Thursday, 30 June 2016


My explorations of Yorkshire are still incomplete - one often forgets quite how big it is. I wonder how it compares in size with, say, Luxembourg?

Anyway, yesterday saw me and los parentos, driving about the moors in the rain. First stop was nothing to do with trains, but still quite interesting all the same...

After a very damp trip along the A170 through Pickering and Helmsley, with the assistance of 1933 map (I say "assistance", but the cartographer's skills were once again somewhat lacking - particularly around Snilesworth), I directed us as fair as Whorlton.

There isn't much of a village in Whorlton. Most of the residents died of bubonic plague several hundred years ago, but they left behind a rather nice small castle. It's not owned by English Heritage -there was no entrance fee, no toilets, and no opportunities to buy a packet of overpriced biscuits in the shape of Henry VIII's wives. Luckily I had no need for such things, and it more than made up for it in clambering opportunities. Luckily I was wearing jeans, so the nettles in the undercroft did not faze me!

The only other remnant of the village is a ruined church a short distance away. I think it was called Holy Cross, but my memory may be playing tricks on me. Its graveyard is still in use - the most recent headstone I saw was dated 1998. It has very impressive yew trees, and was very atmospheric in the pissing rain. 

According to a small sign attached to the chancel door (the chancel is the only part still with a roof, and is still occasionally used for services), it's been virtually abandoned since the 1870s, when a bigger church was built in the next village of Swainby - using stones nicked from the castle! Those Victorians were so enterprising.

But I digress. Back to railway business...

Those of you who travel about on Britain's major arterial roads on a regular basis will surely have seen trucks passing with the curious name "Preston's of Potto", and I have now seen their spiritual home! Potto village is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it place, but slightly further north, by the side of a disused level crossing on the former Picton to Battersby railway line, is a big depot, where the lorries sleep overnight. I think they're like a provincial Eddie Stobart.

Despite the goods yard being so-utilised, the old station building is now a house, with a fairly unglamorous view. I hope they've got double glazing, or maybe the reversing beeps fade into background noise after a while...

The next station eastward, on the way to Stokesley, was located roughly halfway between the relatively significant (for North Yorkshire) towns of Carlton-in-Cleveland, and Hutton Rudby, In there wisdom, the North Eastern Railway decided not to name it after either of them though, and chose that of a small obscure hamlet nearby. I imagine there was a lot of sniggering in the planning office that day.

The station building is now, again, a private house. The owners obviously like their privacy, as it is surrounded by a very high hedge, and large gates. Sensibly, they have chosen to call it "The Sleepers", rather than reference the actual name of the place, to stop the postman giggling.

I expect it's probably a very old name, with Saxon or Norse origins perhaps. Who knows? (I haven't checked on Wikipedia). But anyway. Ladies and gentlemen, I hear-by present to you...

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

More railway related ramblings...

Another day off today. JP and Mum fancied going for a drive again, so whizzed over to Ampleforth Abbey, for snacks. I had a very pleasant toastie, and they both had teacakes - after, of course, having stopped in Helmsley for a Chelsea bun for JP. It's the rules.

Coxwold signalbox
I had my Bartholemews touring map (circa 1933) on hand to ask as a satnav,so after drinking about 62 cups of tea, I directed us to the old railway station at Coxwold, a couple of miles west, on what was formerly the line between Malton and Thirsk. It has a signal box, nicely restored as somebody's shed, with a couple of tail-lamps in the window, and a small bungalow-type station building...

From there, the ancient map (and I) directed us past the entrance to Newburgh Priory (some sort of stately home, not open on a Tuesday) and its associated topiary and lake, along some windy narrow lanes - very good array of roadkill, towards the next station on the line - Husthwaite Gate (the last before the junction with the East Coast Main Line).

Platform foundations
After quite a while circumnavigating the village of Husthwaite - we passed the church at least four times - due to the vagaries of 1930s cartography, I eventually found a place with 4G so I could locate us on Google Maps. Turns out we should have turned into High Street, rather than Low Street. Oops.

