The Goathland to Grosmont Rail Trail Walk

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Things to do


Date of travel

June, 2021

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Family including children under 16

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The “Rail Trail”: from Goathland to Grosmont is a signposted three and a half mile walk along the track of the original horse drawn tramway, predating the “steam railway.”: This is a well made and very easy footpath. It can be walked in either direction, but starting from Goathland, it is downhill all the way!

The Whitby & Pickering Railway was built as an attempt to halt the gradual decline of the port of Whitby. The basic industries of Whitby, whaling and shipbuilding, had been in decline for years and it was felt that opening up better links with the interior of the country would help to regenerate both town and port.

Until the turnpike to Pickering was opened in 1759, Whitby was better connected to the rest of the country by sea than it was by land. The climb over the high moors was a major obstacle. Stage Coach services did not start until 1795 and the thrice weekly Mail Coaches in 1823.

The railway would open up the area and also allow transport of agricultural products, timber, local stone for buildings or roads, iron and also lime.

With the success of the Stockton & Darlington Railway (which had a number of Whitby backers) attention switched to the possibility of a railway from Whitby to either Stockton or Pickering. Many pamphlets were issued for or against the various proposals. In 1832 it was decided to ask George Stephenson to report on the rival routes. Stephenson’s report was in favour of a horse worked railway to Pickering and his conclusion was accepted at a meeting held in Whitby on 14th September 1832.

This was a major undertaking which involved cutting a 120 yard long tunnel at Grosmont (believed to be one of the earliest railway tunnels to be built), traversing the marshy and deep Fen Bog using a bed of timber and sheep fleeces and constructing a rope hauled incline system at Beck Hole.

In its first year of operation, the railway carried 10,000 tons of stone from Grosmont to Whitby, as well as 6,000 passengers, who paid a fare of 1/s to sit on the roof of a coach, or 1/3d to sit inside. The journey took two and a half hours to travel from Whitby to Pickering.

For the majority of the line, wagons and carriages were hauled using horse power. However, the 1:15 gradient between Beck Hole and Goathland, was too steep for horses. An alternative power source was required. Rope hauled gravity inclines had been in use for a number of years in mines and quarries. This system was adopted here with the weight of the ‘down’ traffic hauling up the ascending traffic. Water tanks attached to descending wagon were filled with water to give them additional weight. These were drained at the bottom, and were pulled by horses back to the top. It took about 5 minutes to be hauled to the top. Goathland Bank Top station and a stable was built at the top of the incline along with a supervisors cottage at the bottom.

In 1845 the horse-drawn railway was acquired by the York and North Midland Railway who re-engineered the line to allow the use of steam locomotives and built permanent stations along the line. The line was extended south of Pickering connecting it to the York to Scarborough line. The incline was transformed to steam power with a stationary engine at the top of the incline and an iron cable pulling up the wagons. This required the installation of turntables at both the top and foot of the incline to turn round the steam locos. In early 1860, work began on construction of an alternative route avoiding the incline.

The use of steam power increased capacity of the incline. Carriages could carry up to 12 passengers and up to 500 tons of freight including ironstone from local mines.The incline was a dangerous operation and was known to fail. A crash in 1864 killed 2 people and injured 13. In 1865 the deviation route was opened with a much more manageable gradient of 1:49. This is the line of the present railway. Goathland Bank Station closed and replaced by the present station.

There is a lot more history of the line with old pictures “here.”:


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