that seeing two large tables free and us still standing was slightly irritating. After another ten minutes, we’re invited to take a seat at one of the tables that have been free since we queued at the door and we take them with a mixture of irritation and gratitude. We’re left for another 15 minutes before we’re asked for our order and the arrival of the food a good ten minutes after that. At sixteen and a half quid for fish, chips, beans, a slice of bread and pot of tea I expect service rather better than this, it’s an hour since we arrived at the door.

However; the food quality is good, the facilities exceptional and the staff always friendly although on this occasion the service is poor. We’re not letting this hamper our day though and there’s lots of talk to fill the gaps.

Moving on – there’s a group of four settling into the booth adjacent and we recognise two of them, it’s Granny and Granddad (to be) Graydon. Greetings are traded at some considerable volume and congratulations expressed for the forthcoming addition to the dynasty. It’s a wonderful coincidence and a delight to see them following our 9 day Cleveland Way walk recently experienced with Lou.

We’re off again and this time towards the harbour when without warning one of us suggests a 20-minute cruise to the Whitby Buoy and back. We have an 84% positive which leaves one who’s a little uncomfortable. I know what seasickness feels like so suggest that we do the cruise and he goes to the Whitby Porn Shop (I’m not too sure if there is one but I thought it might take his mind of our sailing experience if he had something for which he could search). He obviously sees through my subterfuge and agrees to join us. Now you might say, “twenty minutes, that’s nothing”, in fact, there are many women who may agree; however, I do appreciate that with the threat of seasickness, it is quite a significant gesture to make the effort to come with us and in a fit of generosity I offer to buy him an ice cream.

The first 5 minutes is wonderfully smooth but then it would be, it’s in the harbour, the next ten minutes is a bit up and down but he sustains the ordeal with fortitude and before we know it we’re back in the harbour with a disk full of photographs and a full complement of chums with no sickness – result!

We disembark and walk towards the breakwaters with the intention of buying an ice-cream as a reward for the bravery related to the cruise and Pete accurately finds the place that might be where he bought one once before. I go for the lemon sorbet but the majority have the Mr Whippey one that’s served with beautiful swirls like an elaborate dog turd into a sugary cone. We manage to avoid sharing them with the seagulls who’re circling like vultures above.

At the breakwater, there are numerous tractors lined up with varying objectives. One is Liverpool to Whitby and back for the Air Ambulance Charity but the one that I really fancy and will be running it past the Pilgrim is Liverpool to Benidorm and back on a Massey Ferguson 185. I told the owner that I used to work on them and he allowed me onto it for photographs by our resident professional who duly complies.

It’s a delight to see so many people on the beach in the sunshine although the North Sea has never attracted me for swimming apart from when I was diving but then I’d be wearing a full drysuit with a woolly bear next to my skin. OK so I’m spineless but I’m also comfortable and not suffering from exposure.

It’s a short walk but a good one and we return with the added pleasure of seeing the bridge open and a few boats pass through. Back at the station, we go to the platform early to try to beat the school kids to the seats on the return train – and we do! I would like to add that the school kids on this carriage are an absolute delight. Sure, they’re a bit noisy and that’s how it should be but they’re also impeccably polite and helpful especially when an old lady gets off the carriage without her bag. There’s a loud shout and lots of pointing followed by a youngster nodding to the conductor so that he knows she’s stepping  off the train and seconds later she reappears without the handbag leaving a very happy lady on the platform with one. You can’t buy moments like these!

This day out is an absolute delight. £5.70 return with a Senior Railcard and a bit more without one. It’s also doable if you’re disabled.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

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Acknowledgements: Sunday Times for the extract on the Esk Valley Line and Robert Louis Stevenson for his poem  “From a Railway Carriage”

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage in full:-

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!

A little boy struggled with it and tried to learn it by just memorising the words but poetry has to have rhythm and flow. At 9 years old he didn’t know that of course but the headmaster, Mr Oliver, had come into the class to hear each of the children recite it and it has to be said that the girls were better at it than the boys. There was a lot of apprehension but it turned out that the tension was unnecessary because, after three or four of them had delivered the words in a flat monotone Mr Oliver took to the floor and recited it with rhythm and emphasis on certain words but not always the rhyming ones. He had the whole class tapping their fingers on the desks as he delivered the words. When he’d finished he gave them all credit for joining in and in the process he’d won over a little boy who, prior to that morning, had loathed poetry but now was a convert.

I’ve liked poetry ever since although I still can’t memorise it and deliver the way he did but it’s a great memory from a wonderful school. G…x

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