14-20 August 2021
Due to Covid, Andrea and I hadn’t had a proper holiday since we went to Wales in September 2019, and were feeling rather desperate to get away.
Even before winning the ‘Golden Ticket’ (giving me a year’s free rail travel), we already had four ‘any CrossCountry journey’ complimentary tickets which we’d been given in compensation for a 3.5 hour delay back in December 2019. Looking at places that we could get to easily using CrossCountry and with lots of interesting rail-themed attractions, the North East seemed an obvious choice.
As soon as we’d received both our vaccinations and Covid restrictions had eased enough to ensure we’d be able to properly enjoy ourselves, we booked up a week in Yorkshire, primarily building our itinerary around a couple of main line steam tours starting in the area.
Day 1 – Banbury to Keighley
Day 1 was mostly a day for travel:
With the reduced ‘post-Covid’ CrossCountry timetable, Banbury has lost its direct hourly service to the North East and Scotland. This meant we had to take a Manchester train and change at Birmingham New St.
Thankfully this change was cross-platform and we only had to wait a few minutes in the dark and dingy bowels of the station for our connecting train to arrive.
Due to engineering work, the next leg of the journey took rather longer than usual. The train was diverted via Lichfield and the little-used line to Burton-on-Trent, and also had a 30 minute scheduled stop at Derby.
The final hop took us on a Northern 158 from Leeds up to Keighley, our base for the first three nights.
We stayed at the Travelodge, about 10mins walk from the station. It was simple and basic but clean and comfortable, and very affordable (the three nights cost us about £130).
One thing to bear in mind, if booking here, is that the hotel has no lift, so if you have any kind of mobility issue, it’s worth booking a ground floor/accessible room.
After dropping our stuff off at the room, we set out into Keighley town centre to have a look around and hunt down some dinner.
Sadly, for a Saturday afternoon, it was very quiet, though we did manage to pick up a ‘Scene It’ board game from a charity shop to add to our ever-growing collection!
The search for dinner was less fruitful, with the pubs we tried not serving food on a Saturday evening. Eventually we picked up a takeaway and retired to the hotel ready for the busy week ahead.
Day 2 – Steam to Carlisle
Sunday was one of the highlights of the tour, a trip on the Railway Touring Compnay‘s ‘Waverley’ trip to Carlisle, via the famous ‘Settle & Carlisle Railway’.
A couple of minutes late, Merchant Navy No 35018 ‘British India Line’ made an impressive sight, blowing off heavily as it rolled into Keighley to pick us up.
Last time I’d seen her had been as an unrestored hulk in the workshops at Ropley in the Mid Hants Railway, so it was great to finally see her fully restored and out on the main line!
We had opted for First Class on this trip, and we were treated to a tasty bacon bap, muffin and plenty of tea, as we steamed through the spectacular scenery of the Northern fells. Despite the slightly dull weather, the roads and fields around Ribblehead Viaduct were packed with onlookers and photographers as we passed!
Upon arrival at Carlisle, we spent some time wandering round the shops and picking up supplies for the return journey. Normally we’d also pop in to the very good C&M Models but sadly they don’t open on a Sunday.
By the time the return train departed at 5:30, the sun had come out, and we were treated to a very spirited run back to Keighley, with some excellent noise from the front end.
Meanwhile, the First Class stewards kept us well fed with scones, sandwiches, and yet more tea.
After the previous day’s experience, we weren’t optimistic about finding food at 9pm on a Sunday, so dinner consisted of the M&S food & wine we’d picked up during the break in Carlisle.
Day 3 – Keighley & Worth Valley Railway
Day 3 was a slightly slower pace. After a decent ‘fry up’ at the cafe on Keighley station, we made our way down to Platform 4, which is home to the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.
The KWVR is now operating a ‘hop-on, hop-off’ service allowing all day travel on any train, giving us plenty of flexibility to explore throughout the day.
