Hosted by Rail Discoveries, Jessica Way shares her highlights of an escorted group rail ‘Yorkshire by Steam’ holiday, while staying in the beautiful Georgian spa town of Harrogate. An adventure full of Northern treats, from the ancient city of York through wild countryside views, by steam rail, a visit to the Brontë Parsonage, fish and chips in the stunning seaside town of Whitby and great company to share it with.
Rail Discoveries is a division of award-winning travel provider Great Rail Journeys, who, with over 40 years experience of experience in successfully escorting thousands customers each year, have unrivalled knowledge and understanding of the many wonderful adventures available, around the world. In England, Scotland and Wales, journeys offer the best of the UK’s most picturesque destinations, including the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the rugged mountains of North Wales, the winding waterways of the Yorkshire Dales, the magnificent Georgian splendour of Bath, the charm of the Isle of Wight and the picturesque coastline of the Isle of Man. Journeys vary from between 4-14 days, with some of the most popular tours running regularly, throughout the year, and other special-interest tours, less often, to include tours themed for Christmas, New Year, or based around events such as the Harrogate Flower Show and Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Each adventure is planned to perfection, with tailored itineraries, and professional tour managers who assist and manage their group, usually around 30-35 individuals, throughout the duration of the holiday. One of their most popular tours, Yorkshire by Steam, offers a special opportunity to discover the best of glorious Yorkshire, from the edge of the rugged Dales to its spectacular coastline, via the majestic North York Moors, while staying, in luxury, in one of Harrogate’s beautiful and characterful hotels – Cedar Court or The Old Swan.
Our discovery of Yorkshire began in Harrogate, an attractive Georgian spa town with a 200-year old tradition of providing restorative treatments. A 2-hour train ride from Kings Cross to York, followed by a platform change and a short train journey from York to Harrogate, made for a very pleasant and easy journey. On arrival, the town’s abundance of open spaces takes you a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Kept in immaculate condition, the English Heritage Grade II listed Valley Gardens, situated in regal Low Harrogate, along with the woodland, known as The Pinewoods, stretches for an impressively picturesque 17 acres.
During the Victorian era the wealthy and fashionable flocked to the town to experience its health-giving natural springs and to promenade along its elegant streets. Present-day Harrogate is still a fantastic destination for visitors seeking a restorative experience for the body and mind. In your spare time, outside of the itinerary, I would highly recommend a visit to Rudding Park, one of the most highly acclaimed spa hotels in the town, which offers an array of treatments for men and women, from facials and massages, scrubs and manicures, to their Rudding Signature Package. ► ruddingpark.co.uk.
You simply can’t visit Harrogate without taking a trip to the world-famous, award-winningly delicious Bettys Café Tea Rooms. There are now six ‘Bettys’ in Yorkshire, but this was the first, opened by founder Frederick Belmont in 1919. There is plenty of time outside the itinerary to enjoy a visit! The combination of mouth-watering Swiss confectionery and Yorkshire-warmth hospitality provides a wonderfully relaxed setting for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and evening meals – and it is open from 9am-9pm.► bettys.co.uk.
For gin-enthusiasts, or those who fancy trying something a little bit different, there is also The Slingsby Experience, located just around the corner from Betty’s. They offer three tasting-packages for you: The Spirit of Gin, The Cocktail Master and Just the Tonic. Each experience includes a range of activities, such as gin tasting, of their very own Slingsby Gin, and well over 80 other different gins they have in store. There are mixology lessons and a chance to learn about the history of gin, top tips on creating the finest cocktails, fun facts to impress your friends with, a lesson on famous cocktails and the chance to create your own. ► wslingsby.co.uk
CEDAR COURT HOTEL
The larger of the two delightful 4-Star hotel options offered on the Yorkshire By Steam tour, The Cedar Court Hotel is housed in a Grade II listed building, dating back to 1671, overlooking the town’s famous 200-acre Stray Park. The hotel has recently benefitted from a lavish (£400,000) refurbishment, creating stylish new bedrooms and enhancing their guest areas. There is a fantastic new restaurant, The Porterhouse, a classic lounge bar serving drinks, light snacks and afternoon tea, a gym and small intimate dining rooms for family gatherings, with views over the gardens. The hotel’s guest-rooms, all en-suite, are air conditioned, with those fittings you would expect. There is ample free car parking and you are just a 10-minute stroll from the town centre – close to the train station, Bettys, the beautiful Valley Gardens, The Mercer Art Gallery and the magnificent Royal Hall.