Husthwaite Gate station was an odd one. The main building was separated from the platform by a level crossing. The platform has now been demolished, but the foundations remain, alongside a neatly strimmed public footpath on the trackbed leading back towards Coxwold.

The station building has been tastefully extended over the years - it closed to passengers in the 1950s, before closing completely in 1963 - and is now a private house. The station yard is a camp site, and some of the old outbuildings are used as the site Reception. It's all very pleasant. Quite remote, but very floral. They sell strawberries and eggs, and have an honesty cafe out the back.

Husthwaite Gate
I've been to an honesty cafe before, at Naburn (just south of York) but this was a vast improvement. The Naburn one was somewhat grubby, with a hippyish atmosphere, but this was like walking into a page of Country Living magazine. Very tasteful paintwork, candles and stuff on sale, and a good array of teas and things. And to JP's delight they even had a serve-yourself pick n mix counter! Bought him 20 pence worth of flying saucers and foam shrimps. 

They also had WiFi. Coxwold's station was niggling at the back of my mind. The single storey building just didn't seem quite right to me, so I had a look on Disused Stations, and my fears were confirmed. That was merely a crossing-keeper's cottage! Bah!

All was not lost though. Mum suggested I could walk back along the old line, and they'd drive and meet me there. Splendid.

The weather was still nice and warm, if a little overcast, so I strode off into the countryside. The path isn't hugely exciting - just a grass strip between hedgerows. The only feature of note was a bridge were trains used to pass over a farm track, It offered views of grass, and a couple of horses.

Suddenly (how dramatic) there was a ridiculously heavy rain shower. Luckily I was under a tree when it passed over, so it merely resulted in me seriously needing a piss, rather than getting soaked to the skin. It was then just a few minuted walk back to Coxwold's actual station buildings, hidden away round the back of a row of pretty stone cottages. It too is now someone's house, but their gate was open so I confidently wandered into the middle of their drive, and took the required photo, and here it is:
Coxwold - excuse the wet hair

Friday, 24 June 2016

Exceedingly good

So anyway, I have returned to Yorkshire. On Wednesday, les parents and myself were all at a loose end. The weather was pleasant, so Mum suggested going out for a drive - she's very good like that. I suggested Kipling Cotes, on the old railway between York and Beverley, as it was somewhere I had never been before. I didn't have any OS maps with me, but saved a screenshot on my phone from the excellent Disused Stations website, with a small map so I could work out directions from an atlas in the car.

We arrived, after a very nice sunny journey, and it was all just about the same as when it closed back in 1965, the only thing lacking being the rails. The main building is a private house, the goods shed is a furniture shop - which also sells snacks and drinks - and even the signal box is still there, now housing a small artist's studio.

Just by the signal box is an information board, detailing the history of the line, with opening and closure dates, and general facts and figures about the area. The trackbed through the site is part of the Hudson Way.

Mum suggested I'd like to walk to the next station along. I guessed it was about two miles or thereabouts, so agreed, and they would drive there and pick me up. But first, a crap blurry selfie was in order!
Kipling Cotes
It was a nice walk. The first section was along a broad embankment, with scenic views out into the southern Yorkshire Wolds. It being something finally resembling summer - it is June after all - the hedgerow flowers were all in full bloom, the birds were singing, crickets hopped around me... I was surprised there weren't more people making use of the path, I only passed a couple of elderly cyclists, but it was good - I could enjoy the roses and orchids as if they were all just there for myself.

After half an hour or so, my phone rang. It was JP - he and Mum were lost. Obviously abandoned railway stations are not in the SatNav, and they wondered where I was. Unsure. He asked if I could see any landmarks. By now I was in a cutting, so my honest answer was "nettles", and "Oh, there's a bridge in the distance." Not much help.

A little later - clearly my estimate of two miles was a bit short of the mark - another phone call... 
"What can you see?"
"More nettles"
"We've found a pub."

I carried on under two more bridges. I could see a church, and a lady with a dog walked past. I'd been walking well over an hour by now, but to be honest I wasn't particularly bothered. I was having a great time, and if they'd found somewhere that Mum could buy wine I knew they'd be ok.

