TRAVEL NORTH - 29: Sightseeing Made Easy, Eastward to the Sea on Yorkshire's* Eskdale Line
From the hubbub of the big town...
The route takes you from Middlesbrough eastward out of the station and south to Marton (ersthile Ormesby, renamed due to the proximity of the James Cook Birthplace Museum at Marton), Gypsy Lane (fairly new halt compared with the others), Nunthorpe, Great Ayton, Battersby (reverse to), Kildale, Commondale, Castleton, Danby, Lealholm, Glaisdale, Egton, Grosmont (change for North Yorkshire Moors Railway - NYMR), Sleights, Ruswarp and Whitby Town (there was a Whitby West Cliff Station, used in one of the 'Dracula films' before much of it was demolished). At Whitby Town Platform 2 has been adopted for the NYMR's own use, with a run-around loop for locomotive release.
*The reason I've specified 'Yorkshire's Eskdale Line' is that there is another Eskdale. This is in Dumfries & Galloway in SW Scotland, not far from Gretna and across the border from Carlisle. This Esk rises high up near Langholm, flows south through Longtown and south-west past Gretna and Redkirk Point into the Solway Firth.
One of the outstanding Landranger series of Ordnance Survey Maps that covers part of the North Yorkshire Moors including Eskdale. A handy 'tool' to have when you get off at one of these stations. Take a compass with you, Eskdale can be confusing without either, believe me.
Battersby again, on the branch Beeching couldn't close...
This is seeing the place without moving yourself - except maybe to find a different perspective.
You might have boarded the Esk Valley train at Middlesbrough, having reached there by train from Darlington or Stockton. I have broached the subject of Middlesbrough's origins elsewhere, so I shall just brush over it here. We're on a train journey elsewhere and what we are going to see on the trip takes precedence here.
There are a few sights and sites you might like to look at on your way, however, such as the Transporter Bridge over the Tees. Some time ago the fourth in a series of 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet' (with Jimmy Nail and Kevin Whateley amongst others) featured the dismantling of the bridge, to be rebuilt across the Colorado River in Arizona. As you can see that was fiction. The bridge is still here. It would take an (improbable) earthquake to move it! The bridge is described elsewhere, so let's pass to the nearby Riverside Stadium, home of Middlesbrough Football Club. The club's original home was Ayresome Park, where Brian Clough played in the 1950s and Wilf Mannion played in the 1940s and 1950s.
Our first stop is Marton (formerly Ormesby, renamed in for the nearby birthplace of James Cook, latterly Captain, RN), where the large Stewart's Park encloses a menagerie that's worth stopping to look at, especially if you've got children with you. Beyond that is the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum and a new leisure centre in what were previously college buildings. The railway climbs here, past Gypsy Lane to the summit at Nunthorpe. Just past the newer village around the station (Nunthorpe Village lies a couple of miles to the south), is the site of Nunthorpe Junction where the Guisborough branch veered off eastward via Pinchinthorpe and Hutton Gate. The line was closed in 1966 after the Beeching report recommended closure. Receipts per annum were around £6,000, the cost of keeping the branch open was £60,000+! The line was opened by the S&D for carrying ironstone to Teesside, but when the mines closed in the 1940s-1950s the line was naturally threatened.
Great Ayton is next, the little station built close to Aireyholme Farm where James Cook grew up. On the village green at Ayton is a bronze statue of him, nearby the school he attended. Before arriving at Ayton you get a foreshortened view of Roseberry Topping, a walk target.
At Battersby the line west to Stokesley and Picton was closed in the mid-1950s (around here the phrase 'Going west' means deterioration). Battersby was previously Battersby Junction and originally Ingleby Junction when the line was opened for ironstone traffic to Picton via Swainby and Whorlton, where quarries had been opened in the later 19th Century before the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway line continued east to Stokesley. Battersby was a railway centre in its own right, with exchange sidings for the Rosedale Branch that brought down ironstone from Rosedale East and West as well as Sherriff's Pit near Blakey Junction. Here was also a three-road loco shed (where the LNER's twelve-wheel NER-vintage dining cars were kept in WWII) and Ingleby Incline, a rope-worked incline for the wagons' up and down movement. In the near distance is Easby Moor, on top of which is the obelisk erected in the memory of James Cook and a view to see!
At about a third of the way, we must needs travel east now, our first stop being at Kildale (see the Hub about the walk from here around towards Guisborough and back), below the historic church. Nearby is the renowned Glebe Cottage Tearoom, usually full when i've been in the summertime. On, to Commondale (another walk Hub page) and Castleton. There was a castle once, but all that rremains is the motte, a farmhouse built on it since some years ago. The River Esk has come down from the high moors here and 'accompanies' the line east, visible from time to time past the trees. The dale widens noticeably past here and the view improves, with the high moors visible on both sides.
