For eighteen miles between Whitby and Pickering, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs steam and diesel locomotives through the gorgeous North York Moors National Park. But to Rowan, a steam train can only mean one thing – the Hogwarts Express. I was really looking forward to our day out with a difference.
I had booked day return tickets in advance on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway website, so on the morning of our big day out, we wolfed down our breakfast then walked down to Whitby train station to collect our tickets. Rowan, already kitted out in his Gryffindor bobble hat, somehow managed to wangle a Hedwig owl from the station shop to complete his look, before we head to the platform to wait for the train.
The carriages used by the railway date between 1890 and 1962, and what I really wanted was to bag a seat on one of the corridor carriages. We weren’t disappointed. Rowan was absolutely made up as he sat down in what he considered to be the same compartment as Harry, Ron and Hermione. Now I may have only seen one of the Harry Potter films all the way through (the Prisoner of Azkaban – it’s definitely the best), but I recognised many of Rowan’s quotes from scenes on the Hogwarts Express. Cries of “anything from the trolley” and stomping off down the corridor declaring he was “going to get some air” (from one of the films where they seem to have turned into stroppy teenagers) punctuated the whole day.
My original plan had been to call at a couple of the stations, and take in a walk at some point along the way. But as the rain beat down outside, and Rowan revelled in his surroundings, I decided we’d just see what the railway had to offer. Our first stop would be Grosmont Station
It was difficult to convince Rowan to leave the carriage, but he was soon having just as much fun exploring the station. At the side of the platform, engineers were getting one of the steam trains ready to set off, and spotting Rowan peering inside, they invited him in to have a look. Here, they explained a few things about the engine, and even let him shovel coal into the firebox. He was beside himself with excitement, so a big thank to the volunteer engineers for your passion and kindness – you really made his day.
After finishing his little apprenticeship, we watched a couple of trains arrive and depart. The sounds and smells were amazing – we were really enjoying our little adventure.
Grosmont Station is also home to the engine shed so, with a little time before the next train arrived, we head through a tunnel, built by George Stephenson in 1835, to see if we could catch any locomotive maintenance or restoration. I was surprised by how much larger the engines seemed in the shed than on the platform.
After a nosey round, there was just enough time to call in the 1950’s themed café for a huge slice of lemon cake before the next part of our journey,
Next stop was Goathland Station. It was always my plan to stop here, not least because this is the station where budding witches and wizards alight to make their journey on to Hogwarts – Hogsmeade Station. Rowan was really impressed to be at the actual place where Hagrid greeted Harry and co and also, for anyone who remembers, this was where Nick Berry was the policeman in Heartbeat.
From this station, it is possible to take a short walk to explore some of the local scenery. One such walk is Mallyan Spout and Beck Hole – a wander through woodland to a waterfall – the details of which can be found here. It looks gorgeous and was something we were going to do, but we were enjoying the railway experience so much, we decided to continue on and explore the whole line. So, after calling in the Harry Potter themed shop, we took our place on the platform and waited for the next train.
Settled in our new carriage, and with Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Jelly Beans for a snack, we relaxed on our journey through some beautiful scenery. We had decided to stay on the train all the way to Pickering, but we were to pass through two more stations before we reached our destination. Newtondale Halt is a request stop, accessible only by the train, by foot or on a bike, and from here, you can explore the woodland and wildlife of the moors (there’s a really interesting looking route here). Following Newtondale Halt is Levisham, a 1912 themed station giving access to Levisham Moor and the Hole of Horcum, aka the Devil’s Punchbowl. I am honestly not sure which one of those names I like best.
We stayed in our seats, watching the world go by until we reached the 1930’s themed Pickering Station. There is plenty to explore here, and for kids (and kids at heart), you can download a brilliant activity sheet that is full of interesting facts and things to look out for, making exploring the station really come to life. I’d missed this when we were planning our day, so instead, we took the five minute walk to discover Pickering Castle.
After a brilliant time climbing all the towers at the castle, Rowan was keen to relive his Harry Potter experience in one of the corridor carriages for the return leg. We chatted with a helpful guard who let us know which end of the track we could find them when the train arrived. It is possible to upgrade to first class for an extra £1, but Rowan had checked out those seats, and they weren’t Hogwarts Express enough for his liking, though they did look comfy to me.
From here, it was an hour and forty-five minute journey back to Whitby, admiring the countryside rolling by the window and learning about magical winged beasts in the Dragonology book I had bought for myself, I mean Rowan, whilst at Pickering Castle. It had been such a brilliant day out. We will definitely be back to do again at some point, as I’d love a wander around Newtondale. If you like the look of a day out on an amazing railway, you can find more details here.