The Porterhouse Restaurant offers a range of delicious dishes with the main emphasis on an extensive range of succulent, locally sourced, beef-steaks – to include 38-day aged offerings, such as T-bone, Chateaubriand and, of course, Porterhouse. Sourcing top-quality, locally-grown ingredients is an integral part of their new menu and the chef’s team works with local farmers to bring to the table some of the best that Yorkshire has to offer. Delicious!
Close to Harrogate is the medieval city of York, where Rail Discoveries have organised a fabulous Guided City Tour. This offers a fantastic chance to appreciate this beautiful city, and its centuries of history, while enjoying all the main sights, such as the magnificent Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. As well as its wide nave and Chapter House, the Minster features a stunning array of stained-glass windows and it towers over the the city. You should wander through the quaint ‘Shambles’, one of the world’s best-preserved medieval streets. Lined with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some of which date back to the 14th century, the Shambles is one of the most famous cobbled streets in Europe.
Following the city-tour, there was time to explore, at our own pace. I recommend a visit to the National Railway Museum, the largest of its kind in the world, offering a fascinating insight into the history of train travel. Highlights include a replica of George Stephenson’s Rocket, a 1960’s Japanese Shinkansen bullet-train, and Queen Victoria’s own railway carriage, dating back to 1869.
York also has superb museums and two interactive history sites. For its Viking heritage, visit the Jorvik Centre, or for the bloodier side of the city’s history, take a trip to the York Dungeon. Both exhibits bring the sounds and smells of York’s history to life, whilst actors portray the real-life struggles of Viking women, 9th-century coin makers, and even Dick Turpin, who met his fate in York. For a more relaxing afternoon, take a stroll around the city walls, or enjoy a drink in one of the many pubs York is famous for – some of which have been around since the 16th century. →
THE NORTH YORKSHIRE MOORS RAILWAY
Followed by a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we travelled by coach to Pickering, south of the North York Moors, where our railway adventure would embark – taking us on towards Whitby. On this railway, steam-powered locomotives take visitors through 18 miles of stunning countryside, through the heart of the North York Moors National Park, stopping at picturesque stations along the way, including Pickering, Goathland and Whitby, making this the most popular heritage line in Britain.
The beautiful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales National Park has been seen by millions of people all over the world, thanks to the release of ‘Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows’ in 2010. Goathland Station was turned into “Hogsmeade” for ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, the railway’s shop on the platform was transformed into the “Prefects’ Room” and the Ladies toilets became the “Wizard’s Room”. The Whitby & Pickering line, part of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway was originally built as an attempt to defend against the gradual decline of the port of Whitby. The basic industries, whaling and shipbuilding, had been in decline for years, so opening up better transport links with the county was intended to regenerate both town and port. It was used, primarily, for its goods carrying capabilities (coal, stone, timber and limestone), as well as for passengers, and, from the opening on 26th May 1836, operated a regular service, which connected at Pickering with the stagecoach to York and thus the rest of the developing railway network.
Whitby is a seaside town mainly famous for its historical links with Captain Cook and Dracula, its quirky narrow streets and its bustling harbour, overlooked by the striking Gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey. There is plenty of time to enjoy the nearby fishing villages of Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay, the unspoilt sandy beaches of Sandsend and Runswick Bay, and the staggering views from the clifftops at Ravenscar. If you like heavy-duty trekking , you will enjoy the 800km of bridleways that weave through the peaceful and colourful countryside of the North York Moors National Park.
Whitby’s East Cliff is home to the ruins of Whitby Abbey, home of Cædmon, the earliest recognised English poet. The fishing port developed during the Middle Ages, supporting important herring and whaling fleets, and was where Captain Cook learned seamanship. Tourism started in Whitby during the Georgian period and developed further on the arrival of the railway in 1839. Rightly famed for its fish and chips, one of the best is Robertson’s of Whitby . From Whitby we took the Whitby & Pickering line back to Goathland. Strolling up the hill we passed the The Goathland, a pub better-known as the ‘Aidensfield Arms’, from ‘Heartbeat’, another enjoyable pit stop, should time allow.
