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Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

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The video below relates to Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering where we explore the town, venture to Grosmont on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and discover the Rail Trail to Goathland.

For more Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Episodes click here.

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North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Pickering Castle

Beck Isle Museum

Pickering Church

Grosmont to Goathland Rail Trail

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Narrative from Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

Britain’s most scenic bus route Thornton le Dale. In May 2018, the Coastliner bus service from Leeds to Whitby, the 840, became an award winner as it is the most scenic bus route in Great Britain. This is encouraging because bus services have had to struggle with cutbacks over recent years. In any case, we wanted to explore some of the attractive calling points along this route including YorkMaltonPickeringThornton le DaleHole of HorcumGoathland and Whitby. We’ll show you some walking routes, interesting landmarks, historical areas and beauty spots.

Hello. We’ve alighted our Coastliner bus at Pickering, a thriving market town in North Yorkshire.  Today we’re literally going to explore a blast from the past and travel from sunny Pickering to the village of Grosmont close to Whitby. To get there, we are going to use the services of one of the UK’s most impressive preserved railway lines, on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.  Just before we embark on our steam powered journey between Pickering and Grosmont, we have time to explore the Ryedale town of Pickering.  For a small rural town, it hosts not only the popular preserved railway, but also a castle, museum and an historic church. When we arrive in Grosmont, we’re going to explore the scenic rail trail to Goathland where we unite with our Coastliner bus. 

Alighting the Coastliner 840 Bus at Pickering

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

There are a couple of bus stops in Pickering but for the Moors Railway and town centre it is best to alight at Eastgate just after the roundabout.  The first building that might stand out to you more than any other is the Forest Vale Hotel. The hotel is a 200 year old Georgian manor house that is situated on Britain’s most scenic bus route. The hotel is owned by Best Western who have decorated in keeping with the hotels history. Walking further we see a junction to the main town centre. You are greeted with a warm green area with tempting seats looking over it. It is thought the town was named by King Peredurus who accused a woman of stealing his ring, yet it was found in the mouth of a pike caught for his supper. Therefore he founded Pike-ring (Pickering) in 270BC and it is interwoven into he coat of arms.

St Peter and St Paul’s Anglican Church

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

The most prominent landmark in the town is the tower of St Peter and St Paul’s Anglican Church of which contains some 15th century wall art dating back to 1450. It was built on the site of a former Saxon church, but the church we see today dates back to 1140 and has been modified and added throughout the years since. 

St Peter's Church Pickering
St Peter’s Church Pickering

Pickering boasts around 100 individual traders making a great place to shop. There is also an outdoor market in Pickering as well as supermarkets and eateries. Like many other towns in North Yorkshire, Pickering is a thriving market town as well as a place of tourism. 

Pickering Castle

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

The church is not the only landmark in the area as Pickering also boast a castle that is open to the public under the care of English Heritage. Like the church it is from the Norman period built around 1069 by William the Conqueror. The main purpose of the castle was to maintain control of the area particularly after the harrying of the north when William the Conqueror paid the Danes to return home. Those who remained faced starvation when their crops and fields were scorched and records suggest that some were even slaughtered. The walls also had a ditch around them to make them harder to destroy. The castle was improved throughout the 12 to 14th centuries.

Pickering Castle
Pickering Castle

Following the road downhill you can probably hear the sounds of steam hissing as our train is formed at Pickering station. However, trains and castles aside, another point of interest is Beck Isle Museum.  The museum has 27 display areas with over 50,000 exhibits and it is known as the treasure house of Ryedale where Pickering resides. 

Pickering Station & North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

Following the sounds of steam brings us to Pickering Station made from creamy sandstone and designed by George Townsend Andrews who also designed Whitby’s station. Both station were built in 1845 for the York & North Midland Railway. However, the original roof was demolished in 1952, but the Heritage Lottery Fund restored the station to its original condition including 8700 tiles!  You can feel the history of the station on entry and it is literally time travel.  The station has a visitor centre as well as a cafe and public toilets. There is a booking office, but if you have cash you can purchase tickets on board. Like today’s rail network, you can purchase singles and returns to different stations on the NYMR route and you can also take a travel break at one of the locations if you wish. 