On reaching Danby - the Danes' town - we are near the dale bottom, with the Esk bubbling by. The remains of Danby Castle occupy a site to the south of the line, high up on the hillside. The castle was once owned by Lady Anne Clifford, who also owned Skipton Castle. When Danby fell into decline she allowed local people to use the stone for building, and there is a large farmhouse on-site that utilises part of the fabric of the original castle. The view from there is uplifting, affording a wide panorama along the whole dale from east to west. The remains of the castle can be viewed free of charge, too, with an English Heritage marker near the farm buildings. Near Danby Village is also the North Yorkshire Moors National Park Centre, with a cafe, exhibition rooms to see how people lived in the past and a pay and display car park across the road.
Lealholm hides much, the station itself also being near the bottom of the dale, with the Esk running some way downhill through the village. Again tearooms and a visitor centre for the weary traveller. Across the bridge is the Board Inn, a welcoming country hostelry that 'speaks volumes' about its past. Nearby, beyond the railway are the earthworks, ducts and a bridge for a line that was never built. 'Paddy Waddell's Railway' was a scheme to bring a mineral railway from Moorsholm and Lingdale to take Glaisdale and Grosmont ironstone to Teesside via Priestcroft Junction west of Skelton. A station hotel was built prematurely at Moorsholm - out of sight of Lealholm - and there are still visible signs of the civil engineering. John Waddell was an Edinburgh railway engineer who hired mainly Irishmen. He also began the line from Whitby to Loftus and Whitby to Scarborough before the North Eastern took over in the 1880's.
At Glaisdale there is the Beggar's Bridge across the Esk, visible from the station. The story goes that a young man fancied a local farmer's daughter. Her father thought him beneath his daughter and to get together enough money to marry her, the young man went to America. Returning wealthy, he did marry her and had the packhorse bridge built. Romantic setting, too! Beside the line is the riuin of the old coal depot, where a single track left the main running line to go over three 'cells' where coal was loaded into sacks and delivered locally by horse and cart. Very much an uphill task around here! Nearby Limber Hill climbs through woodland towards nearby Egton Village on a 1 in 3 (33%) bank, and 'eases' to 1 in 4 (25%). I've walked and driven, up and down it!
The next station is Egton Bridge. A fine church stands by the station, and an inn named after a local martyr, the recommendable Postgate Inn sits beside the road up to Egton Cross. Here again are the remains of an old coal depot with its cell walls partly intact. There are several inns here, two near the river, two at the top on the old moor road to Whitby. From Egton Bridge everywhere else is uphill! I've stayed here in the past, walking and driving. A road below the station takes you to nearby Glaisdale via Limber Hill!
Grosmont (pron. 'growmont') is an unlikely site for blast furnaces, the site of the short-lived steel works lies behind the stone wall that runs beside the Middlesbrough-Whitby line. Across the other side of the station are the tracks for the erstwhile York line via Pickering and Malton. Now the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, one platform has been extended, a footbridge added (brought in 'kit-form from a station near Hull) that enables users of the overflow car park (where the blast furnaces once stood) to access the station. On steam gala days both car parks get filled bursting, be warned! The river Esk is joined here by the Murk Esk (the Dark Esk, Danish. 'moerk', named for the colour of the water still imbued with a tea-colour from ironstone deposits near here). The NYMR, once the Whitby & Pickering Railway financed by George Hudon, built by George Stephenson in the mid-1830's, was rope-worked uphill to Beck Hole and a series of accidents prompted the owners to have a deviation line built to take locomotive-hauled trains to Goathland.
On to Sleights (proncounced 'slights'), where the Esk widens considerably and a weir divides the tidal river from the downward flow. During floodtides the weir disappears, however holiday homes nearby the river are largely unaffected. A solid-looking, period station house at the back of the platform has been under private ownership (as are others along the branch) for some time since all the stations became unstaffed halts.
After passing under the road bridge that takes traffic from Pickering to Whitby Westcliff, the next station is Ruswarp (pron. 'ruzzup' locally), approached over a trellis bridge. Here the Esk is wide, navigable from the sea in larger rowing or pleasure craft, and did have sea-going traffic until the river silted up too much for commercial vessels. Behind the station, to the north, is where the line from Whitby Westcliff came via Propect Hill towards Larpool Viaduct and the Scarborough branch. The train runs under the high Larpool Viaduct and from here you get your first view of St Hilda's abbey built in the 7th Century, demolished under Henry VIII's orders nine hundred years later. In front of it is the restored Cholmley (pron.'chumley') Hall. The family owned the alum quarries north and south of Whitby in the 17th Century and were supporters of the Stuarts - hence the fate of the hall, reduced to rubble under orders from Oliver Cromwell, like almost all the castles (Yorkshire's famous for its ruins, doncha know)!