THE WORTH VALLEY
At the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, Harrogate is ideally located for exploring the region, with one of the must-visits, close by, the Worth Valley, running down to the town of Keighley, where it joins the River Aire. The Worth Valley is home to the pretty villages of Oakworth, Oldfield, Cross Roads, Oxenhope, Stanbury, and Haworth – famous for the Pennine landscape and for being at the heart of Brontë Country. You may also recognise it from ‘The Railway Children’,’ Yanks’, Pink Floyd’s film ‘The Wall’ or the enduring comedy, ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’. Running through to Oxenhope, the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway is a heritage line, curators of over 30 locomotives, 24 steam-powered, lovingly preserved and restored by enthusiastic and passionate volunteers. The line was first opened 1867, funded predominantly by local wealthy mill owners to serve the mills and villages in the Worth Valley. Upon nationalisation in 1948, the line became part of British Railways, and, with its fortunes declining with the rise of competition from the roads, the branch closed in 1962. There was much local opposition to this, and thanks to the foresight and efforts of a local group of railway enthusiasts, the line was rescued after the closure, reopening for business in June 1968, just weeks before the age of steam finally ended for British Railways. The 5-mile route offers passengers a unique opportunity to experience travel as it was between the late 19th and mid 20th cenutries, and you do not need to be a railway enthusiast to enjoy the special journey, passing through wild countryside, immortalised by the Brontës, some of England’s most beautiful scenery. Since its preservation, the railway has gone from strength to strength and, next year, in 2018, the K&WVR will celebrate 50 impressive years as a working branch-line heritage railway.
Located at Ingrow West Station, where our introduction to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway began, visiting the Rail Story Museums are another must, giving visitors greater opportunities to learn about, and understand, the preservation and conservation of railway heritage. It was here that our group had the pleasure of meeting David Petyt, Director of Customer Operations at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, who describes himself as a keen gardener, both at Ingrow West Railway Station and at home. →
THE RAIL STORY
This collaboration between the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, the Vintage Carriages Trust and the Bahamas Locomotive Society gives all three parties a presence at Ingrow, with two separate museums, the Carriage Works (Vintage Carriages Trust) and Engine Shed (Bahamas Locomotive Society) and of course, the station itself.
I started my Rail Story journey at the Carriage Works, located at the far end of the Rail Story site. The Carriage Works museum houses several beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian carriages – I loved that you could still see the marks on the roof from the train used to film the latest adaptation of Swallows & Amazons, which I had recently enjoyed watching with my family. Throughout the museum there are displays of signs, posters and small exhibits from the railways of yesteryear, swept away as modernisation gripped the railway network.
Visitors can sit in the carriages, imagining what rail travel used to be like, as sound and video presentations help bring the past to life, showing rail-travel as it used to be, in days gone by. A short stroll down the platform to the Engine Shed, which was in its working years, a goods shed, has today been converted into a museum and locomotive maintenance and restoration centre for the Bahamas Locomotive Society. This unusual name arises from this Society (which is wholly independent from the K&WVR) having saved former LMS ‘Jubilee’ class locomotive ‘Bahamas’, after which it went on to acquire quite a number of additional locomotives, including the very famous ex-London & North Western Railway ‘Coal Tank’ number 1054.
The exhibition in the museum has been designed so you may follow a route, indicated by numbers on the panels, and take a brief journey through aspects of railway history. It helps you to understand something of the pastimes of trainspotting and playing with model train sets, and how these hobbies gave rise to today’s railway enthusiasts and eventually the formation of the heritage railway movement.
INGROW TO OXENHOPE
We re-embarked for another nostalgic railway steam-train journey, travelling from Ingrow to Oxenhope, passing through the rugged hills, rustic stone cottages and wild farmland immortalised by the 1970 film ‘The Railway Children’. There was a lovely atmosphere, with regular commuters, train enthusiasts, and holidaymakers, both young and old, all sharing in the delight of the steam engine, from arrival to the station, throughout the cosy, comfortable ride and picturesque ever-changing landscape.
Throughout the year the Railway has many special events, such as Santa Steam Specials throughout the festive season and there is also a number of special experiences on offer, such as Guided Tours of Haworth Locomotive Workshops, and Traditional Afternoon Teas, where scones, clotted cream, jam and tea or coffee are served – a perfect accompaniment to your relaxing journey along the Worth Valley! From Oxenhope it was short bus ride to Haworth Village, situated at the edge of the Pennine moors in West Yorkshire, an area made famous by the Brontë sisters, known as Brontë Country.
