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Yorkshire Goathland And the Railway Trail

A tourist honeypot, trading on its Heartbeat and Harry Potter connections


Goathland is a small settlement set on the hillside above the wooded valley of the Eller Beck and surrounded by the moors of North Yorkshire. It is a popular stopping off point on the North York Moors Railway.


It is very much a tourist honey pot trading on its connections to Heartbeat, the popular TV police drama, where it was used as the setting for Aidensfield. More recently, the station was used in the Harry Potter movies.

Until the C19th, Goathland was a collection of scattered farms around a village green, and this arrangement can still be seen today.



Sheep still wander round the village.


The old stone trod footpaths which predate the modern pavements are still used by the hordes of daily visitors.


The Old Reading room dating from 1894 allowed access to periodicals and newspapers for 1d a week. It has reopened as a library run by enthusiastic volunteers.


The village also retains its traditional red phone box in the centre of the green.


The popular TV police drama, Heartbeat, set in the 1960s, was filmed in the village between 1991 to 2009. Goathland was the fictional Aidensfield . The Goathland Hotel became the Aidensfield Arms and still has the sign on the side wall.


One of the shops still proclaims Aidensfield Stores and sells vintage gifts.


Coming into the village from the station is Thrips Funeral services and Aidensfield Garage. It sells tourist gifts and cars from the 1960s can be seen parked here.

In 2001, Goathland station featured as Hogsmeade station in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. It is immediately recognisable today.

Goathland station copy.jpg

While Goathland is an attractive settlement to walk round, there isn’t a lot to do. There is a good walk to Mallyon Spout Waterfall, which includes a short walk along the Rail trail.


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Goathland to Grosmont Railway Walk

The 'Rail Trail' from Goathland to Grosmont is a signposted three-and-a-half mile walk along the track of the original horse drawn tramway, predating the steam railway.

This is a well made and very easy footpath. It can be walked in either direction, but starting from Goathland, it is downhill all the way!

The Whitby & Pickering Railway was built as an attempt to halt the gradual decline of the port of Whitby. The basic industries of Whitby, whaling and shipbuilding, had been in decline for years and it was felt that opening up better links with the interior of the country would help to regenerate both town and port.

Until the turnpike to Pickering was opened in 1759, Whitby was better connected to the rest of the country by sea than it was by land. The climb over the high moors was a major obstacle. Stage Coach services did not start until 1795 and the thrice weekly Mail Coaches in 1823.

A railway would open up the area and also allow transport of agricultural products, timber, local stone for buildings or roads, iron and also lime. 

With the success of the Stockton & Darlington Railway (which had a number of Whitby backers) attention switched to the possibility of a railway from Whitby to either Stockton or Pickering. Many pamphlets were issued for or against the various proposals. In 1832 it was decided to ask George Stephenson to report on the rival routes.

Stephenson’s report was in favour of a horse worked railway to Pickering and his conclusion was accepted at a meeting held in Whitby on 14th September 1832.

This was a major undertaking which involved cutting a 120 yard long tunnel at Grosmont (believed to be one of the earliest railway tunnels to be built), traversing the marshy and deep Fen Bog using a bed of timber and sheep fleeces and constructing a rope hauled incline system at Beck Hole
In its first year of operation, the railway carried 10,000 tons of stone from Grosmont to Whitby, as well as 6,000 passengers, who paid a fare of 1/-s to sit on the roof of a coach, or 1/3d to sit inside.

The journey took two and a half hours to travel from Whitby to Pickering.

For the majority of the line, wagons and carriages were hauled using horse power. However, the 1:15 gradient between Beck Hole and Goathland, was too steep for horses. An alternative power source was required. Rope hauled gravity inclines had been in use for a number of years in mines and quarries. This system was adopted here with the weight of the ‘down’ traffic hauling up the ascending traffic. Water tanks attached to descending wagon were filled with water to give them additional weight. These were drained at the bottom, and were pulled by horses back to the top. It took about 5 minutes to be hauled to the top.

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Goathland Bank Top station and a stable was built at the top of the incline along with a supervisors cottage at the bottom.

In 1845 the horse-drawn railway was acquired by the York and North Midland Railway who re-engineered the line to allow the use of steam locomotives and built permanent stations along the line. The line was extended south of Pickering, connecting it to the York to Scarborough line. The incline was transformed to steam power with a stationary engine at the top of the incline and an iron cable pulling up the wagons. This required the installation of turntables at both the top and foot of the incline to turn round the steam locos. In early 1860, work began on construction of an alternative route avoiding the incline.

