Northumbrian Ranger

11/12 July 1984

The remains of Bishop Auckland stationOn holiday in York for a fortnight during the summer, I decided to take advantage of BR’s "Northumbrian Ranger" ticket, covering the area "From Berwick down to Hadrian’s Wall and Newcastle, from Durham down to York and Whitby". The 2-day ticket at £11 seemed to fit the bill. (A 7-day ticket, at £19 was also available).

"Not available for travel until after 8.30 am Mondays to Fridays" meant that the first northbound train I could use was the 8.56 for Newcastle. My initial objective was Berwick, which meant a change at Newcastle. To connect with the Berwick train, I could have left York on the 9.47 "125" or "tram" as they seem to be known in the Northeast. However, loco-hauled trains are becoming increasingly rare on the East coast main line so the 8.56 won!

This train, the 6.12 from Liverpool Lime Street, arrived, and duly departed, on time, hauled by a "Peak". First stop was Thirsk, where the slow line was taken, the platform face on the fast line having been removed. I was pleased to see a North Eastern Railway water column still in situ on the Northern end of the platform and a class 40 sitting in the sidings.

Next stop is Northallerton. The station buildings here are a shadow of their former selves, and little remains of the junction with the former Leeds Northern route to Ripon and Harrogate, a route used by some Liverpool - Newcastle trains until its closure in 1967. Another increasingly rare item - a Wickham trolley was sitting on the former cattle dock. There are now fewer than 80 on the whole of BR, may of which are either out-of-use or de-engined. One of the 2 allocated to Northallerton is the oldest still on BR -in fact one of the oldest vehicles of any description on BR, having been built in 1931.

At 9.44, still on time, we arrived at Darlington - an attractive airy station with its overall roof intact and soon to undergo renovation.

Leaving Darlington on time we soon passed through Ferryhill. No station here, but still a busy spot - junction for Stockton, and a couple of quarry lines. Three more Wickhams too! Just north of Ferryhill, we passed through Tursdale Junction -where the "Old Main Line", now freight only, departs, via Washington and Pelaw, for Newcastle. Practically nothing now remains, a little further on, of the former Relly Mill Junction, where three lines ran off to Bishop Auckland, to Waterhouses, and to Blackhill (Consett) via Lanchester. "Welcome to the North East – sorry no vacancies" had been graffitied on an over bridge. Then out over the rooftops and into Durham.

Newtonhall, just north of Durham, was formerly a junction - for Leamside and Sunderland. No sign of the former junction, it having been by-passed, and the main line being straightened out in the process, several years ago.

Few passengers got on or off at Chester-le-Street; then on, under the closed Washington - Consett Line. Soon we were running past Tyne Yard, and minutes later we rumbled over the King Edward Bridge and into Newcastle Central, still on time, at 1031.

80 miles in 95 minutes. Hmm. The fastest 125 does the journey, admittedly with no intermediate stops, in 57 minutes. Perhaps I should have caught the 9.47 after all.

I watched a Carlisle train depart, via the King Edward Bridge. These trains run along the south bank of the Tyne now, formerly freight only, rejoining the former route at Blaydon.

My train for Berwick arrived on time at 1107. A "tram" for the next 67 miles - the "Aberdonian", no less - the 0800 from Kings Cross, arriving at the Granite City at 1518. 1 could not have caught this train at York - it doesn’t stop there!

Departing at 11.09, the journey to the border took just 49 minutes. The double-glazed, resilient-wheeled MkIII stock runs so smoothly and quietly that one gets very little impression of speed. The lack of speed approaching Morpeth was noticeable however - scene of the derailment of the sleeper just a couple of weeks earlier. Three coaches were still lying on their sides, under tarpaulin, at the site of the accident, and another 5 damaged coaches, 4 of them sleepers, stood in the sidings to the north of the station.

The ‘‘tram’’ sped on – Pegswood, Widdrington, Acklington, then a clear view of the rather old-fashioned seaside village of Alnmouth - the station once the junction for the branch to Alnwick. The next station is Chathill - again, formerly a junction, this time for the long-gone North Sunderland Railway which ran, via North Sunderland, to the small fishing port of Seahouses. This railway had the dubious distinction of being the first in the country to completely dieselise its services when it bought a tiny jackshaft-drive diesel-electric from Armstrong Whitworth in 1934. The line closed completely in 195l.

A very attractive stretch of line follows, with views to the North Sea, the Farne Islands, and Lindisfarne, where I could see a car crossing the causeway which is flooded twice daily by the tide.

On a motoring holiday several years ago, I noticed a small pub - "the Miners Arms", at Scremerston, just south of Berwick. Today I was able to see more concrete evidence of Scremerston’ s past - the trackbed of the line to the pit still clearly visible. Then through Tweedmouth yard, where an "03" was shoving one or two wagons about, over the Royal border bridge, and into Berwick station crossing from N.E.R. to N.B.R. - the station was North British, the bridge North Eastern.