I had last visited in January 2013, and due to some unfortunate circumstances, hadn’t really had much time to explore. Andrea had never visited, so it was great to have a whole day to properly look around.
Standard Class 2MT No 78022 arrived with the day’s train and we settled into our comfortable seats in one of the Mk1 coaches.
The first leg took us down to the other end of the railway at Oxenhope. Here we explored the large ‘Exhibition Shed’, containing locos that aren’t in active service.
The KWVR is famous as the filming location of the classic 1970 film version of ‘The Railway Children’ and the Exhibition Shed also contained Pannier Tank 5775 in its ‘GN&SR’ livery as worn in the film, and some sets used to film the upcoming sequel, ‘The Railway Children Return.’
Soon it was time to get back on the train, and we headed up to Ingrow West to visit the ‘Rail Story’ museum.
This is split across two buildings, the Loco Shed (home of the Bahamas Locomotive Society) and the Carriage Works (home of the Vintage Carriages Trust). Admission to both is included in the Daily Rover ticket and they contain a fascinating selection of locomotives, rolling stock and artefacts that tell the story of rail travel. Some of the superbly restored carriages are a real treat, and a testament to the quality of craftsmanship of both the original builders and those who have restored them.
We could easily have spent a lot longer exploring both, but had to get back to the station for our next train.
Next stop was Haworth where we popped into the well-stocked model shop on the station and had a brief explore of the village.
The rest of the afternoon was spent going up and down on the train. On our final train, a large coach party joined us at Haworth for the run to Keighley. It’s great to see this kind of traffic returning to heritage railways, a ‘shot in the arm’ desperately needed to make up the income lost due to Covid.
Upon arrival at Keighley, we headed back to our hotel before going for a roast dinner at the adjacent Toby Carvery.
Day 4 – Skipton and Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway
We hadn’t arranged any activities for the Tuesday, other than relocating from Keighley to York. However, after a bit of research the previous day, we were able to come up with a cunning plan and make the appropriate bookings.
After checking out of the Travelodge and grabbing a sausage sandwich and cuppa at the station cafe, we hopped on board a brand new Northern Class 331 EMU to Skipton, just a 20 minute ride from Keighley.
Our first stop was the canal, where we had booked a sightseeing trip with Skipton Boat Trips.
The crew were kind enough to store our big bags in their office, and shortly before noon, we boarded the ‘Cobbydale’ for our one hour tour on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
Commentary was pre-recorded, provided by comedian Dave Spikey, and definitely raised a few chuckles. However, its age did show itself a couple of times, and it did mean we didn’t get a description of what we were seeing in real time.
It was nice to have a bit of a change of pace from trains, and watch the boat crew doing the hard work running along the bank operating the swing bridges!
After returning to shore and retrieving our bags, we had a wander around the town, before jumping on the No 14 bus to Embsay, for the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway.
Unlike the KWVR, they are still operating an ‘Advance Booking Only’ policy.
We had managed to get a discount by buying a combined ‘Rail & Sail’ ticket, but the booking process was rather convoluted:
After buying the combined ticket, I received an e-mail with voucher codes which I then had to enter separately onto the Canal Trips and Railway websites in order to book the specific timeslots on each, a bit of a pain when all you’ve got is a smartphone.
Fortunately, I’d checked availability on both first, but the canal trips especially sold out quickly and it would’ve been easy to get caught out.
Our motive power for the day was Austerity 0-6-0ST ‘Welsh Guardsman’.
After a slightly delayed departure (due to a late running coach party), we enjoyed a leisurely trundle from Embsay to Bolton Abbey and back in our own private compartment.
Upon arrival back at Embsay, we grabbed the No 14 bus back to Skipton, and from there a Nothern 158 to Leeds and a new 195 DMU on to York.
This was my first ride on a 195, and these CAF DMUs really are a massive step change from the Pacers and Sprinters that they have displaced on local services.
Clean, quiet, comfortable, and very quick!
