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TRAVEL NORTH - 18: SCARBOROUGH FAIR EXPRESS, To Scalby Mills From Peasholm Park
The castle appears time and again in seafront views, we see it here from the North Bay near Peasholm Park where our journey starts
As a 'Patron Member' of the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG) I was invited to join a 'hands-on' visit to the North Bay Railway at Scarborough
Bryan Orange from NELPG kindly organised the event and the members attending and joining in the fun were yours truly, Chris Lawson, Dave Pennock, John Richardson - who I already knew from the North Eastern Railway Association (NERA) - Richard Jackson and NELPG member/railway operator David Humphreys. One or two members were unable to make it there, nonetheless a great evening was enjoyed by all.
Before I take you though events, let me tell you about the history of Peasholm Park, the North Bay Railway, Water Chute and Open Air Theatre on Burniston Road:
Peasholm Park was the brainchild of Harry W Smith, the borough engineer in theearly years of the 20th Century. It was built on the site of Tuckers Field, with the intention of creating a new park around a lake based on a 'Japanese' design. The park still bears his stamp a century on.
Original Japanese statues were bought from Killerby Hall (now Flamingo Land, close to kirkby Misperton near Pickering). Exotic flowers and shrubs were brought from the French Riviera home of a retired local banker. Work began on constructing an island and lake in December, 1911 and the park was opened to the public on June 19th, 1912. Between 1923-1932 Peasholm Park was the scene of fetes, galas and firework displays. It proved a popular venue and was later furnished with teraced seating to accommodate a greater number of visitors.
Work started on Phase 2 of the park in 1924, and by 1932 Peasholm Glen was incorporated into the attractions. Further, in 1929 the architect George W Alderson designed a pagoda and cascade to be incorporated into the island. These, along with the purchases of oriental statuary and ornaments in 1931 enhanced the oriental theme of Harry Smith's park.
The park flourished in the post-WWII years, with visitors coming not only from all over Britain but also from overseas. When package holidays in the Mediterranean clicked with holiday-makers British seaside towns suffered, Scarborough no less than others. The pagoda was burned down by vandals in 1999, no funds were forthcoming from the borough's treasury and the island was closed to the public. Luckily the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled the council to rebuild the pagoda with fire-retardant timber. The Half-moon bridge that linked the island with the rest of the park was also replaced and the cascades upgraded. With these improvements came the restoration of the gardens. The Peasholm Park Friends were involved in the park's regeneration, painting, planting and digging, generally overhauling the island.
The Naval Warfare feature, added in 1927, is still popular today. The small navy has ships 'manned' by individuals, seated within the vessels, who steer these vessels in re-enactments of famous sea battles.
The Open Air Theatre was built by Scarborough Corporation on the site of Hodgson's Slack and opened on the summer of 1932 by the Lord Mayor of (the City of) London. The stage was set on an island with fixed seating opposite in five blocks with 5,876 seats. The balance was made up with deck chairs. Folding seats for 6,000+ have now been added to the new hard-surfaced terraces. By 1952 the venue had drawn 1.5 million visitors and casts of performers numbered up to 200. Sell-out events included 'The King and I', 'Annie Get Your Gun' and 'South Pacific' amongst others. 'Hiawatha' had native Americans in the cast, paddling canoes onto the large island stage. During the three month summer season two performances were staged weekly.
The North Bay Railway (NBR) runs trains daily from its main terminus near the entrance to Peasholm Park to its terminus near Scalby Mills. With its Sealife Centre , attractive views of the North Bay towards the centrally located castle and the outflow of Scalby Beck, Scalby Mills is worth a day away from the hubbub of central Scarborough.
The railway is in its 81st year (opened 1931) and takes passengers along a scenic three-quarter mile course behind the Water Chute, Boating Lake and Open Air Theatre. Aside from the miniature railway itself is the Glasshouse Cafe - available also for private function hire - and the Boatman's Tavern*, Yorkshire's smallest pub (which serves ales from the Wold Top Brewery), close to which kids can go on the Water Walking Balls. By the footpath, behind the 'tavern', the Scampi Shack offers the best Whitby Seafood as well as some nice, tasty, crisp chips (tried out personally by yours truly)! The NBR is 100% wheel- and push-chair friendly. Owner David Humphreys doubles up as a guard on the railway, with his chief driver Steve Johnson in charge of trains. Steve will gladly show you the controls, if asked after the loco has been turned and re-attached.
Under the auspices of David Humphreys' ownership, The Water Chute, originally built by Charles Wicksteed, has been restored along with the railway. The chute's 'gondola', operated by cable drum and release, descends the ramp at a fast rate so if you're of a nervous disposition you'd better steer clear...
