Appropriately for this article in early July we were riding behind an Impala on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) now in its 40th year.
The Impala is one of 40 engines built in the 1940s and named after African antelopes (no, I didn’t know that many existed either). This steam engine had been lovingly restored by volunteers and was pulling six crowded coaches of holidaymakers from Whitby to Pickering. The route passes through the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and includes some glorious countryside as it winds through the meandering Esk Valley and over numerous bridges skirting steep valleys and moorland.
The maximum speed allowed on this track is 25 mph and I was delighted to note that I could identify many of the flowers and trees as we chugged past – a feat that is almost impossible at normal rail speeds.
The fares are Day Rovers and give an opportunity to hop on and off at different stations if so desired. The service runs from March 23 until November 3. Both pushchairs and wheelchairs can be accommodated and also bicycles provided there is enough space. Dogs are welcome on leads.
Excitement mounted as the whistle sounded and the train departed promptly from Whitby main station. The tide was out and we noted gulls and geese in the muddy flats.
From here on we seldom saw any roads but occasional hamlets and farmsteads nestling amongst the trees and farmland. The summer had produced a phenomenal show of meadowsweet with creamy frothy flowers. Our route was lined with pink rosebay-willow herb and scatterings of poppies, bramble flowers and acres of bracken. Most prominent were the deciduous trees bursting with leaves and only interrupted by hayfields and a few arable fields.
After about 20 minutes we approached Goathland, otherwise Hogsmeade Station in the first Harry Potter film or Aidensfield in the TV series, Heartbeat. It is not far from the Mallyan Spout waterfall.
The whole journey takes well over an hour and one stop at Levisham is accessible by one solitary hill road and is surrounded by the magnificent Yorkshire Moors. Here the heather was actually in flower and crags were seen, surely the home of raptors but these were temporarily out of sight perhaps because of the smoke and the noise of the engine.
After Levisham we recorded several smaller ponds and moorhens and our first coniferous forest as well as marshes and bog cotton. One forest pond was filled with large clumps of both yellow and purple irises. Scrub willow and tall marsh thistles were observed alongside the fenced track as we approached the terminus and occasional small white butterflies fluttered out of reach of the smoke.
For more information try www.nymr.co.uk.