Whitby Town station once had an overall roof, like nearby Pickering with its recently restored trainshed roof, designed by George Townsend Andrews. There was a tall, three storey signal box, several sidings, a locomotive shed (still there, used for building boats), a large loco turntable and carriage sidings as well as a coal depot. A small signal cabin named 'Bog Hall' (a nearby fee-paying school) guarded the incline to Prospect Hill. All you can see of the station's former grandeur is from outside, with its Georgian symmetry and low roofline on the booking office and entrance lobby. Large, round-topped windows at the back of the platform still open onto the road behind on the station's north side, albeit largely glassless. On the up platform (south side of the station) is the tile wall map of the North Eastern Railway, characteristic of larger stations in the region like York, Darlington, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and so on. An Indian restaurant occupies the side of the station premises towards the bus station and a cafe the front portico entrance towards the harbour. In all merely a shadow of its former self, the station is a sad reminder of cuts through the decades since the line was singled and stations reduced to unstaffed halts.
You have completed your thirty-five mile train journey. Safe journey back.
*Read about Whitby and its connection with Captain Cook in the Hub-page 'Tees to Esk'.
Getting there and access:
Stations and trains are accessible by wheelchair, assistance is available for disabled passengers when needed.
Middlesbrough Station is located on the north side of town on Zetland Road off the A66. Car Parking charges are applicable. I would recommend parking in Stewarts Park and walking to Marton Station (right out of the park gates), and the summertime timetable would allow for this. Consult closing time for the park gates - a board gives this information near the entrance. Check train timetables: For Esk Valley Railway timetables visit: www.northernrail.org
By public transport: there are good train links from Darlington and York on the East Coast Main Line, also from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Redcar and Saltburn. See the links above. A good town bus service links Middlesbrough with its suburbs and as far away as Guisborough or Stokesley.
Excursions are recommended to: Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Grape Lane, Whitby, YO22 4BA, ph. 01947 601900 - www.cookmuseumwhitby.co.uk
Refreshments: At Whitby there are untold cafes and public houses that provide hot or cold food and non-alcoholic drinks. You are literally spoilt for choice and a list would spin this Hub-page out to incredible length!
North yorkshire Moors National Park, www.northyorkmoors.org.uk
North Yorkshire Moors Railway, www.nymr.co.uk
To locate your route consult the Ordance Survey Landranger maps 93 and 94 or Explorer maps OL26 and OL27. Whitby and Middlesbrough are easy to find, being close to the coast a) near the mouth of the Tees and b) at the mouth of the Esk.
Left: a handy guide to follow: where, how and why - the answer to the last is largely 'because it's the bees knees'. Begins with a history of the Whitby & Pickering Railway (as it started out) from when George Stephenson met the 'Railway King' George Hudson and planned the route and doesn't really end. One of the most popular preserved railways in Britain with annual visitor numbers in the 000's to prove it.
North Yorkshire Moors, Dales & Coast
Fancy a drink and a bite in the countryside?
Egton Bridge Station, Postgate Inn, Egton Bridge and Grosmont, North Yorkshire
To walk from Grosmont (North Yorkshire Moors Railway) follow the road right out of Grosmont downhill and under the railway bridge past the car park. Keep to your right along the road (to face oncoming traffic on country lanes without footpaths) to the track on the left beyond the humpback bridge. Take this track past a cottage (on your left) to the next road that leads from the settlement at Egton Bridge up to the main village of Egton at Egton Cross. Turn right here and cross the road towards the railway bridge past the former coal depot. Pass under the bridge to the access path for the station and inn.
Join driver John Middleditch (on a 'busman's holiday' from the south) and fireman Ian Pearson ('stoker' across the Pond, and also handy in NELPG's workshops) as they work a train from Pickering to Grosmont through fine scenery. They draw you into their conversation as they keep British Railways Standard Class 4 2-6-4 tank locomotive No.80135 (built at Brighton in the mid-1950s) going up the long gradient through Newtondale past Fen Bog and the forest near Levisham via Moorgates to Goathland. Then down the 1-in-49 descent past the former mining community of Esk Valley and Deviation Shed through the single bore tunnel into Grosmont station.