Our locomotive today is a BR Standard 4 Tank locomotive that entered service in 1956 at Plaistow. However, it was short lived as it was withdrawn in 1965 in Shrewsbury. The locomotive was built in Brighton under the designer Robert Riddles. The locomotive was owned by British Railways after the railway companies came under public ownership. 

Steam Train Pickering Station
Steam Train Pickering Station

Our first leg of the journey sojourns past the rolling stock and turntable outside Pickering station and onwards to Levisham. This takes approximately seventeen minutes.  

The train slows however for the crossing at High Mill and Trout Farm.  The train crosses over into the North Yorkshire Moors National Park at New Bridge. 

As the line is single track, a token of staff is required by the driver to occupy the section of line.  This ensures for safety reasons, that only one train can occupy the single track line at a time. You may witness an exchange between the driver and the signalman. 

After passing the cranes and turntable, for the next ten miles the line follows the beck along to Newton Dale. Previously a lake, the gorge is largely forested of which timber was used in the 1920’s to ensure that Great Britain was self sustaining in timber production. 

It’s recommended to sit in the rear carriages because you will see the locomotive out of the window on curves which adds to the experience.

 Prior to road and foot crossings, the locomotive echo’s its warning whistles across the national park.  

If you are concerned of which side to sit at for the best views, both left and right hosts stunning scenery, so you may find yourself looking out at both sides when possible. 

It’s not recommended to place your head out of the window for effect, but to be honest, we did.  There are warning notices up for safety and it recommended to follow these instructions. 

When you eventually arrive at New Bridge Signal Box, look out for some cottages next to the box.  These cottages were provided by the railway company at the time to house track workers.  As there was no plumbing, drinking water was supplied to the cottages by train.  

Once the steam and rolling stock clears, this is where the scenery begins.  We chose a particularly sunny May day to enhance the experience and to document the line with some clear skies.  However, whatever the weather, its a great line to do and really merits a regular visit.  If you were born after the steam era like I was, it can really help you to understand just how special the era really was.  Steam locomotives tend to be very charismatic if not a little romantic.  Even if you’re not a rail enthusiast, this popular attraction is for everyone.  Besides, Whitby is also a great seaside town to visit and like the railway, is steeped in Yorkshire history. 

However, the original rolling stock poses by the trackside for travellers to admire, and again can enhance the journey.  

During market days, the market day trains used to stop at these and other cottages to take both goods as well as shoppers to the market at Pickering. 

Occasionally, you will see other historic and well maintained vehicles en route.  Some of which are being prepared for use such as this BR tank engine.  These engines were one of the most successful BR locomotive designs and built in Brighton in 1956. 

As aforementioned, it’s not recommended to lean out of the window for both safety and also because you can become blackened from the locomotives funnel debris.  

Along this route, you quickly learn that it has various landscapes and terrains. 

Let’s just briefly take a look at the stages of our journey.  

Firstly, we spend 17 minutes between Pickering and Levisham.  It’s then a further 10 minutes towards Newton Dale Halt, a station we don’t call at today.  The train then ventures onwards towards Goathland taking approximately 15 Minutes. We then spend a further ten minutes between Goathland to Grosmont were we take a short breather, and the locomotive takes in water.  Our final stage, lasting around 25 minutes is between Grosmont and Whitby, the section we already discovered in our Esk Valley episode.  As you may remember from our Whitby visit, the Esk Valley line meets the Moors railway at Grosmont, linking Whitby with Middlesbrough.  

Onboard the trains are ample room for cycles, prams and wheelchairs which is sadly lacking from many modern day trains.

Levisham station, is a small but feature packed station reflecting 1912 perfectly.  This rural station is of course surrounded by the North Yorkshire Moors.  It’s not uncommon for a village to be a distance away from the station, and Levisham is no exception as the village is over a mile away. Levisham is somewhat out of sight as it sits 90m above the valley floor.  During the second world war, evacuees arrived here carrying luggage with a lengthy walk ahead of them.

Amusingly known as the wobbles, the Levisham station group look after this appealing station.  

Once again the line is adorned with some historic rolling stock including this attractive so-called camping coach.  

Staying in the camping coach brings you close to the station that also hosts an exhibition in a railway wagon, and the restored lamp room is an award winner.  

A station that we don’t stop at is just a little further up line, Newton Dale Halt.  This single wooden platform was opened in 1981 assisted by the Countryside Commission.  The small wooden waiting room was funded by the Moors Railway and completed in 2004.  The reason the train does not stop here is because its a request stop only.  Therefore, if you wish to alight the train here you have to inform the guard on the train.  

