Introduction and a Bit of History
The Esk Valley runs from Middlesbrough to Whitby, with a reversing point at Battersby. Originally, it was two railway lines, one running from Whitby to Picton to link up with the main network, and a branch line from Battersby to Middlesbrough. The line from Whitby to Picton closed between Battersby and Picton during the Beeching cuts, leaving the line from Whitby to Battersby and Battersby to Middlesbrough remaining. Therefore, all trains have to reverse at Battersby in order to get to/from Whitby. The North York Moors Railway runs from Grosmont to Pickering and also operates across National Rail infrastructure from Grosmont to Whitby. This is one of the few examples of a regular and timetabled heritage services across National Rail infrastructure.
The line is now a fairly typical rural line. There are 4 trains that run the full length, with a few extras. Recent upgrades have seen the most northerly section of the line between Middlesbrough and Nunthorpe receive almost an hourly service. After Nunthorpe, the line passes through many small towns and villages between there and Whitby. However, most of these places are reasonably well-used with most getting over 6,000 passengers per year. When I booked the tickets for this trip, only Battersby and Kildale stations had low enough annual patronages to qualify for a visit, but the release of the most recent set of statistics put Commondale in that category too. I couldn't visit it this time, but I will at another point.
I was originally supposed to visit Battersby in October as an opportunistic quick tick. I was in the area for other stuff and thought I could do a quick visit. However, Northern were on strike and my visit was scuppered by that.
Journey #1: To Kildale
It was the early start again for me as I needed to make a long slog down to Darlington and across to Middlesbrough before I could pick up my train to Kildale. The sparse and irregular service leaves few options which do not involve either a huge wait or a tiny gap. The prices meant that I was cheaper for me to book first class on the long distance parts of my journey.
I sat in the lounge at Waverley station for a while with a cup of hot chocolate before my train had a platform advertised. I filled my rucksack with the complimentary biscuits (I took 2 packets) and walked over to where it was, settling down in my reserved seat opposite a man in a suit with a cup of coffee and a small laptop. He promptly moved. This meant I was able to spread out a bit across the table and enjoy a nice breakfast as we sped through the usually beautiful scenery on the northern section of the East Coast Main Line. Unfortunately, it was still dark for most of it, so only vague outlines could be seen. Sunrise and Newcastle greeted me (which was a mistake), and after nearly 2 hours on board, Darlington was announced and I alighted. The train in question was an InterCity125 which meant that the doors were manual slam doors rather than automatic. As I walked up the platform, I helped the platform staff by slamming doors closed so they could concentrate on making sure the train left on time. I sat in the Darlington lounge to charge my phone for a bit before my next train of the day arrived to take me across to Middlesbrough. After 30 minutes of quite crowded and bouncy travelling, we arrived at Middlesbrough and I got off. I had another 10 minute wait before my train to Kildale swung round into the platform.
We trundled down through various industrial plants to Nunthorpe where we stopped to exchange a token with the man from the signal box. This gave us permission to continue as far as Battersby. There, the train reversed and exchanged tokens again so it could continue towards Whitby as far as Glaisdale (this is the only passing loop on the otherwise single track line). Because there is no signaller at Battersby, this exchange has to be done remotely using a token box situated on Battersby platform which allows communication between the signaller at Nunthorpe at the driver. We then departed. Kildale is only 4 minutes further along the line than Battersby. We slowed to a halt and I alighted.
The 2 coach train could barely fit onto the platform. This is one of the points where I have a great deal of respect for drivers because even half a metre out could have meant that some doors were not actually on the platform properly. As I alighted from the rear door, two people were called to the back by the guard so they could board at his door. One boarded, whilst the other waved her off. I think that they were mother and daughter, although I didn't ask and don't wish to assume. The “mother” left the station and drove off, leaving me alone to admire the station.
Instead, I couldn't. A man in a van wandered around taking pictures for about 20 minutes before leaving. In that time, I sat in the waiting room and experienced its structural integrity. As I plonked my rucksack on the bench in the waiting room, the whole thing rattled. I then read one of the many Esk Valley Line leaflets which Northern have issued in order to boost tourist traffic on the line.
