God’s own county

Andrew John reviews Rail Discoveries’ Yorkshire tour

What better way to prepare for Rail Discoveries, 85th steam train tour of the Yorkshire moors this year than to spend an evening in Harrogate, one of the gems in Yorkshire’s tourist crown? Its stern northern architecture is hopelessly unable to hide its warm northern heart.

Tea and cakes at the world-renowned Betty’s will provide 21st century tastes with Edwardian elegance. For tastes of a different sort try a spell at Slingsby Gin’s Spirit of Harrogate. But be warned: gin tasting can be more seductive than wine. And for a meal that deserves a Michelin go no further than La Horto, out at Rudding Park. Both are great ways of getting you ready for the ride of a lifetime.

Breakfast at the fine, 16th century Cedar Court Hotel. Then the Yorkshire Pullman coach takes you to the Museum of Rail Travel at Ingrow opening up a new, breathtaking world of steam engine construction and carriage restoration.

One of Rail Direct’s regular customers, Phil from Warrington, traced the lines down a particularly fine piece of varnished rolling stock, built by men “too rich for first class” back in the 1900s. It had been literally put out to grass as a cricket pavilion after World War Two, but saved for posterity by the folk at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway whose guests we were.

A lady from Portsmouth was equally impressed by a luxurious first class self-contained carriage from the late 19th century, replete with its own lavatory. “I love Yorkshire,” she said. “I love the taste of Yorkshire. And the only way of getting it is to come here.”

Bronte territory

My next taste of the county was the first class cream tea served as our train chugged into the heart of Bronte country. David Pearson, a tour guide who doubles as one of Yorkshire’s more than 60 deputy lord lieutenants, kept up a running commentary as we travelled at a steady 25 mph through field and moor.

Media glory is counted by the number of film and TV series the route has inspired. The Railway Children – Pearson had a bit part in the film. Heartbeat – Goathlands station doubles as Aidensfield, and Harry Potter… It goes to show, said a friend, that there’s nowt so star-struck as folk!

It isn’t long before we are into the heart of the Bronte family’s life together in the parsonage at Haworth. If you love them: if you know the triumphs and tragedies they fought and won, you’ll not need to be told how moving it is to stand in the same room in which the sisters dined and wrote and inspired each other. At a table next to the sofa where Emily was so soon to die.

Homeward bound

The Bronte Society have done a magnificent job restoring and preserving the building and making sure that as many of the exhibits on show as possible are authentically `Bronte’ rather than just reproductions.

The final day of the visit took in a morning in Whitby – as alluring as Kent’s Whitstable save that the river Usk rather than a busy High Street winds its gentle way through the centre to the sea. Then back to a Virgin special from York to London, swapping steam for electricity as we left Yorkshire behind. Tell your friends: if it isn’t God’s own county, it comes as close to it as anything ever could.

Price: Rail Discoveries offers a 5-day tour, the signature Yorkshire by Steam, from £375per person including 4* hotel accommodation, breakfasts, dinners, and internal transfers.
Customers can travel to York with Virgin Trains from £20pp.