This is not to say that the station is not worth alighting, because it features surrounding walks through forests to Newton Dale Well and Needle Point as well as to Levisham station. 

Approximately half a mile away from Levisham station is The Grange house that was once the Raindale Inn.  Prior to steam, the railway horses were changed here and passengers used the inn for a travel break.  

Also prior to Newton Dale Halt is a tower overlooking the railway line.  This is in fact Skelton Tower that resembles a castle and was built in 1850.  It belonged to Robert Skelton who was the local vicar at Levisham.  

An ironstone mine was opened in 1857 and was closed in less than ten years after proving unsuccessful.  It’s at this point the scenery becomes more dramatic and the ascent can be close to 1 in 49, taking you below the cliffs of Huggitt’s Scar.  

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a not for profit trust known as the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust. It has over 550 volunteers as well as a core paid staff. You might think that they own and maintain the entire route to Whitby from Pickering but in fact is only to Grosmont. This is because the line between Grosmont to Whitby is the Esk Valley line currently operated by Northern Railways. Another point that may not be understood about the moors railway is that it is a fully accredited museum too. In fact, it is the largest preserved railway in the United Kingdom as it stretches 18 miles weaving its way through the North York Moors national park. It is a museum obviously owing to it’s heritage rolling stock, but let’s not forget the railway stations, signals, buildings and other accessories that all have historical significance. The stations are set in a particular period of history such as Pickering for example is presented in the era of 1937. Levisham station is set in the 1912 era. Goathland station is set the era of 1922 and Grosmont 1952. Therefore, the entire railway is not based on one particular era of railway history but rather spans the entire early history of the railways.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway also runs themed events such as the Railway in Wartime, Santa Specials at Christmas as well as steam galas. As a result, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway helps to generate £30m in the local tourist economy on a yearly basis. It is also one of the largest employers in the area too. It is an important organisation because lets not forget that the railways were born in the UK bringing the industrial revolution. Therefore to preserve heritage steam and diesel locomotives along with rolling stock, stations and more is essential. If you’re a regular traveller by train, to compare early train travel with today’s rail network can be a real eye opener. 

Newton Dale Well sits at the foot of Killing Nab and it’s here where large stone tanks and the remnants of buildings can still be observed.  In times past, people populated Newton Dale Well for the natural spa waters.  As a rival to Buxton and Harrogate, it was planned to turn the area into an inland spa, but sadly this was never established.  

Just prior to arriving in Levisham, we encounter another train on a passing loop. The locomotive is a Class 26 locomotive named Tom Clift. Although built at Birmingham it came into service in 1959 at Haymarket. It was withdrawn 33 years later in Inverness. 

Heading onwards towards Goathland, the train accelerates along a stretch of straight track, departing the forest terrain we just encountered.  The terrain changes almost instantly on this route and we now climb 40 feet towards Fen Bog. Understandably, it is here where the original line encountered issues with the damp ground underneath the line.  However, historic engineering issues aside, this area is now a nature reserve that is the natural habitat of dragonflies, birds and plants.

At the most northern edge of Fen Bog the train reaches the highest point of the entire line at 532 feet.  This brings us to around 150m above sea level.

You will also notice that we leave Stephenson’s original route that began it’s journey in 1836.  This route crossed a so called cattle arch that allowed the movement of local livestock.  You will see this on the left hand side of travel.

The gates or Moorgates where built to house railway men and it is here were the only public road travels underneath the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.  It is often a popular place for rail photographers to frequent as well film and television organisations. 

The line crosses Eller Beck three times prior to arriving into Goathland.  Just prior to the station, it passes underneath Barnet House Bridge.  

Goathland North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

If you are planning to alight the train at Goathland, it’s imperative to move to the first 3 carriages of the train as the platforms are short.  Goathland station is somewhat of a celebrity in the sense it played it’s part of Aidensfield in the ITV series Heartbeat.  It also appeared in a Harry Potter movie.  You will notice the house that provided accommodation for the stationmaster and his family.   The goods shed is a now a tearoom and a hand operated crane dwells in a siding.  Behind the goods shed is a weigh bridge that is dwarfed by the scenic moorland around it.  