Now alone, I could properly admire the station. The station is nestled in a cutting surrounded by farms and a rather lovely village church. The aroma is a combination of manure and the sour taste one gets with food that's just gone off, with a hint of urine. To be fair, the station is mostly surrounded by farms. Other than the smell, it is a rather good rural station. The station itself has a shelter, a number of signs, a bin, a telephone (which still works) and a selection of plant pots which I imagine look rather lovely during summer. In the car park, there is also a small brick building which houses some public toilets. This makes it the first station in this series to have its own public convenience. The piece of National Grid infrastructure right next to the station entrance slightly detracts from the rural charm. Access to the station is down a grass path from the road and through a gate.
I find it is possible to check a station's natural demographic by the railcard that is advertised. For example, my local London station advertises a Two Together Railcard because I live in a part of London that is becoming increasingly gentrified by 25 year olds with aspirations and more coffee beans than brain cells. Kildale has a Senior Railcard posted. You work it out.
St Cuthbert's Church
I mentioned the church earlier, and as I had nearly 2 hours at Kildale, I decided to explore it. Sadly, it was closed on the day in question, so I had a look around the churchyard using my “museum technique” which I developed during childhood. Essentially, it involves walking very very slowly around a place in order to prevent boredom from setting in. This was developed during various holidays to places with my family, some of whom insisted on dragging two young children around art galleries and other cultural things which, whilst historically significant and very interesting, are fairly dull to most 10 year olds.
The current building is Victoria, although there has been a church there since Norman times, and Viking remains have also been found in the church grounds.
Having completed a circuit of the churchyard, including a number of stops to look at the scenery, I returned to the railway station to wait for my return train there.
Back to Battersby
Just under 2 hours after I had arrived at Kildale, I heard the horn of a train. Soon after, it came into view and stopped. I was called to the back to board at the guard's door and prepared myself for the 4 minute journey back to Battersby.
I alighted and watched as the train staff exchanged tokens from the box, switched cabs and then departed north to Middlesbrough. I was then left on the platform. Battersby station has a very long platform with only the top end (closest to the points but furthest from the exit) really used. The trackbed where another platform once stood is obvious, with the second platform derelict. There is a loop which means that this second platform could be used if the platform was re-built, but this is unlikely to happen, certainly in the short-term. At the end of the station there is a level crossing. Beyond this the line continues a short distance to a set of buffers. I assume this is to allow locomotive-hauled services to be able to use the full length of the Esk Valley Line by providing a place for the locomotive to change ends of their train.
Like the station, the facilities are spread over a fairly wide distance. The car park is on the non-station side of the track and requires a walk of about 200 metres from car park to to the platform for a straight line distance of about 10 metres. The timetable is located on the non-station side of the level crossing. Once over the crossing there is another collection of posters before one takes a long walk up the length of the platform to some benches and a waiting shelter along with the token box I mentioned earlier. Right at the end of the platform is a water tower. I'm unsure if it still works. I doubt that it does, but I could be proved wrong.
As I walked around the station, a man with a couple of dogs greeted me, and asked if I had just missed a train. I said that I hadn't but was waiting for another one. He continued on a small circular walk which brought him back to the other end of the platform. He had lost one of his dogs on the way round and was whistling for them to come. By this point, the rain had set in so I was sheltering in the shelter. As he passed, we exchanged greetings again and I explained that my train was late. “Great day for it” was the response. He continued down the platform occasionally whistling for his other dog.
5 minutes later, this dog came trotting down the platform. It stopped by me. I pointed in the direction that the man had walked, and so the dog ran off in the other direction. Another whistle caused the dog to flip round and scamper towards the sound.
The dogs were not the only animals around the station. The former station house (which is now a private property) kept chickens which were roaming freely on the platform.
Quick Hop to Danby
Originally, I had planned to spend a similar amount of time at Battersby as I had at Kildale: 2 hours. However, the rain meant that I was unlikely to get any more done, so I decided to board one of the additional services which doesn't run the full length of the Esk Valley Line in order to shelter for a bit. It runs to and from Danby, a station further towards Whitby. So, 30 minutes after I had arrived at Battersby, I was leaving again on a train that was 10 minutes late. Only 2 other people were on board. We scampered quickly to Danby, where I took a quick snap of the train before re-boarding and enjoying the non-stop ride back to Battersby. I was the only person on board on the return. On the return, the guard was surprised that I was on the train and shared a small joke as he ticked off my hastily purchased Battersby to Danby return ticket. I have no idea what it was.