Eventually I reached Cherry Burton's former station. It too is now a private house. The platforms have been fenced off to create a sort of sun terrace for the owners, and featured a pair of irritating small yappy dogs - terriers of some kind maybe? I don't know. I prefer cats.
Cherry Burton. What the fuck is my hair doing?
Former station entrance
I managed to navigate my way out of the station area. The footpath leads from the back of the platforms, as the former forecourt is now a private road, with no public access, and headed towards the village - very nasty bit of main road to walk along, with no pavemen - and found Mum and JP safely ensconced in The Bay Horse. 

We drove back to their house via a sandwich at Burton Agnes Hall, then called at B&Q in Brid for some paint (Wednesday is pensioners' special day). I spent the evening painting their shed in a very fetching light blue and ivory. Very seasidey. Coincidentally British Rail North Eastern Region's colours. No connection at all. Obviously...

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Great Escape: Part 5

17th June 2016 

Fast train to Berwick this morning. Gotho was a little disappointed that the railway company all those years ago had found it necessary to demolish the castle to facilitate the building of the station. I personally am quite entertained that the Great Hall is now the site of platform 2, but I think that highlights the difference between us...


Went for a cheapo breakfast at The Leaping Salmon - you can't be a Wetherspoons for its volume/price ratio, then fortified with coffee, headed out on to the Elizabethan town walls. Luckily for mum and her fear of heights, they're quite wide, and only about as tall as the top deck of the 121 to Brid, so they're not overly scary. I think her 2 double espressos helped too.

At the Cowport, we descended to ground level again, and had a look around St Mary's Church. It was built during the rule of Oliver Cromwell apparently, and is thus quite unique.

Mum lit some candles (technically I did actually, as I had a lighter). The Lady Chapel reminded me of a WHSmith railway bookstall.

We crossed the road, and went into the barracks to dry off for a bit. There's three museums in the complex. The first one is a bit weird. It has a giant walk-round model of the Laidley Worm. It's a large fabric and metal tube, with a face and a tail, lit inside with Chinese lanterns. We went in the wrong way, so effectively climbed into its arse...

The second museum was a bit boring. It was something to do with the history of war? Wasn't really paying attention.

The third I found quite emotive. It was all about the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. I think the clothes got me. All the uniforms on display were roughly my size. Really got me thinking. A very moving experience.

We headed back out onto the walls, after Gotho had bought the requisite English Heritage fridge magnet (he'll need a bigger fridge soon), and spiralled round back towards the town centre.

Gotho was very cold and wet now, but Mum and I were still caffeinated, so we sent him back to the pub and we crossed the Tweed looking for a further station photo opportunity.

Opposite Berwick, on the south bank of the river, is the imaginatively named Tweedmouth, which until the late 60s had a station all of its own, being the junction for the line inland to Coldstream in the Scottish borders. It's been almost entirely erased from the landscape now, with the site occupied by a scruffy industrial estate. One of the units appeared to be closed so a small occurrence of trespass gave me a perfect photo opportunity.


The time was now right to rejoin Gotho, and return to Wetherspoons once more. Having visited the two most northerly locations of the North Eastern Railway, I ate the only suitable option...

The Great Escape: Part 4

15th June 2016

On the bus back from Bamburgh castle today, I realised I was quite close to a disused station on the East Coast Main Line. I rang the bell, and got off in the fairly dull-looking village of Longhoughton. The station was just around the corner. Alas, most of it has been demolished, but I took a photo of myself anyway.

Rather than walking direct back to Alnmouth, I remembered an episode of Coast from about 10 years ago, where they reconstructed a Mesolithic hut, and it was nearby. Thought I'd have a look, but sadly that has disappeared too...
This was a roundhouse. Not so much now...

However, the coast path south was lovely. The sun was out, the sky and sea were blue, and it was even warm enough for me to take my jacket off. Hurrah!

Summery :)

Eventually made it back to Alnmouth, after passing a dead seal (I poked it with my foot to check it was dead. Perhaps it's lack of eyeballs should've been a giveaway), aWorld War 2 bunker, and a couple of golf courses. Time for wine now I think...

Oh dear.