Time for a pint and a butty! I returned to Newcastle on the 13.18 from Berwick. Oddly enough this was the southbound "Aberdonian". The 125 set rolled in off the cliffs at the prescribed time, and duly arrived in Newcastle on time at 14.13. Just as well, as I intended catching the 14.15 for Middlesbrough.

This train consisted of a 3-car DMU, and was practically full. I think I found the last empty seat, near enough to the front to see through the driver’s compartment to the line ahead. (Surely the only good feature of a DMU!) I then realised why the seat had remained vacant - the seat opposite was occupied by a large, very scruffy, smelly gentleman. "Man of the road" is the polite term, "tramp" more accurate. Strictly speaking I suppose he could be neither, travelling by train! He produced a travelpass when the ticket inspector arrived, which didn’t seem quite right either. Fortunately he didn’t seem to like the look of his fellow travellers, as he spent most of his journey at the door, peering through the open window.

We departed from Central station past the castle and over the high Level Bridge, through the derelict Gateshead station and out to the first stop at Heworth, an interchange point with the Tyne & Wear ‘Metro’, whose trains scuttle alongside most of the way from Gateshead.

Next stop for Middlesbrough trains is Sunderland - we passed through Boldon Colliery, East Boldon and Seaburn stations without stopping. Immediately after Boldon Colliery station is the historic Pontop Crossing, where the former Stanhope and Tyne wagonway of l834 crossed on the level. This became better known as the route of the Tyne Dock - Consett iron ore trains, until 1966 when the line from Boldon Pit to Washington closed and the ore trains were sent via Gateshead, regaining their earlier route at South Pelaw junction. The crossing itself remained in use to serve Boldon pit until it too closed a year or so ago. The trackwork was still in situ, but cannot remain much longer.

Sunderland is a pretty depressing station. Rebuilt by BR, it is rather like a smaller version of New Street, and about as attractive.

On past Ryhope Grange Junction we rattled, out into the coastal mining area. Sadly the pits were inactive due to the miners’ strike. Durham, an old mining area, has seen a great number of pit closures, recent casualties being Blackhall and South Hetton. The last pits mine coal far out under the North Sea. The area also saw the last pre-grouping steam on BR, the ex-NER Q6 0-8-0s and J27 0-6-0s surviving until late 1967.

Vane Tempest, Seaham, the rope incline to Hawthorn and South Hetton, Dawdon, Easington, Horden and the remains of Blackhall passed by (with a brief halt at Seaham) before we rolled into Hartlepool station, situated on a tight curve. The freight lines used to run behind the station on the inside of the curve, but had recently been lifted. As we stood in the station, I could see and hear clearly, in my mind’s eye, a Q6 shuffling and squealing round the curves on a long coal train. We paused briefly at Billingham, then the rounded the curve onto the tracks of theformer Clarence Railway. We soon left this route however, via Norton East and South junctions, and ran into Stockton station, which until relatively recently, had a fine overall roof.

Immediately after leaving Stockton we passed a large scrap yard, the final destination for an enormous number of ex-BR brake vans - I’m sure I’ve never seen so many at once! Most were the standard former LNER design, though there were one or two others, including at least one GWR-type "Toad". (What a daft design for a brake van!)

Round the north-to-east side of the triangle we headed, and on via Thornaby station and depot to Tees Yard. There seemed to be a great number of idle locos here - doubtless many would normally have been out on coal trains. Only a little further on we arrived in Middlesbrough station. The line between Middlesbrough and Darlington sees a very frequent DMU service, with a good proportion of trains extending eastwards to Saltburn, and westwards to Bishop Auckland. Many of the Middlesbrough - Whitby trains originate in Darlington. (I was to travel on one of these the following day). My next move was the 1600 departure to Darlington and Bishop Auckland - a trip along the Stockton and Darlington railway (mostly anyway!).

My earlier steps were now re-traced - back past Tees Yard, Thornaby station, over the Tees Bridge, then southwards at Bowesfield junction, towards the sprawling junction at Eaglescliffe. The station used to be sprawling too!

We rattled on through the junction, where the mostly freight line to Northallerton forks off. This line, the northern end of the Leeds Northern Railway, is threatened with closure because of the poor state of the viaduct at Yarm. It currently sees one passenger working per day, the "Cleveland Executive" 125 to Kings Cross.

The DMU swung to the west, however, through Allens West and Tees-side Airport (!) stations. The original S & D line forks away to the right a little further on, the current route via Dinsdale and Darlington Bank Top being constructed in 1867.