So, on to the day we visited the NBR we gathered by the 'Boatman's Tavern'. Met by David Humphreys, who regaled us with a welcome soft drink (we didn't want to be 'plastered' in charge of a locomotive, did we?) and at a reasonable price we were supplied with a helping of either Whitby Plaice or Scampi and his by now famed chips. We were 'briefed' on the history of the park, the railway and his achievements in taking over and succeeding with the running of the facilities. We were shown Neptune, 'the engine of the day', and each one of us (the five visitors) were taught how to drive the engine. Although on the outside most of the engines look like steam engines, they are diesel-motored. The motor is housed in the tender behind the driver - you can feel the heat! - and the controls are similar to a full-sized railway diesel engine. I took my turn last, out to Scalby Mills with the train rattling along behind. The track is undulating - as testament to its vintage - and the engine bounces a fair bit along its course, so you have to keep your hand steady on the 'throttle'. At Scalby Mills Neptune was detached and I drove her onto the turntable, checking she was fully on, centred, before pressing the turntable operating button. It's a slow, steady movement to turn and face the run-round loop before setting off again, around the train then backing to 'buffer up'. Steve hooked up and took the train back to 'depot', where we looked around the shed at some of the other motive power. If I remember rightly, Scarborough's British Railways m.p.d. number was 50E. Maybe David should adopt that, as one of the locos sported an early British Railways' styled 'Cycling Lion' (Lion on the Wheel) emblem with North Bay Railway where the full-sized engines had 'British Railways' in Gill Sans Medium lettering.
We posed for photographs and sat by the lake after our post-driving experience. I for one enjoyed my day, the experience and the hospitality, and I know everyone else did on Wednesday, 20th June, 2012... No criticisms, no carping, no moans. Thanks to both Daves, Steve and Mihaela.
When you make your visit, hopefully with weather as good as we had, the welcome will be warm and the beer/drinks nice and cool and the enjoyment long-lasting. Make the most of it, we did!
*The smallest pub in Yorkshire has a choice of soft drinks for the kids and locally-brewed ales as well as a good range of spirits and wines. General Manager David Fardoe is also a knowledgeable barman, and Mihaela Pricope will serve you your seafood snacks.
Scarborough's two railways, the full-size one in the town centre, and the North Bay Railway with Peasholm Park
...A useful guide to study
Even if you don't mean to go there, looking at what's there and reading about it might raise the appetite to go eventually... All those in favour say 'Aye!' (Go on, give it a whirl, there's the seaside and the moors almost run up to the cliffs! Hardly any distance from one t'other), see below
What's on offer in the North Bay area?
For a start, obviously there's the North Bay Railway that will whisk you from Peasholm Park to Scalby Mills, a pleasant summer evening's ride through parkland, past the Open Air Theatre and the Water chute to the Sealife Centre. It doesn't cost the earth, and the drivers are all experienced. Ask them about what's on offer in the area.
In Peasholm Park itself, across the road from the NBR, take a stroll through the Japanese Garden, stop off at the mere and watch the battleships (steered from within by their one man crews). Lots of smoke and bangs, so sit at the back if you're nervy.
The Open Air Theatre's open during the summer months. Get online and see what's on offer, book seats for the family. My parents went to see 'South Pacific' when I was in shorts, so it shows how long they've been pleasing the crowds.
See if the Water Chute's on offer next to the railway and splash out on a fast descent in the wide gondola...
Pass on to Scalby Mills, enjoy a walk along the seafront, maybe cross Scalby Beck over the footbridge and have a wander round the headland there, a favourite picnic site since I can remember - went there to a barbecue/beach party when I was at Art School in the 60's. There's a welcoming pub on the nearside of the beck, with seats outside to top up the tan and gaze around the bay to the castle hill that divides the North Bay from the South. Stride along the shore road to the cafe in the holiday flats, browse around the shop and walk back to Peasholm Park just round the corner past the roundabout snack bar.
Or stop off at the Sealife Centre to see what's pulling the visitors these past few decades. There's a kiddies' playground outside for when they get bored with the wildlife inside - the added attaction of an ice cream stall will keep them quiet for a short while.
There are buses to town, and open top buses to take you around the Marine Drive to the harbour with amusement arcades, cafes and seafood bars. There's a lighthouse at the end of one pier, opposite the fish quay where you can look around during the day after trading finishes. Carry on along the back of the beach after looking at the yachts, or take a speedboat ride - a cruise along the coast to Filey or Bridlington on the 'Corona' or 'Yorkshire Lady' maybe?
There's enough at Scarborough to keep you occupied for a week or so. Try it, you know you'll like it!