A small selection of rail holidays will be coming soon, designed and personally delivered by yours truly. If you would like to hear about them first, please leave your email address on this site or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, here's my article from the latest Group Travel World magazine, the first part of England's epic rail journey.
For me lots of things began in Leeds. Independence, for a start, as I began a course many moons ago as a teenager studying German at Leeds University. I suppose my first cookery disasters happened in Leeds whilst trying hopelessly to fend for myself. My first romantic disasters happened there too. I think I improved on both those scores. You will have to ask my wife, I guess, a Leeds lass I met a few years after I had left the city. We met in travel, Maeve and I, and our careers have criss-crossed, more than once at rail holiday companies. I’m glad that she read the signals, asking me out on a date. All these years later we still haven’t hit the buffers, plus we have too miniature versions to show for our time spent in the sidings.
Our first rail holiday also began in Leeds. In the early days of our courtship we bought a weekend hop-on hop-off ticket between Leeds and Carlisle, with a couple of nights booked above a pub in Settle that quickly became a favourite. It was a chance to explore the Settle & Carlisle Line, endangered for years despite its obvious touristic draw, a railway through the spine of the north country, skirting the Yorkshire Dales, crossing bleak moors of Brontë-esque beauty and descending through Westmorland into Cumbria and border country.
But there is so much to see even before you reach Settle, tracks we’ve covered so many times since. After Shipley the train stops at Saltaire, the company town built by Sir Titus Salt and a living, breathing complete Victorian village. It is not surprisingly a UNESCO World Heritage site, with Salt’s Mill now accommodating exhibitions by famous local lad done good, David Hockney, and housing, civic buildings and parks not altered since their heyday. Book a local guide dressed in period clothing; they are great fun!
If you walk across the Leeds Liverpool Canal and the River Aire, then through Roberts Park you reach a little-known gem, the Shipley Glen Tramway, dating from 1895 and claiming to be Britain’s oldest working cable tramway. Check before visiting that it will be open, but if you catch them on an operating day it’s an extra little treat, pulling you up a quarter of a mile to Shipley Glen, self-styled as Britain’s first theme park. The Victorian-era pleasure grounds are long gone but the glen itself marks the start point of lovely walks.
Back on the service train, four minutes later we jump out at Bingley, an unassuming West Yorkshire mill town, where a short walk takes us to another engineering masterpiece, Five Rise Locks, a lock staircase and probably the biggest highlight on the Leeds Liverpool Canal, also described as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Waterways”. There are actually two lock staircases here, both dating from 1774, with Three Rise Locks encountered first, before a walk along the towpath brings us to the main attraction, a unique five-rise staircase with a total elevation of 60 feet.
You can rejoin the train at Cottingley or walk back down to Bingley after having a breather in the lockside café. But before you can say, “Eeh by gum, lad, what’s the next treat?” just a few minutes later we are in Keighley, where you could spend a whole day on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, pootling along the edge of the Yorkshire Dales into Brontë Country. In fact, I’d highly recommend that you do exactly that, a whole day exploring the five-mile former branch line with a day rover ticket, hopping on and off as you please. At Ingrow there’s the little museum of the line, included in your day rover ticket. You can spot the backdrops of the classic movie “The Railway Children”, which was filmed at the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, not least at the perfectly pretty Oakworth Station, often voted the best preserved railway station in the country. The real jewel in the crown is Haworth though, home of the Brontë family, where you must visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Oh and who can forget the sight of the Tour de France peloton heaving its way up Haworth’s iconic cobbled Main Street past the Post Office and the Black Bull before tackling the nearby Cote d’Oxenhope Moor. By ‘eck and zut alors!
Back in Keighley, I admit it has been thirsty work. As we conveniently left the car at home, maybe there is time to try a sneaky pint of Timothy Taylor’s ales. Taylor’s is, after all, the traditional independent Yorkshire brewery that has spawned not one but five Champion Beer of Britain awards (Madonna’s favourite beer, Landlord, in 1982, 1983, 1994 and 1999, and Boltmaker in 2014).
Around fifteen minutes later we reach Skipton. I thought long and hard about whether or not to skip Skipton. When all’s said and done, we are supposed to be exploring the iconic Settle & Carlisle line, but at this rate we’ll never reach Settle! Try as I might, I just can’t skip Skipton, the lovely market town at the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales. The castle, the famous pork pies, the boats trips on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway departing from the nearby village of Embsay to another beauty spot. I’m writing this reminiscence from lockdown and am actually waiting patiently for my next trip there to see the latest jewel in Skipton’s crown. You see, I recently got a phone call from Malcolm.
Malcolm is the owner of the Rendez-Vous Hotel, a friendly abode on the canal towpath just outside of town. He is a much-loved local personality, no slouch at 86 years of age, in fact you could say larger than life figure. He is also in possession of “Graceful Swan”, a brand new electric-powered dining boat offering a unique culinary experience along the canal, seating up to 60 people. The panoramic windows, the lack of noisy motor, as Malcolm spoke my mind floated effortlessly along with him. But we’ll park that one for later, or maybe we should moor it instead. Hopefully it won’t be long before we are travelling again. After all, we still haven’t reached Settle!
(Thanks to Visit Bradford, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and to the Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton for use of their images)