The North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) runs for eighteen miles from Pickering to Grosmont It is the busiest heritage railway in the world, attracting 350,000 passengers per year. The railway travels through the heart of the North Yorkshire Moors, through Heartbeat country in Goathland, past the quaint villages of Beck Hole and Levisham to Grosmont. Visitors can also travel on to Whitby by more conventional rail if they wish.
The original Pickering to Whitby railway line was built in 1836, originally to connect Whitby with the rest of the country, as it was deemed at the time that it was better connected by sea, rather than land. In those days, Whitby was an important fishing and whaling port, which had experienced a bit of a decline in recent times. As one of the first railways in Yorkshire, the Pickering to Whitby line was originally a horse drawn railway, but converted for the new steam trains in 1845. It was then merged with the York and Midland railway, which connected it to the walled city and beyond.
The railway at first transported raw materials, such as coal, timber and limestone to and from the port, but also to accommodate passengers. The new line encouraged industry to grow in places along its route. Lime kilns were built at Grosmont and the discovery of ironstone during its construction, resulted in small mines being developed at Beck Hole. One of the first features of the new line was the tunnel at Grosmont, which is believed to be one of the oldest in the world.
As the new railway became linked to the industrial areas of Yorkshire, raw materials would go one way and in the other direction, daytrippers and holidaymakers would flock to the new coastal resorts of Whitby and Scarborough.
A new station was built at Goathland through the 1860s to get over problems of an incline at Beck Hole. The original route of the old line is still visible today. The new station and route, a prominent landmark these days on the heritage route, cost £25 to build and came with waiting sheds and a waiting room, which is nowadays the gift shop. Further re-enforcements to the line were made during the latter half of the 19th Century included a brick bridge built at Darnholme and the development of several signal boxes at various points along the line.
The depression years of the 1930s meant cuts to train staff and roles combined to save money. Some of the signal boxes were unmanned, closed down or simply left derelict, such as at Newtondale, and the Deviation box at Grosmont. The war years did not help matters either and the railway, now over one hundred years old went into steep decline.
The post-war nationalisation of the railways meant an attempted modernisation of the network. Diesel locomotives replaced steam engines through the 1950s, but this was not enough to stop the decline. Enter Doctor Beeching in the early 60s and the writing was on the wall for many railways, including the Pickering to Whitby line. The report recommended the closure of three lines serving Whitby, with only the Esk Valley line up to Middlesborough surviving the chop. Despite much local protest the railway line from Malton to Whitby closed to passengers in 1965, followed by goods services a year later. There were many redundancies in the area for ex-railway staff.
In 1967 a group of locals, who had protested against the line’s closure met and came up with an idea to save the railway from dereliction. They wanted to use the line to hold occasional “steam galas” and were granted permission to carry out any maintenance work that was needed. They called themselves the NYMRPS (North Yorkshire Moors Railway Preservation Society.)
For insurance purposes these “galas” were for members only and gradually these grew to a sufficient number that fully paid staff was required to oversee them. The number of staff and volunteers increased and eventually by 1973 permission was granted to re-open the line from Pickering to Grosmont as a heritage railway. As of 2006 there were 85 paid staff and 50 volunteers.
Things to see and do
Travel on a train
There are several locomotives in use on the NYMR, all with their own special names and character. Some of them include, “The Dame Vera Lynn,” which was used by the British Army and then sold to the railway in 1984 and commissioned by Dame Vera herself. The oldest locomotive is called “Peggy,” which was built in 1904 and originated in Leeds. Enjoy the fantastic Moors scenery out of the train window and the full steam engine experience. It takes one hour and ten minutes to travel the full 18 miles of heritage railway between Pickering and Grosmont; plus an extra 25 minutes to Whitby. Timetables and fares can be viewed here.
Stop in Goathland
Goathland is well worth stopping off in to explore the village where the TV series, Heartbeat was filmed from 1992-2010. Harry Potter has stopped by here too! Stroll around quaint shops, tearooms and admire its beautiful setting. Nearby is the hamlet of Darnholme, which is an ideal place for family picnics and a spot of paddling in the stream that runs through here. There are also plenty of walks and waterfalls, such as at Beck Hole to discover. Mind the sheep! that runs through here. There are also plenty of walks and waterfalls, such as at Beck Hole to discover. Mind the sheep!
Enjoy the exhibitions and events
The NYMR line runs a series of train related events and exhibitions showcasing their work. At the time of writing (until 1st October) there is a photographic exhibition at Pickering Station, which shows the last trains which run on the old Malton – Whitby line in March 1965. They were taken by a then 18 year old lad (now 68) called Maurice Burns. A full list of events can be viewed here
Visit the artist in residence
Chris Ware is the only artist in residence on a heritage railway line in the country. He is based at his studio in Levisham station house and has a display of his paintings, prints and cards to enjoy.
Visit the NYMR shop
This is based on Platform One of Pickering Station and offers a range of train related gifts and souvenirs.
Take a trip to Whitby
The train can take you through to Whitby station to end your journey, in one of the most beautiful seaside resorts in Yorkshire. If the weather is good enough you can go on the beach, mount the 99 steps to Whitby Abbey, or explore the Captain Cook museum. Don’t forget to try its famous fish and chips too!
Whatever you decide to and depending on the weather, a visit to the North Yorks Moors Heritage Railway is a great family day out, with some wonderful scenery to explore, quaint villages to stop in and some fantastic old trains to ride on this historic railway line.