Haworth is a very pretty village with many good tearooms, souvenir and antiquarian bookshops, restaurants, pubs and hotels. Several public footpaths lead out of the village, and there is much scope for rambling too, though perhaps the most famous walk leads past Lower Laithe Reservoir to the picturesque Brontë Falls, Brontë Bridge, and Brontë Stone Chair in which (it is said) the sisters took turns to sit and write their first stories. →
THE BRONTË PARSONAGE MUSEUM
Haworth, home to the much-loved tourist attraction and former Brontë family home, the Brontë Parsonage Museum, was of course a must-visit for the group, and another highlight of the tour.
Maintained by the Brontë Society in honour of the sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, this is a visitor attraction I had firmly on my wish list – and with 2017 being declared by VisitBritain as the “Year of Literary Heroes” this was the perfect time to visit the Parsonage.
The sisters spent most of their lives here. It was their family home from 1820 to 1861, and where they wrote their famous novels. I especially enjoyed visiting the Dining Room, where Charlotte, Emily and Anne did most of their writing, the room said to be the focus of their creativity. ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Agnes Grey’ were all written in this room.
Rebecca Yorke, Head of Communications, gave us a guided tour, and explained the story of how it had been the sisters’ habit to walk around the table until about eleven o’clock at night, reading and discussing their writing plans and projects. After the deaths of Emily and Anne, Charlotte walked in solitude, unable to sleep without this nightly ritual. Martha Brown, servant at the Parsonage, described how, ‘My heart aches to hear Miss Brontë walking, walking on alone.’
The beautifully preserved museum has been opening its doors to visitors for over 75 years, and it is extremely warming to see this homely Georgian house still retaining the atmosphere of the Brontës’ time there. The moorland setting and pretty village of Haworth, must, to my mind, no doubt, have had a profound influence on the girls’ creativity and talented writing.
The Parsonage was built between 1778-1779, and it was in 1820 when Patrick Brontë was appointed incumbent of the Church, and the reason the parsonage became the family home for the rest of their lives. Next we enjoyed a wander down the lane and inside St Michael and All Angels’ Church, Haworth, to visit the plaque inside marking the final resting place for Emily and Charlotte Brontë. Anne is the only member of the Brontë family not buried at Haworth. Anne’s life was cut short when she died of what is now suspected to be pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 29. In an attempt to help relieve the symptoms, Anne set off with Charlotte and her friend Ellen to make a return visit to Scarborough, in the hope that the change of location and fresh sea air might initiate a recovery. However Anne had very little strength left, and sadly she did not make it home. She passed away at the Wood’s lodgings, No2 the Cliff, which today is where the Grand Hotel stands. Charlotte made the decision to “lay the flower where it had fallen” and Anne was buried in St Mary’s churchyard on the Castle Hill overlooking the sea.
The balance of excursions over free time with Rail Discoveries allows you to tailor your holiday, and make the very most of your holiday time – and, on a train, you can simply sit and relax, admiring the views. Such a stress-free and enjoyable way to travel, even to the non-anoraks out there like me! Rail Discoveries are right, “The journey really is just the start of the adventure”. →
FIND OUT MORE:
Rail Discoveries: Rail Discoveries offers a 5-day tour, the signature Yorkshire by Steam, is priced from £375pp. The itinerary includes journeys on the Keighley & Worth Valley Steam Railway and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a visit to the Brontë Parsonage, and an excursion to Whitby. Price includes 4* hotel accommodation, breakfasts, dinners, and internal transfers. ► raildiscoveries.com/tours/yorkshire-steam-railway/
Virgin Trains: Customers can travel to York with Virgin Trains, from £20pp. Most weekdays, Virgin Trains East Coast operates a half-hourly service from Kings Cross. Typical journey time from London Kings Cross to York is 1 hour 52 mins. ► virgintrainseastcoast.com
Harrogate: For more information about this beautiful town and a list of attractions and places to visit ► visitharrogate.com
Great Rail Journeys Ltd: Great Rail Journeys Ltd can tailor make holidays for those inspired to visit Yorkshire on an individual basis ► greatrail.com/grj-independent / 01904 527181