The Great Escape: Part 3

14th June 2016: Part 2

After a day of medieval history, looking around Dunstanburgh Castle, I thought that was probably it, with no chances for railway based activity. However, that was all to change...

Called in at Alnwick on the way back, for some cava at Barter's, then returned to Alnmouth. Ate a selection of meats and cheeses, then went out for a stroll.

Headed out on the estuary road, but turned off by the cricket club, up a footpath to  Lesbury. Saw a nice cat.

Walked through Lesbury, past the church and the pub. Passed the tollhouse, over the old bridge (the new 1960s one is stupid looking), then cut off onto the footpath along the bank of the Aln.

The main purpose of the walk was to see the viaduct carrying the East Coast Main Line across the river. Not sure what it's called. The sign underneath calls it Alnmouth...

It's pretty old. I think it was built in around 1846/7. I tried to count the arches but one end is rather obscured by trees. I took a couple of photos, and amusingly the exposure times erased the electric wires from the top. Retro!

I really ought to have been heading back en famille by now, but didn't. Carried on walking up the Aln, to Bilton Mill, then turned off up the valley side, towards the nearest road. Crossed the old Alnmouth-Alnwick branch line via a couple of stiles, by which point the mist had closed in again.

The footpath led to a farm track, then joined a minor road which eventually led back to Alnmouth station.

Alnmouth - apologies for the blur on the lens. Fingermark. Oops.

There's a plaque on the up platform (platform 1), detailing a bit of history of the railway. The station opened  1849 as Lesbury, was renamed as Bilton at some point, then became Alnmouth, and since 2003 has been Alnmouth for Alnwick. That's probably not what it said at all, but by this point I was tired.

I hung around long enough to watch a train arrive - quite surprised it still has a signal box - and then it was just a walk back to Alnmouth for wine. All this walking is making me feel remarkably healthy this week...

The Great Escape: Part 2

14th June 2016

I think my shoes change shape when it's damp. Yesterday morning I walked the 4 miles (maybe 5? Dunno - haven't accurately checked) from my current holiday abode to Warkworth Castle, and by the time I got there, my left foot had a tiny blister on one of the toes! This is a rare occurrence so am blaming the misty conditions...

But yeah, I digress. The original plan was to go by bus, but Exciting New OS Map™ persuaded me to walk. The first couple of miles were along an obviously fairly new section of the Northumberland Coast Path. I would like to extol the beauty of the views (reportedly magnificent) but due to weather conditions it was a similar experience to walking through old bathwater.

After a while I turned inland, and up an avenue of trees - I think they were horsechestnuts - leading to the main gates of a minor stately home (Shortridge Hall), then past its associated outbuildings and coach houses, to a pleasant lane running parallel with the East Coast Main Line.

I like roads that run next to railways - I always find it very exciting when a train passes me. It's one of the main reasons I bought my flat. True fact. So walking along this obscure Northumbrian byway, with expresses to London, Scotland and elsewhere whizzing by at regular intervals, was pretty cool.

After another while I arrived at what was formerly Warkworth railway station. It's been shut since 1958, and from the roadside now resembles a large country mansion, albeit one with Intercity 225s zooming through its back garden every couple of minutes. Whoever owns it is clearly minted. Their dog did not like me - it started yapping at me from the glass doors at the top of the entrance stairs. A canine translator would undoubtedly say "Get off of my land!"


I walked the last mile and a half into Warkworth. No wonder the station closed - really not convenient for the local residents. Much too far out of town. I met up with Mum and Gotho for a coffee at The Hermitage Inn, before continuing up the hill to the castle, where I proceeded to behave like a caffeine-fuelled nine year old, let loose on the set of Knightmare. It's a pretty awesome castle...

Like I said... Awesome.

The Great Escape: Part 1

13th June 2016

Apologies in advance for any spelling or grammatical errors - it's very early in the morning and I am writing this on my phone, in bed...

But yes. Regular readers - that select bunch of folk who can be counted on the fingers of one hand - may have noticed that every NER station I've been to so far has been in Yorkshire. Well, now I have temporarily escaped. Oooh!

Yesterday, Mum, Gotho and I caught a bus from our temporary holiday accommodation, with the intention of going to a nearby, very large, secondhand bookshop.