Back to Darlington, where we pulled in to the station close behind a north-bound 125, then out once more onto the S & D Line, near the site of the once-famous level crossing. We soon pulled up at North Road Station. Part of this station is now bettor known as a museum, the BR part however, is a dismal, graffiti covered mess, with high wire fences guarding the way out.

Some attractive S & D features remain at Heighington, the next stop, then on through Newton Aycliffe and Shildon to Bishop Auckland. Part of the branch is single track, while a considerable length of double track remains in use as well. The large yards at Shildon, once a major railway town at the eastern end of the NCR’s early overhead electrified mineral line to Erimus (Tees) Yard, were almost empty and forlorn. The works remained in use until very recently of course building and repairing wagons. The electrics, along with most of the pits they served, vanished long ago.

I was not prepared for the shock I was to receive at Bishop Auckland. This was once a large, rambling triangular station with lots of glass and ironwork, a real railway station. Alas, the whole of the inner triangle buildings have been demolished, and the triangular platform was covered in willowherb and brambles. The train stopped at the only platform remaining in use, the former north – to - east platform for southbound Durham trains, which last ran in 1964. The guard on the DMU recalled seeing diverted ECML trains running through these platforms over 20 years ago. This was the only side of the triangle with separate platforms - the other two faces of the triangle were two-way - once a fairly common arrangement, even on double track line, in this part of the North East.

Bishop Auckland was quite a busy spot once, with lines also running to Barnard Castle, over the moors to Consett, to Ferryhill, and to Wearhead. The latter still remains in use, freight only, to the cement works at Eastgate.

I returned to Darlington on the 1718 train - the return working of the same DMU. At Darlington I took the opportunity to partake of a Travellers Fare sausage roll and a piece of fruit cake, then waited for the l833 for York (the 1750 Newcastle - Leeds.) Sadly, this was late. Admittedly, only about 15 minutes, but the only significantly late train of the day. The train rolled in behind a Peak, getting me back to York at about 1920. I had covered about 350 miles in the course of the day.

The following day I decided to take a trip to Whitby. Twenty years ago, I could have taken the direct route, via Malton, Pickering and Grosmont. Come to think of it, I could also have gone via Scarborough and along the scenic coastal route. Today however, I would have to travel via Darlington and Middlesbrough, a 95 mile journey instead of 53 by the direct route.

I left York on the 1014 125, the 0558 from Bristol Temple Meads. This train arrived at Darlington at 1043, 29 minutes and 44 miles later. My train the previous day took 48 minutes.

I took a seat in the Whitby train which stood in the bay platform. I sat at the extreme rear of the DMU - this would give me a good view of the line ahead when we reversed at Battersby. The train duly departed at 1115, and 26 minutes later we left Middlesbrough, having taken on a considerable number of passengers. Most of these were also heading for Whitby; many carried senior citizens' railway cards.

The Whitby line swings away to the south shortly after leaving Middlesbrough and soon begins to climb at 1 in 44. The end of this ascent was most strongly marked, from my position at the rear, as we entered Nunthorpe station. A service of local trains runs between Nunthorpe and Middlesbrough, in addition to the Whitby trains, serving the intermediate stations at Marton and Gypsy Lane.

Shortly after Nunthorpe, a trackbed forks away to the east. This was the original route of Middlesbrough - Whitby trains, which ran down the coast through Staithes, before the Loftus to Whitby West Cliff line closed completely in 1958. Through trains to Scarborough then faced three reversals - Battersby, and two reversals at Whitby.

The next stop is Captain Cook’s Great Ayton, then on to Battersby. This used to be a crossroads station, with trains for the Rosedale mineral line, and a service via Picton, on the Northallerton- Yarm line, to Stockton. While much has gone, much of the interest remains, in the form of loops, signalling and a NER water column.

We now began our journey along the Esk valley section of the line, probably one of the most attractive passenger carrying lines on BR today. The country branch line atmosphere is still strong, with many original structures remaining at stations, and trees brushing the train in many places. The next station is Kildale, then the moorland stretch to Commondale. Next stop is a passing loop, at Castleton Moor. Danby and Lealholm stations follow, then another passing loop at Glaisdale. After Egton station, we paused at Grosmont, the junction with the North Yorks Moors Railway. I was fortunate to see Kl No.62005, in its BR black livery, running round a train.

Whitby was not far now, with just a couple of stops at Sleights and Ruswarp before we came to a halt at the terminus. The station buildings here are remarkably clean and intact, considering Whitby’s much reduced role today.

I took a break for fish and chips, and a look at the sea, before returning to the station to catch the 1420 to Darlington - the return working of the same train.

An equally enjoyable return journey saw me back in Darlington at 1619, just in time to catch the 1625 125 to York. As we hurtled through the Vale of Mowbray, I reflected on the ‘sublime to ridiculous’ journey I had made. The HST averaged over 90 mph, start to stop, from Darlington to York. The DMU had averaged just over 30!

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