Back at Battersby, I watched as the train departed before taking some more pictures of the things that I had missed the first time round. This included the festive decoration on the platform: a scarecrow with an elongated face and a Santa costume called “The Grim Sheeper”.
The Remainder of the Line
Because of the beauty of the Esk Valley Line, I wanted to cover the rest of the line to Whitby. It passes through some impressive scenery which pictures taken out of a train window cannot do justice to. The line winds between the rolling hills of the North York Moors, with the river Esk joining the line around Commondale. The railway and river criss-cross all the way down to Whitby, where there is an impressive viaduct (ex-railway) over the Esk Valley Line and the river.
The return journey was done mostly in the dark, which was slightly annoying as I had wanted to get the view from the other side of the train. It was doubly annoying because I had landed myself on the train which departed Whitby with all the schoolchildren. A train full of over-excited schoolchildren is very tedious. The guard agreed by mostly staying in his cab.
The way the tickets worked, it was cheaper for me to buy an advance back up to Edinburgh from Battersby rather than Whitby. This meant that I had a 40 minute wait at Battersby between trains. The darkness and the weather made me re-consider my wait. A consultation of the timetable showed that I could change at the station one stop north of Battersby, and board a train there back to Battersby, which would become the train that would take me back north. So, I continued north to Great Ayton.
Another Impromptu Visit: Great Ayton
This is the first station that I visited on the Esk Valley Line that had a ticket machine. I bought a return from Great Ayton to Battersby from it and wandered around. It is a fairly standard station, with a waiting shelter and a smattering of plant pots. Because of the rain and darkness I didn't do much exploring.
After 15 minutes, my train back to Battersby arrived. I was the only one on board (save for 2 drivers and a guard). My ticket was checked. At Battersby, I took a few quick pictures of the train before sheltering in it for the remaining 10 minutes before it went back to Middlesbrough. The guard checked my ticket again, asking if I was going back to Great Ayton. I showed him my advance ticket to Haymarket, which he checked off.
At Nunthorpe, I realised that we had a 20 minute wait in the timetable. I used it as an opportunity to stretch my legs, as did the guard. I was still the only passenger on board.
After 15 minutes, the guard came down the platform and told me that the train we were waiting for was 10 minutes late, so we would be too. The drivers, the guard and I continued our waiting. As it approached, we were all quickly on board. The guard closed the doors the moment the approaching train was clear of the single track line and we were soon off. Our delay was only 5 minutes. I had a change at Middlesbrough for another service to Darlington. As the guard came down the train to check tickets, I realise that it was the same guard. As he checked my ticket, he realised too. We exchanged an “oh, it's you again” thing before he continued on his rounds. I imagine Battersby to Haymarket is not a very popular ticket, even though I have bought two of them in the past few months.
At Darlington, the usual East Coast Main Line delays had taken hold, so my train was 10 minutes late. I was looking forward to the first class food offering, but sadly none was provided. I was given a microscopic can of lemonade and about 20 paper coasters. Once at Edinburgh Waverley, I changed onto another service to take me the short distance to Haymarket. It had a first class which I took advantage of for the full 4 minutes. I left the station and went home, only pausing to buy some chips.
Both Kildale and Battersby are fairly typical small stations that only exist because they happen to be on a railway line that links two large places. Battersby itself only exists because the railway has to reverse there. I'm not entirely sure why Northern operates the extra services to Danby and Battersby beyond Nunthorpe, because they don't appear to be well used. I imagine they would get some additional patronage in the summer when tourism is more of a thing. But, not extending services all the way to Whitby (the main population centre on the line) is not the best idea. I imagine shortage of units is a factor in this.
Of the stations in the least used list that I have visited, Battersby now holds the title for most journeys I have made to/from it, with a total of 10 entries/exist recorded for the next list of patronage statistics. This is made up of 2 from my failed visit a few months ago and 8 this time.
Author - Felix