If you had to choose one word to sum up British people, nostalgic would be high up on the list of contenders. We are definitely a nostalgic bunch. Pomp and ceremony remains very much part of British culture. We roll out Paul McCartney to sing Hey Jude at every national event. The phrase “it used to be” is constantly used by people of all ages. TV shows such as Downtown Abbey are wildly successful and the latest craze is 90s bands reuniting and going on tour. That is just a few examples of our nostalgia as a nation – the list could go on and on. It is therefore no surprise that nostalgia certainly plays a role in the attractions on offer in the UK.
Jim and I discovered this in spades on our short weekend away in North Yorkshire, experiencing the “golden age” of train travel on board the North York Moors Railway.
I am far too young to remember a time when steam trains were a part of daily life in the UK. In my lifetime, train travel has been synonymous with unreliable service and unaffordable prices. However, there is a certain romance to old fashioned steam trains, and I was grinning from ear to ear as it chugged it’s way into the station at Grosmont.
Grosmont in itself is an advert for nostalgia. It is a tiny, chocolate box village which is dominated by the North York Moors Railway. It could have been lifted complete straight from a museum, and looks completely untouched. The station itself is very quaint. I particularly liked all of the old brown leather suitcases stacked up inside the waiting room.
The North York Moors Railway runs from Pickering all the way to Whitby and has roughly hourly services in both directions. It certainly isn’t a luxury experience (although it is possible to have a luxury journey by booking onto one of their dining trains) – it is just like riding on a regular train. That does not in any way damper the excitement of chugging along at a sedate pace, admiring the beautiful countryside through which the train is passing, and pressing against the window to watch the steam billow from the front of the train as we made our way around corners.
My favourite part was going through a tunnel – unlike modern trains there is no lighting on the train and so it actually became pitch dark as we pulled through so I literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
We travelled on a short section of the line between Grosmont and Goathland, taking about 20 minutes and costing £6 each. Goathland Station may be familiar to fans of the Harry Potter movies as was used as Hogsmeade station in the first film.
The North York Moors Railway line was originally closed in 1965 following the infamous Beeching report. It was then saved by a group of enthusiasts and re-opened in 1973, and has been ongoing as an extremely successful tourist attraction ever since. It was clear to see just how much the people working the railway loved what they do – everyone had a smile on their face and waved enthusiastically to the crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of the train.
It is amazing how quickly you can become a train enthusiast on this railway – Jim and I have no particular love for trains, but we still stood for ages in Goathland Station waiting to capture a shot of the train going in the opposite direction.
After getting our pictures, we headed up the steep bank into the village of Goathland, which takes nostalgia to a whole new level.
Goathland is the setting for the much loved TV show Heartbeat. Set in the 1960s, Heartbeat is about the police force in the rural fictional village of Aidensfield, and back in the days of 4 TV channels, it was pretty much obligatory Sunday night viewing. Goathland has a lot to offer with the railway, and numerous country walks. However, it trades heavily on its dual personality as Aidensfield, with signs of the show all over the village, from the garage-come tourist shop to the old police cars dotted around the village.
Our plan was to take the train to Goathland and then walk back to Grosmont along the Rail Trail, so we decided to fuel up in Goathland and stopped for lunch in the Goathland Hotel, more commonly known as the Aidensfield Arms. This is a big tourist draw in Goathland, and it was reflected in both price and quality. We both went for some good old fashioned British stodge for lunch with a cottage pie, which was really delicious, but the vegetables accompanying it were pretty limp and bland, and Jim was not impressed to receive a tiny thimbleful of tea for the £1.60 he paid for it.
After lunch we headed off on the Rail Trail, which is a 3.5 mile footpath between Goathland and Grosmont along George Stephenson’s original horse drawn railway.
It is a really well maintained path and an easy walk, provided that you do it in the direction that we did, i.e. Goathland to Grosmont. The path is all downhill in that direction until you come to Grosmont, but would be a steep climb if completed in the other direction. It is also an accessible path, which is suitable for pushchairs and wheelchair users.
There are plenty of opportunities along the trail to see the steam trains running through the valley.
There is a bit of steep part at the end of the trail to come back to Grosmont, but the view of the village from the top of the hill makes it worth a little bit of effort.
The nostalgic theme of the weekend continued on our second day in North Yorkshire when we headed over to Scarborough.
Scarborough is a pretty typical British seaside resort. It became popular with British holidaymakers during Victorian times, and this is reflected in a lot of the architecture of the town, most notably the impressive Grand Hotel. However, like many other British seaside resorts, it has fallen into decline with the advent of the cheap package holiday leading British sunseekers to spend their pounds abroad. Scarborough now feels a little bit run down and neglected, with no clear sense of any modernisation. It’s sea front is littered with the usual fish & chip shops, ice cream vendors, arcades and the obligatory fun fair.
That being said, Jim & I had so much fun in Scarborough. We had originally planned to spend most of the day there before heading home, but parking was not east to come by in Scarborough and it was very, very expensive – we paid something like £4.00 for 2 hours. That was a bit disappointing, as we could happily have spent the whole day there.
Scarborough will give back to you what you put in. It would be easy to walk along the sea front being underwhelmed by the quality of the beach, and unimpressed by the tacky bright lights of the arcades. Jim and I raced in and out of the arcades as if we were children again, throwing away 2ps in the coin pusher and attempting to beat the claw. We ate an ice cream as it started to rain and hunted for bargains in a dodgy looking “designer discount” warehouse.
Jim & I certainly aren’t old, but exploring Scarborough’s sea front made us both feel young and carefree again.
And when the sun briefly came out, we got a chance to see just how lovely Scarborough can be.