Prior to rejoining the original 1836 route at Grosmont, the line steadily descends over an almost 3 mile stretch.  On the right hand side of travel, you will witness Mill Scar of which has been historically unstable.  Each morning, a watchman had to check the line prior to the arrival of the mail train from York.  

Shortly out of Goathland comes one of the most steepest railway gradients in England found at Darnholm.  Again, the Eller beck makes an appearance and we cross this a further 3 times.  

Just shortly afterwards, you can spot the cottages at Beck Hole through the trees.  In 1858, this quiet hamlet saw the opening of an iron ore mine in the hillside.  The mine was open for several years but were eventually abandoned due to a landslip that occurred during the night.  The stone from the buildings was used to make cottages at Beck Hole as well as Front Street in Grosmont.  These cottages were to house railway workers and when the line closed, the stone was used to build an extension at Malton station, a market town not far from Pickering.

After a cutting, the train then proceeds over a ledge that drops to around a 100ft before crossing the Murk Esk on the Esk Valley Viaduct. On the left hand side you can look down an embankment to where a narrow gauge railway once existed.  This railway once carried whinstone which is a hard volcanic rock, and this rock forms a ridge across the moors for almost 30 miles.  It then ventures towards the Isle of Mull in Scotland. 

If you think getting home by car is a struggle, imagine what it must have been like for those in the hamlet of Esk Valley of which walk through shortly.  The only way in and out was by rail, of which trains fortnightly carried supplies!  By 1951, road access was established, and traces of sidings and buildings can still be witnessed today.  

Grosmont North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

Grosmont station is set in the fifties and is also the junction to the Esk Valley line that runs from Middlesbrough to Whitby.  This line is currently running services by Northern Railways, around 4 services each way a day. You will see the line over a footbridge at the furthest side of the station. 

Grosmont Station North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Grosmont Station North Yorkshire Moors Railway

You will get to see your locomotive decouple and swap with another locomotive. Today it is swapping with the class 25 locomotive we encountered at Ruswarp in our Whitby documentary. However, after a long drink, our Standard 4 locomotive heads back to the workshop area for a top up of coal. If you think this is the last thing we’ll see of this locomotive today, you’ll be wrong! Watch this space!

Grosmont station is also home to an original tearoom.  The station may come across as a peaceful rural retreat, but in fact was the site of a former ironworks that reached out across the woodland car park towards the river Esk. One of the blast furnaces is still visible, remains of Grosmont’s industrial past.  In it’s heyday, it was a very cramped station and difficult to operate but today it has 4 platforms to explore. 

Much of the station’s buildings date back to 1845.  Interestingly, the village was once called Tunnel and the public house was fittingly called The Tunnel Inn.  Of course, the reason why it was named such is obvious.  

However, 200 years later the iron ore extraction contributed to Grosmont’s industrial growth.  Today, tourism plays a huge role at Grosmont owing to the heritage railway. In 1793 the idea of a canal from Ruswarp to Pickering via Grosmont was explored but never came to fruition. By 1861, 3 mines in the area were producing 70,000 tons of iron ore per annum. 

The Rail Trail

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

We are now going to walk on the left of the railway passing the Station Tavern that was once the Post Office, walking towards the way we entered into the village by train. On the left, you will see the signpost for the rail trail in which we are about to commit our feet too shortly. However, before we do, let us just take a peak at the workshop. To get there, we walk down a pedestrian access to through the tunnel of which once entertained a horse drawn railway consisting of a horse and a simple carriage. You will notice a viewing area by the railway line that consists of seats as well as a high level platform essential to rail photographers or just to welcome the trains coming in and out.

The workshop is free entry and there is a gift shop inside the depot for visitors. There is also book shop outside too. It is nice to take a few moments to admire the locomotives inside the workshop and witness them being carefully maintained and restored. 

Back tracking to the junction of the rail trail, we pass the old village school that is now a coffee shop as well as witness Grosmont Priory that consists of an interesting bell tower. A priory existed in the area from 1200 but was suppressed in the 16th century owing to the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1360, a fire broke out destroying most of the priory, and John Hewitt purchased the priory 4 years later. 

Moving gradually upwards to the brow of the hill you receive a fantastic view of Grosmont station in line with the railway lines heading out below. However, if you have chosen a superb day like today, the scenery far from ends here. Before you is a foot and wheelchair accessible path to Goathland featuring rolling hills and moorland, becks and woodland. Depending on your speed, this 3.5 mile walk takes around 1 to 2 hours.