After arriving at York, we headed over to our hotel to check in. We’d booked into the ‘Ibis York Centre,’ hoping that, at 3 times the price, we’d get a little bit more luxury than the previous Travelodge… no such luck!
We arrived at reception at around 6pm, only to be told that our room wasn’t ready as the linen hadn’t arrived. The receptionist took our bags and promised to call us as soon as the room was ready, so we headed to a nearby pub for drinks and dinner.
By 9:30pm we’d still not received a call, so headed back to the hotel to check, only to find that the room was in fact ready, the new receptionist had no idea when the linen had eventually arrived or why we hadn’t been called.
The room itself was rather disappointing, both the bedroom and bathroom were significantly smaller than the Travelodge, and with much less desk and storage space.
The shower refused to maintain a constant temperature, fluctuating between freezing cold and scalding hot, not what you want when trying to get clean and refreshed after a long day!
Day 5 – York
Wednesday was spent exploring the city of York.
Originally we’d hoped to visit the Jorvik Viking Centre, but this is also operating on an ‘advanced booking only’ basis. We had tried to book a few days previously, only to find all the timeslots for the week were already sold out or only had one space left, the consequence of going in the Summer Holidays I guess.
Instead, we spent the day wandering around the shops and seeing the sights. Even without many foreign tourists, the city was refreshingly busy.
The famous Shambles saw long queues of people waiting to get into the various Harry Potter themed shops!
A stroll along the top of the city walls brought us back to the station, just in time to see Rebuilt ‘West Country’ Pacific 34046 ‘Braunton’ departing on the return leg of a Saphos Trains railtour to Wolverhampton.
Upon arrival back at the hotel, we enquired about the hot water issues, only to be told by one of the maintenance staff that it was an ongoing problem, he was waiting for a plumber to come and sort it out and couldn’t give us an estimated fix time… great!
Having left it a bit late for dinner (and just missing the kitchen cut-off time at the nearby pub due to ordering problems with their app), we ended up raiding the local Sainsbury’s and rustling ourselves up a salad and antipasti dinner!
Day 6 – Steam to Scarborough
Thursday was our second main line steam trip of the week, York to Scarborough on the Scarborough Spa Express operated by West Coast Railways.
After a massive fried breakfast at the Blossom Cafe, we were re-united with British India Line for the hour run to the coast at Scarborough.
We were travelling in First Class again, though this time it was due to Standard being sold out when we booked several weeks previously.
The wider and more comfortable seats were welcome, though there was no free food or drink offered this time.
We shared a table with a delightful young lad and his mother, who were obviously regulars on this trip and were all set for a great day at the beach.
After arriving at Scarborough, we jumped on a bus to Peasholm Park and the southern terminus of the North Bay Railway.
This 20in gauge railway was opened in 1931 and runs for just under a mile from the park up to Scalby Mills, next to the Sea Life Centre.
The locos in service were two of the line’s original 1931-built steam-outline diesels, based upon LNER pacifics and very fine examples of engineering.
After our return trip, we took in the shorefront for a short while before jumping onto the sightseeing ‘open top’ bus to take us back to the South Bay and town centre.
Unusually for a sightseeing bus, the price wasn’t extortionate, only £2 each with our Concessionary Bus Passes.
At the South beach, Andrea got to enjoy two of her favourite things. 2p machines and funiculars. Scarborough originally had 5 funiculars, but just two remain operational, and we only had time to sample one, the Central Tramway, to take us back into town. We’ll be back for the other in the future, no doubt!
It was so nice to be back at the seaside after nearly 2 years, and to get some fresh sea air in our lungs. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we see the see again (in fact, if all goes well, a few days!).
When we got back to the station, British India Line was waiting for us, and we departed dead on time… then immediately came to a screeching halt!
It appears that some passengers had arrived a bit too late, and had been running alongside the departing train trying to open the doors… stupid and incredibly dangerous!
After said passengers had been allowed to board (and hopefully given a stern ticking off), we set off again. Another spirited performance from the big Merchant Navy saw us back into York on time.