The use of steam power increased capacity of the incline. Carriages could carry up to 12 passengers and up to 500 tons of freight including ironstone from local mines.The incline was a dangerous operation and was known to fail. A crash in 1864 killed 2 people and injured 13. In 1865 the deviation route was opened with a much more manageable gradient of 1:49. This is the line of the present railway. Goathland Bank Station closed and replaced by the present station.

There is a lot more history of the line here with more pictures.


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The Route

The route follows the Muir Esk Valley through woodland and open pasture.
This map is taken from the Northern Echo.

Rail Trail Map copy.jpg

Beginning in Goathland village, the route begins by following Beck Hole Road past the car park. Just beyond, there is gate and signpost onto the rail trail.


The trail then crosses the unclassified road to Darnholme and the start of the incline. The trail picks up the line of the old incline and enters attractive deciduous woodland. At the end of May, the trees had only just come into leaf and the ground was covered with wild garlic and cow parsley.



The trail follows the West Beck downhill.



At the bottom of the incline, the trail passes the stone built Incline Cottage.


Just beyond is a small orchard planted by the Beckhole Woodland and Heritage Foundation. When the rail trail was operating, the area had been famous for its orchards with visitors enjoying a picnic under the apple trees.


Beyond the orchard is the site of Beck Hole Station, which is a short distance from the settlement. After the new line was opened, the rails were not lifted along the Grosmont to Beck Hall Station and tourist trains continued to run to Beck Hole between 1908-1914, bring visitors from Whitby to enjoy the local waterfall and tea gardens.


The public warning sign may date from that period.


A footpath leads up to the tiny settlement of Beck Hole, a delightful small settlement set in a steep wooded valley around an old fording point on the Eller Beck.


There are a few old stone built cottages and the Birch Hall Inn, which has a small shop selling sweets, soft drinks and ice creams .





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The route cont...

Just beyond the site of the old station was Beck Hole Ironworks, a short lived venture that closed in 1864.


This is much more open countryside with sheep grazing between the hawthorn.


Beyond Beck Hole, the West Beck is crossed by a bridge, although the original stepping stones are still there.


The West Beck and Eller Beck join to form the Muir Esk and the trail now follows this. There are seats along the trail, including this rather splendid one.



The trail crosses the river at North Bridge. The substantial stone bridge was built to carry the weight of steam engines was washed away in heavy floods. Now all that remains are the bridge abutments and posts in the stream bed. It is now crossed by a modern pedestrian footbridge.



The trail drops down through deciduous woodland


Leaving the woodland, it crosses wild flower meadows on an embankment.



Off the railway to the right was the site of the Muirside Ironstone mines. The trail passes a small brick built chapel and a row of cottages at Esk Valley which housed workers at the mines.

The track now runs along side the North York Moors line with a cast iron plaque marking the start (or end) of the original track.


There are views down onto the sidings of the works with its coaling plant.



Austerity Class Dame Vera Lynn was sitting in a siding, awaiting restoration.


The track climbs up over the tunnel to a view point overlooking Grosmont. Before the arrival of the railway, Grosmont didn’t exist, with just a few scattered farms. With the coming of the railway and the discovery of ironstone, Grosmont became an important industrial centre in the C19th with iron works, lime kilns and brick works. The ironstone was a short lived boom and the works closed in 1891. The piles of slag were reprocessed to be used for road building. The brick works survived until 1957, making a very hard and dense brick that was impossible to drill.


The track drops down into Grosmont past a small viewing area near the loco sheds.


Grosmont is now a small rather forgotten village with few facilities apart from the the North York Moors Railway and the Esk Valley line to Middlesborough. Its main claim to fame now seems to be the Grosmont Co-operative Society shop, opposite the station, which proclaims itself to be Britain’s oldest independent co-operative, established in 1867.


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Visiting the Engine Sheds

Grosmont is the base of the Motive Power Depot for the North York Moors Railway and where all maintenance work is done. Specialist shed tours are run by the railway, but visitors are welcome to visit the viewing gallery in the shed.

The sheds are be reached by crossing over the level crossing by the station and taking the path along side the railway line to the old tunnel of the horse drawn railway. This is adjacent to the newer and much larger tunnel, designed for steam locos rather than horses.

Opened in 1836, this is one of the oldest tunnels in the world. It has a castlellated northern portal. The southern end is plainer, possibly because that was less visible to the travelling public. The Directors censored George Stephenson for wasting money, although castellations were common in the early days of building railways and designed to assure passengers of the safety of the structure they were about to enter!


The tunnel gives pedestrian access to the Loco sheds. There are a series of information boards about the work of the shed and personnel.


Name plates and other railway artefacts are displayed on the walls.


A steep metal stairway gives access to a viewing platform.


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