However, this is not called the rail trail for nothing as you receive a vantage point over the workshop below, with a view of our locomotive receiving more coal. You will also notice a green class 24 locomotive built from 1958 to 1961 and finally all withdrawn before 1980. 151 of these locomotives were built during this time at Derby, Crewe and Darlington. You will also see some class 08 shunters that were built in 1952 but entered service the following year. Production continued until 1962 and 996 of these locomotives were built making them the most numerous of British locomotives.

Following the path along takes us beside the railway for a time on our left with green fields on our right. The path turns into a bridleway and you may witness these class 101 diesel multiple units that were built between 1956 and 1959 at Washwood Heath Birmingham. They were actually the longest lived of British Rail’s first generation of DMU’s. The final five of these trains were withdrawn in 2003 and the oldest set was 47 years old!

Class 101 DMU "Daisy"
Class 101 DMU “Daisy”

Walking further we encounter some fantastic scenes of green pasture ground and rolling hills. With the steam railway beside you it is almost like acting out a scene from the Railway Children, if I wasn’t 46. 

In the distance you will see the colourful cottages belonging to Esk Valley on the left which you will have seen from the train window earlier. Many of the cottages were built to house iron mine workers and their families in the same way as Grosmont was. 

You will reach a decision to turn left over a bridge or to head straight on. Both directions take you to Goathland and it is suggested to continue of the rail trail by continuing on the same path, as tempting as crossing the bridge looks. However, if you are more adventurous than me there is nothing stopping you exploring it!

Yes, I know, I know, I always give you lectures on safety, but please remember to take water with you, never wear shorts on the moors for ticks and adders, and remember the walkers code to close more gates than you open. If you have a companion in dog form with you, remember to keep them on a lead especially around farm animals. Dogs are permitted on Coastliner buses as I have seen them from time to time, but remember they can get very busy during the spring and summer seasons. Therefore if you have a great dane you might want to make other arrangements. It is a great walk for dogs because the route follows Eller Beck just as much as the railway so there are opportunities for a drink and a paddle. Of course, care needs to be taken if doing so.

Opening and Closing Gates on the Rail Trail
Opening and Closing Gates on the Rail Trail

Another aspect entirely is that the woodland is full of wildlife so you might see some interesting birds along this route as well as red squirrel that are often witnessed in the national park here.  Even if you are not much of a birdwatcher, it is a good idea to bring a pair of binoculars if you have some. One thing you will certainly see is sheep. 

So what do you think to the Rail Trail so far? Thought as much. 

In any case, even if you don’t see much in the way of wild animals and birds, you will certainly witness some fantastic views along this route and if you are a photographer amateur or professional, you will love this area for landscape shots. 

Adding to the tranquility of the area is the sound of water as Eller Beck negotiates the territory through woodland and around stones and rocks until it reaches the River Esk. As you probably remember from the Goathland episode, West Beck and Eller Beck merge near Beck Hole. Don’t forget however, that you are not just walking through scenery but also history too because this route was the original George Stephenson’s route for the railway between Goathland and Grosmont that began with a horse drawn carriage. It is also a good idea to bring with you a copy of the NYMR timetable so you can be in a position to see the steam trains go by en route. 

You will eventually see Combs Wood on the right where the two becks merge as well as Beck Hole Apple Orchard Project. Beck Hole was famous for the Victorian Tea Gardens with numerous apple orchards. Beck Hole once had a station where they would alight to visit them. 

You will eventually arrive at Incline Cottage where we merge with the route we took from Mallyan Spout Waterfall in our Goathland documentary. This takes you gradually uphill back to Goathland along the same path we took last time. When you reach the crossroads, you can turn right to head to the village shops or straight on for the car park, toilets and bus stop. For me however, I am about to have my lunch in the rear gardens on Goathland Tea Rooms where you will find a pond with a water feature. However, I haven’t just taken a rest here for the tranquility, but also to enjoy a healthy jacket potato with a mouthwatering salad. Well, be fair, I could have had fish and chips in Whitby instead!

Picking Up the Coastliner Bus at Goathland

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Pickering

The Coastliner however will pass by you and turn around at Mallyan Spout Hotel and come and pick you up from the one of the sheltered bus stops. Until next time!

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