Steaming through Yorkshire with Great Rail Journeys

From Harrogate to Haworth and Whitby on heritage trainlines

Railway Children If you love the classic film The Railway Children, then a steam train trip in Yorkshire will be just your cup of tea. You could even wear scarlet underwear as a tribute to Jenny Agutter and her red petticoats. (We’ll keep that between ourselves.)

I sampled a little taster of Rail Discoveries’ 5-day Yorkshire By Steam tour and the hiss of the engines and toot of the whistles made me want to run down the platform shouting, ‘Daddy, my daddy!’ I can’t remember the last time I actually did run anywhere but that doesn’t spoil the fantasy.

My trip started in Harrogate, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, where I checked into the historic Cedar Court Hotel, established in 1671. With time to explore, I was keen to experience tea and cake at Bettys and visit the Royal Pump Room Museum.

Bettys Famous visitors to the Georgian spa town include Charles Dickens who declared: ‘Harrogate is the queerest place with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining.’ Sounds all right to me.

At the Cedar Court’s Porterhouse Restaurant a juicy rib-eye steak daubed with truffle oil is served with parmesan fries. Instead of suggesting a quick polka, I retired to bed with a copy of Jane Eyre, in preparation for the morning’s outing to the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth.

Bronte Parsonage We’re travelling on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway which opened in 1867 to carry coals to local mills. It was closed by Beeching in 1961, then reopened in 1968 as a 5-mile heritage railway.

Steam engines and vintage carriages are such a passion for rail connoisseurs that many hundreds donate their time, savings and expertise to keep them running. Spare parts are cannibalised from old trains all over the world and working locomotives have to be regularly stripped and overhauled which is a very costly business.

Our two guides, David and David, explained how a steam train boiler is a bit like a pressure cooker. The Goods Sheds at Haworth is where many are carefully maintained with all manner of giant bolts, washers and rivets.

Pace yourself for the walk up steep Main Street to the Brontës’ former home because it’s worth it. David and David This fascinating museum has many of the family’s possessions on display, including Charlotte’s silk and lace wedding bonnet. It’s easy to imagine how the blustery moorland behind the parsonage inspired sister Emily’s novel Wuthering Heights.

A vintage 1965 bus then took us onto Oxenhope and we popped into Keighley & Worth Valley Railway’s two Railway History museums at Ingrow, the Engine Shed and Carriage Works, before returning to Harrogate at gin o’clock.

Vintage bus The Slingsby Gin Experience at Spirit of Harrogate is definitely the way to do aperitifs. Experiment with creating the perfect G&T while learning the amazing story of gin, a base spirit flavoured with juniper, thought in the 14th century to ward off the plague. (£40 per person for 4 drinks and generous nibbles, a 2.5 hour experience.)

I decided Slingsby Yorkshire Rhubarb Gin mixed with Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water is nectar, especially if accompanied by giant green olives.

Whitby Arch North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a Charitable Trust, operates an historic line between Pickering and Grosmont and joins Network Rail to continue to seaside town and former fishing port, Whitby. In 1845 steam engines were introduced and it cost a shilling to sit on the roof, more to travel inside.

Closed in 1965, a preservation group formed and steam locomotives began running again in 1976. We breakfasted in a retro carriage and wondered if one particular volunteer, who travels all the way from New Zealand each year to drive the train, was in charge up front.

At the mouth of the River Esk, Whitby was the town where Captain Cook learned about sailing. The clifftop view to Whitby Abbey on East Cliff through the Whalebone Arch is a postcard location and the bones once signified that whalers had survived a whale hunt. The current pair (not the originals) come from a bowhead whale killed legally by native Alaskan Inuits.

Goathland Bram Stoker visited in 1890 and the windswept headland, black Whitby Jet jewellery – made from fossilised wood – and dramatic ruins inspired his horror novel, Dracula.  

On our return journey after takeaway fish and chips on the pier, the train stopped at Goathland, which doubled as Aidensfield in TV’s Heartbeat and featured as the Hogwarts Express stop at Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter films. Dedicated JK Rowling fans can rent a carriage in a siding at Goathland for a holiday stay.

Train with wreath The front of our engine was adorned with a pretty wreath and, when we enquired why, found out we were travelling with a bereaved family on a special memorial trip. By special arrangement, a railway enthusiast can request their ashes are placed in the firebox and turned into steam at one of the loveliest spots along the track.

It’s a beautiful idea.

More information

Experience Yorkshire By Steam on an escorted group tour with Rail Discoveries, visit or call 01904 734 812. From £375pp, the 5-day trip includes 3-star and 4-star hotel accommodation, all rail and excursions and selected meals.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Rail Discoveries by Great Rail Journeys.


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Beverley Watts

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