Having not had time (or the stomach space) for fish & chips by the sea, we found a nice chippy in the city centre, followed by a ‘Popping Bubble Tea’ for Andrea and a ‘Bubble Waffle’ for me at Meow.
After taking the bus back to the hotel, we were assured by the receptionist that the shower was finally fixed.
Apparently, by ‘fixed’, they meant that it would now maintain a constant temperature… freezing cold only!
Day 7 – National Railway Museum and Home
After checking out of the hotel (and negotiating a sizeable refund on our bill due to the linen and shower issues), we headed for the National Railway Museum.
Like many other museums and attractions, the NRM is operating a pre-book only system, albeit with free entry.
We had originally planned to visit on Wednesday, but when we tried to book a few days prior, no timeslots had been available earlier than 2:30pm, so we opted for an 11:15am slot on the Friday instead to give us a decent amount of time to look around.
At the gate, quite a number of people were being turned away who hadn’t realised that pre-booking was required. Hopefully this won’t dissuade them from coming back again in future.
The Miniature Railway and ‘Mallard Experience’ were also operating on a timed-ticket basis, with tickets available from the front desk.
When we arrived, the earliest miniature railway tickets available were for 2pm, and the Mallard Experience had sold out for the day, so booking early is definitely recommended.
The Museum hadn’t changed massively since our last visit in 2015. Some of the exhibits had moved around, but there was very little new to see.
One highlight was the original ‘Rocket’, which was previously at the Science Museum in London.
Both the ‘Depot’ area and ‘The Works’ were closed off. The former was being used for storage and the latter due to ‘government guidelines’.
The viewing gallery over the throat of York Station was also inaccessible which meant that we were unable to watch Flying Scotsman arriving from Shildon ahead of working the following Sunday’s Waverley tour.
I was able to spot it later (through a small dirty window in the North Shed), but it’s disappointing that the museum couldn’t find a better way to allow visitors to view its ‘star attraction’ in steam.
Our ride on the miniature railway was hauled by a petrol ‘class 47’ outline loco. The new track layout here gives a good long ride, over a ‘figure of 8’ arrangement and is a significant improvement upon the previous layout. Covid measures included large plastic screens between carriages, and a restriction of one ‘bubble’ per carriage.
After a final wander round, we headed back to the station for our train home. As we were an hour earlier than planned, we were able to use the flexibility of the ‘free’ tickets to hop on the previous train to Birmingham.
Due to the poorly-designed ‘Covid’ timetable, not only have direct trains from the North East to Banbury been removed, but trains from Manchester to Banbury are timed to depart Birmingham 2 minutes before trains from the North East arrive, leaving passengers with a 58 minute wait for the connection!
Fortunately, the previous Banbury train was running late and we were able to make the connection just in time (again, something that a non-flexible ticket would have prevented).
I do find it ridiculous that, since the recent rebuild, switching between low and high number platforms at the ‘A-end’ of New Street requires you to go through two gatelines, slowing connections even further!
We arrived at Banbury two hours earlier than originally planned and were met at the station by a friend and our dog (who’d been staying with her and was overjoyed to see us!).
It was so nice getting back out on the rails again and having a proper UK holiday for the first time in nearly two years.
Although Covid restrictions are easing, it seems that forward planning is the key, especially if you’re planning to visit any popular attractions that are still operating ‘pre-book’ only policies.
It was great to see the rail network, towns and cities coming back to life again after the lockdowns, and hopefully this summer will give tourist businesses and heritage railways enough income to survive the winter and return to some sort of normality in 2022.
Overall, we had a great time, and we’re looking forward to more trips away soon. We’ve got a number of main line steam tours already in the calendar, but with 3 more complimentary CrossCountry tickets and the ‘Golden Ticket’ to use within a year, hopefully there’ll be many more adventures to come!
Stay tuned on here and follow me (@LittleRedTrain on Twitter) for all the latest.