Alnwick - Excuse the poor quality photos. My phone's camera is not amazing...

What I hadn't told them, was that said bookshop is actually housed in what was Alnwick railway station. Huzzah!

Wine :)
Seriously though, if you're ever in the area, do call in. It's massive, it's got model trains whizzing about above the shelves, open fires, random antique furniture dotted around, and even sells cheese toasties and wine. Possibly actual paradise on earth...

The view from Lidl's carpark
Alas the only thing it doesn't have is actual trains any more, at least not since 1968. However, there is a plan underway to bring them back, and reconnect the town to the East Coast Main Line. Obviously nobody is intending to make the bookshop move. It's just too popular. And anyway there's lots of other things in the way too - not least a branch of Lidl and the A1 dual carriageway.

No, the reopened rail link will go to a somewhat remote location hidden away at the back of a "business park" - I think that's a modern day euphemism for Industrial Estate. The Aln Valley Railway people have opened a station called Alnwick Lionheart. Their line currently doesn't go anywhere in particular, and it's not very convenient for the town, but it's a worthy cause, and they sell Bovril in their cafe. Good times.


Friday, 3 June 2016

Better Late Than Never

Yes, yes. I know it's been ages since I last did anything, and for that I apologise profusely from the bottom of my wine bottle.

Yorkshire in June
Yesterday was a good day. Fried food was followed by a drive out in the country with les parents. Helmsley was the destination of choice. We arrived early afternoon. It was cold and grey. In fact, it was more than cold - it was shite. Especially considering it was June. I reckon Sean Bean is wrong - Winter isn't coming, it's already here.

But anyway, we managed about an hour of window-shopping before somewhere warm was required. Now, I don't know how many people out there have ever been to Helmsley, but if you have, you'll be aware that the majority of places are obscenely expensive. £9.50 for a bag of prawn cocktail crisps. That's a true fact.*

*(It's not a true fact)

So instead of taking out a second mortgage, it was agreed we should go for refreshments elsewhere. My railway senses started tingling, but how to get them to come to fruition? JP is easy to persuade, obviously - the word "cake" is usually the answer, but Mum is more of a challenge (at least when it's a bit early for wine). The answer I settled on was Religion. Mum quite likes religion. I think maybe she was a member of the Spanish Inquisition in a past life ("If I can hear that in here, Baby Jesus can hear it next door!" - I may of course be paraphrasing).

Ooh! My birthday!
Ampleforth Abbey provided teacakes and warm drinks, and the opportunity for Mum to singe her hair on votive candles in a side chapel. And luckily for me and my conveniently placed 1933 Automobile Map of the North (it's looking somewhat worse for wear - the sellotape has dried up), they both agreed that I could go and take a tragic photo of myself at the old Ampleforth station. Huzzah!

Ampleforth station  is quite a long way from Ampleforth village (and even further from the Abbey and its associated College). It closed many years ago, along with the rest of the line from Thirsk to Malton, and to be honest it's not a huge surprise. Apart from the postman, who seemed determined to run me over, there was barely a sign of life anywhere. It's quite pretty I suppose, but not sufficiently glamorous and exciting enough to attract tourists in the same way the Lakes do, or the Peak District. Perhaps that's a good thing?

Yeah - Frack Off!
Next stop was The Fairfax Arms in Gilling East. As a reward for behaving, it was decided les parents could now have a drink. What I didn't tell them though, 'til the last minute, was the pub's proximity to another abandoned station - Gilling - the former junction for the line northward to Helmley and Pickering. The sun was out by now, and the day was looking more June-like (or at least certainly mid-March), so they sat outside by a sparkling stream, while I nipped off round the corner for some further bad photography, and possibly light trespassing.

Gilling, like Ampleforth before, is now a house, but is still quite obviously railway-ish. It even has a sign advertising passengers to only cross the line by means of the footbridge. Easier said than done, considering it's been dismantled and turned into a weird Pink-Floyd-esque wall...

But anyway, that was it for the day. All that remained was a quick scampi-in-a-basket on the A170, and back home to feed the cats.

And again, sorry it's been such a long time...