Yorkshire by rail: A whistle-stop tour of Northern literary landmarks


Some are clutching paparazzi-size lenses, their heads darting back and forth along the track.

Others are sipping steaming mugs of tea while browsing the gift shop, which has wall-to-wall model trains and books for rail enthusiasts.

Outside, stationmasters are standing proud, their buttons gleaming and their lapels covered in badges. 

Jane Memmler in front of the steam train (right)
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Jane Memmler takes a steam train through Yorkshire, visiting sites that inspired our greatest novels

They are purposefully checking their watches while keeping passengers informed of the estimated arrival time of what we’ve all come to experience, a standard class 4 tank steam locomotive.

This is surely Yorkshire’s Hollywood with the route and locations having starred in numerous films

Jane Memmler

This exciting scene at Pickering station is indicative of the occasional days when these immaculately kept sandstone stations welcome vintage steam trains.

It offers a nostalgic glimpse back to Victorian times with buildings painted in heritage colours and picket fences adorned with red metal fire buckets and old metal signs.

It was a time when rail travel was a glamorous affair and a privilege, particularly for children. 

What a shame, then, it was to see most of the young passengers with their heads down, engrossed in small screens. Why did their parents bother?

There’s something about the smell of coal, heavy breathing and great exhalations of steam from an engine that is instantly relaxing.

And it’s obvious that the journey itself is the destination that everyone has come to enjoy.

We are heading to the pretty North Yorkshire fishing port of Whitby, famous for its connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and, of course, fish and chips. 

Gardens in Harrogate
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The scenes recall the Victorian period, when train journeys were a luxury that few could afford

Once on board I notice that the carriages themselves aren’t particularly glamorous. In fact, they are rather basic but what they lack in trimmings, they more than make up for in authenticity.

Our padded bench seats are immaculate and covered in clean, patterned fabric which faced unscratched laminate tables.

It is, I’ll admit, slightly on the chilly side as there’s no heating as such, yet it’s quite amazing how quickly you acclimatise and frankly, it really adds to the experience of travelling just like the Victorians used to do.

Gerry Bacon, one of the 120 passionate staff who man the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, has been with the company for 15 years. Many retirees “work” the railways, some for one day a week, others two or three. 

However, the younger generation is now coming through, manning the stalls and receiving patient training on the machinations of being a stationmaster, from their more senior experts.

Gerry is convinced there’s always been a fervent interest in steam trains.

“People come to Yorkshire for the steam railway as it’s a ‘living and breathing piece of machinery’,” he believes.

And clearly he’s right. There’s not a spare seat to be found. We slowly carve our way through heavily forested areas of autumnal magnificence.

Through fields of russet and rouge and alongside hillsides swathed in drying ferns, now a rich amber. Before long the piercing sound of screeching seagulls signals our arrival into Whitby. 

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey was supposedly the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The birds are so enormous, they looked positively prehistoric sitting menacingly atop wooden jetty poles waiting to swoop on leftover fish and chips.

Dominating the eastern headland are the eerie ruins of Whitby Abbey, which is reached via 199 steps and said to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

A visit is a must for fans of the caped count, if only for the views across the busy harbour and wide beach as well as the haunting gothic decorations which can send chills down your spine.

Another Whitby tradition is fish and chips. I’d wager that every visitor here indulges and the best can be found at Robertsons. 

The Railway Children
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One of the stops on the tour is Oakworth, made famous by the tear-jearking novel TheRailway Children

Whitby is just one place on our whistle-stop five-day tour of the railways of glorious North Yorkshire.

Rail Discoveries appears to know exactly what its clients want, scheduling in stops at famous stations such as Haworth and Oakworth, with the latter made famous in the classic tear-jerker, The Railway Children.

These stations were actually part of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, whose line opened in 1867 to transport coal to the local mills, traversing the rugged moorlands of Brontë Country.

This is surely Yorkshire’s Hollywood with the route and locations having starred in numerous films and TV shows such as Testament Of Youth and to name but two. 

I half expected to see The Railway Children stationmaster Mr Perks rush out of his office at the Edwardian gaslit Oakworth Station.

And I have my own Jenny Agutter moment as I pause for a photo on the platform just as a thick plume of steam envelopes me.

Along the River Worth, we pass the steep slope from the landslide scene in The Railway Children and the fence where the children sat for hours waving frantically at the train.

On we chug over the gentle, rolling landscape, partitioned by low, dry stone walls. This line was actually closed in 1961 but reopened in 1968 as a heritage railway.

It welcomed 40,000 passengers annually. Now it receives more than half a million. 

Haworth
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Nearby Haworth was chosen by the Bronte family as the setting for Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre

But it’s not just film and TV exposure that draws so many to this region. It boasts an impressive literary heritage too.

You can understand why the Brontë family chose nearby Haworth as the setting for the romantic novels Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The village is timeless.

Quaint stone cottages that line the steep main street are virtually unchanged since the 1820s when the Brontë girls were just children.

Surrounded by moorland, this former wool village is now stuffed with galleries, shops and tearooms yet still evokes an endearing charm.

At the Brontë Parsonage rooms have been sympathetically restored with original patterned wallpaper which has been reproduced. 

Work/dining table at the Bronte Museum
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The Bronte Parsonage Museum showcases a recreation of the Brontes living conditions

Outside, the small grounds are beautiful; a well-planted wild English garden fronts the neat, elegant house.

Inside, you can imagine Charlotte writing at the dining table, surrounded by ink pots. Yet it’s the steam that brings most visitors to North Yorkshire and we learn more about its history at the Rail Story museum at Ingrow West.

The museum’s vast rail sheds are stuffed with memorabilia alongside carriages that have featured in numerous films and period dramas.

We end our adventure in the elegant spa town of Harrogate. 

Beautiful town centre of Harrogate

The journey ends in Harrogate, a pretty town full of sandstone buildings

This affluent spot is a joy to wander around with its pretty avenues lined in sandstone buildings.

In the 18th century people came here to “take the waters”. These days, the sulphurous water wells have all but been closed.

The next best thing is the Harrogate Turkish Baths & Health Spa.

You’ll melt away any stresses or strains in the hot rooms which are elaborately designed with original Moorish features such as grand Islamic arches, painted ceilings and terrazzo floors. After a day on the rails, there’s no place I’d rather be. 



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