Storyline - 14: A Winter Story - Moorland Bus Adventure in Freak Weather
Scary? It might have been if I'd taken time to think about it...
I might even have thought about finding work near home, rather than cross half the North Yorkshire Moors both ways every week through deep snow drifts
It started not long after Christmas, just into New Year, 1963. As I was on holiday at the time there was no immediate worry. Usually the snow came and went again within weeks, if not days. Where we were at the foot of the Eston Moor escarpment was higher than most of the area I could see from my bedroom window.
'This lot looks set to stay a bit longer', Dad said, almost cheerily, looking out of the front window of our council house. Behind the snow-topped rooves of the houses opposite, south if us, hundreds of feet above I could just about make out the 'wedding cake' topping of Eston Moor. What looked like channels streaked the hillside where vegetation grew up the escarpment. 'I wonder if the buses are running all right?'
He only had four or five miles to go to work at Cargo Fleet steel works east of Middlesbrough, straight off the bus and into the main gate. On the other hand I had more like forty over the North Yorkshire Moors to Scarborough. He knew that, of course, and empathised (he'd had nearly two years slogging up the Appenines in Italy between 1943 and 1045). Came the fateful Sunday to get the bus, the snow was still thick on the ground, drifts having built up around the houses all around the square. Things did not look a lot better along the way to the exchange bus station, slush having replaced much of the snow by the roadside in town, and on the way out to Guisborough fresh snow came down thickly again.
Over the moors past the Jolly Sailors above Moorsholm the road could hardly be seen, with snow banks on either side of the road looking for all the world like solid ground where the A171 snaked sharply upward before the long drop to Whitby past the small settlement around the inn and reservoir at Scaling. Whitby itself proved no challenge to the driver, despite the sharp drop past Bog Hall School on the accumulated slush from busy local traffic and we were only a bit late getting away from the bus station with a few new passengers.
We had been joined by a group of squaddies (soldiers) for Burniston Barracks, just outside Scarborough, but they kept themselves to themselves. They just grinned broadly when the catering college girls were in full voice again, a new number at the time, '... Keep your spooky eyes on the road ahead. We're having fun, sitting on the back seat, hugging and a kissing with Fred...' (de-doo-de-dum-dum, de-doo-de-dum-dum etc). The bus climbed back to the a171 and headed through thickening flurries to the roundabout where we would descend another steep hill to Ruswarp and pass the livestock pens there. It was dark by now, lightened only by the snow on the ground and a snow shower gradually thickening.
Ruswarp Bank was steep once we took the right angle away from the goods station. More than once we slid but as ever the driver kept control. The vehicle was a 1948 vintage single-decker Bristol, double wheels at the rear for grip. United Automobile Services would phase them out before another winter passed, but they did sterling service and their strong diesel engines were up to the sharply twisting and steeply graded moorland roads of the North Riding.
Disaster might have struck, had there not been around a score of adult males on the bus, including the squaddies.
'Would the gentlemen get out and help push the bus', the conductor asked, smiling brightly under the peak of his cap. He had a shovel and sacking to put just in front of the rear wheels for grip when the bus got moving again. Fairly soon we got the thumbs up from the driver and we all piled in again to cheers from the girls and womenfolk, We would have to repeat the performance soon after. Almost as soon as we stopped a military jeep pulled up beside the bus. A couple of Redcaps (military police) in the jeep gave us the once-over, barked something and the squaddies were on the jeep and gone without a backward glance before you could say 'sacking'.
We managed to get going again to more cheers, up Hawsker Bank to the moor road before the conductor realised he'd forgotten the shovel. Somebody had a nice after-season present! Luckily we had no more trouble, even though we had a steep climb up to Flask Inn - with its not-so-mobile homes around the inn and filling station. To reach there a nasty chicane had to be negotiated just past the turn-off for Robin Hood's Bay and Fytlingthorpe. Here the road rises on a ninety degree turn, dips sharply past a potential road hazard. That winter it was a snow bank, The rest of the year you might aquaplane. With another long climb behind us, a sharp right turn again we had Flask ahead.
As it was only tea-time when we passed, there were lights burning in most windows, a mains supply installed some time before. Behind us, against a ghostly backdrop of thick snow flakes, we could see Whitby Abbey to the north. Some way downhill, east of us was Staintondale and Hayburn Wyke, small hamlets with glittering pinpricks of light to show they were still there, although to some extent isolated but for the railway line.
Having past the Duchy of Lancaster Saw Mill, the road was mostly downhill through Cloughton and Scalby, both villages quiet in the darkness with just the street lighting for passing traffic to dip their headlights. Beyond them, through bare trees we could see Scarborough, glittering. Only the gradual rise in the road between Cloughton and Scalby with its 30mph limit made progress a little slower, the gritters and snow ploughs having passed earlier in the day. They would renew their efforts in the morning, but we were more or less safe now anyway, past Newby and the college set back from the road beyond a sports field.
I was only around an hour late getting in to where I stayed in term time, a hefty Yorkshire tea awaited, a warm bed helped forget the trials and tribulations of the bus journey. We would be faced with having to take a train trip from Scarborough to Whitby when the moor road was closed and buses stopped running past Flask. They really were on their own then, but not before a hairy ride downhill from Flask into Whitby where the back of the bus slid sideways a few times, and we passed road signs that hardly reached window height with the snow packed around them.
The train ride we took to Whitby was made behind a heavy old steam tank locomotive in old teak bodied Gresley carriages. The compartment we sat in was very warm, the steam heating from the engine working hard. The smell of almost half a century of cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke hung in the air. (The usual Metro Cammell diesel multiple units were much lighter in weight, and on icy rails may have overshot the bend at Ravenscar tunnel - beyond which was a cliff over a hundred feet high. Doesn't bear thinking about, does it)..
Glad he put the 'L' plate on the tractor, it might have bothered me otherwise...
Another of the well-researched Bradt guides...
With Mike Bagshaw's guidance, retrace the route taken in the story above between Teesside and Scarborough via Guisborough, Egton, Whitby and Fylingdales Moor, all forty-odd miles of it. Easy and scenic in spring, summer and autumn, a bit rough and a lot less colourful in winter
There are three other Hub-pages on this wintry theme
Each is set around the same winter, looking at it from different perspectives:
STORYLINE - 7: 'Drift Beset' is about a country vet on the western outskirts of Cleveland in North Yorkshire (the original Cleveland, named by the incoming Danes in the 9th Century as 'Kliffe-land' due to the northern escarpment of the hills looking like sea cliffs);
STORYLINE - 11: 'Stuck Solid' is linked with the one above, from the point of view of one of the York-based (fictional) railway workers on the snow plough train that cleared the line to Battersby, where the (fictional) vet lived. The snow plough train did exist, and with another from Middlesbrough cleared the Esk Valley line in February, 1963 after a full day's snow clearing;
STORYLINE - 12: 'Sorry I Just Missed Your Chimney' is a fictionalised account of a real story told me by a friend of the family who had a sewing machine sales concession from Pfaff and one or two others with a sales area from Teesside to Whitby. The dialogue is mine, the story is his.
Hope you enjoy reading all four, let's hope it doesn't happen too often (I know New York State and the region around the North East of the US was hit not so long ago).