A York Figure of Eight
27 August 1986
A glance at a railway map of the north of England reminded me that I had never travelled by rail to Ilkley, and a trip to York for a few days at the end of August gave me the opportunity. The tail end of Hurricane Charlie meant that the alternative - a trip to the seaside with wife and kids - was made impractical, so after consulting the timetables, we duly turned up at York booking office.
The obvious route would have been the direct one, via Church Fenton, to Leeds, there catching one of the hourly (outside the rush hour) Ilkley trains. However
The booking clerk looked rather puzzled at my suggested route, said it wasn’t possible, then decided he could manage it. He flinched again when I duly presented the family railcard, but after much head scratching came up with fares and tickets. I suspect (I am being unjust) that a lot of guesswork went into his calculations!
We crossed the footbridge and descended to the bay platforms where a Class 141 2-car unit stood in the West Yorkshire PTE livery of green and cream. This was to form the 1105 departure for Leeds via Harrogate, the first part of our slightly unconventional route. Despite its greater length, this is by far the more interesting route. 141 units are used for most services on this line, and I had yet to sample their delights, so this gave me additional incentive to travel this way.
The first part of the run, as far as Knaresborough, is fairly uninteresting, being mostly straight and single track across the flat edge of the Vale of York. At Knaresborough, the trip becomes more exciting both from a railway and a scenic point of view. We first passed the trackbed, joining us from the right, of the branch to Pilmoor, on the East Coast main line. Immediately afterwards we ran through the short tunnel and into Knaresborough station. Some trains on the York - Harrogate -Leeds route originate here, so that from here on stations get a half - hourly service to Leeds. The station itself is rather attractive, and mostly original.
A mile or so further on we pulled up at Starbeck. Here the trackbed of the old Leeds Northern Railway main line joins us from the left, diverging again to the right to head for Ripon and Northallerton. I had the good fortune to travel along the latter route, after passenger services finished in 1967, as an unofficial passenger in the cab of a class 40 (they were English Electric type 4s in those days) hauling the return working of the daily York - Ripon - M.O.D. Melmerby pick up freight. The former steam shed - 50D - had an allocation of 30 locos in 1959, the year of closure. Today the site is host to the infant Great Yorkshire Railway Preservation Society.
The line now swings to the right, the trackbed of the Ripon line now joining us from the left, the third side of the Bilton triangle. The remains of Harrogate goods depot pass by on the left as we lurch across to the opposite line, to pull up at the one platform face at Harrogate which sees most use.
After leaving the modernised station, we quickly run down to Crimple Viaduct, braking for the very tight 100 degree bend to take us down from the former York & North Midland line, and onto the Leeds Northern line at the one-time Pannal Junction (the other end of the line from Starbeck).
A brief pause at Pannal, then on to Weeton, where the line rises high above the valley of the Wharfe to cross Arthington Viaduct, another impressive structure.
Immediately after the Viaduct, we pass the remains of the triangular junction which, had we been travelling 25 years ago, would have given us a much shorter route to llkley - the North
Eastern line to Otley giving access to the Otley & Ilkley Joint. (NER & MR) This route had the dubious distinction of being the first in the country to receive BRs new generation DMUs in 1954, the notable (notorious?) Derby lightweight sets, on the Bradford Exchange - Leeds Central - Harrogate services.
Bramhope tunnel follows immediately, with its castellated northern portal. Its 3761 yards make it one of the longer tunnels on the BR system. Horsforth and Headingly stations follow the tunnel, then shortly afterwards we run into Leeds City, more or less on time at 1222.
The trip had been a fairly pleasant surprise, in terms of the class 141. While hardly up to Mk III standards, the ride was better than that of the more conventional, if somewhat ancient sets we were about to travel on. There was very little of the fore - and - aft movement I had expected, though a distinct lateral waddle was an occasional added bonus! I have read of gearbox troubles on these units, and these were very evident on this particular one. Several times I thought we were about to become a failure as the driver struggled to persuade the units to change out of first.
Our train for Ilkley was to be the 1236, and a quick check at the station revealed this to be the class 101 set standing at the same platform as our 141 unit. We took our seats in the (relative) luxury of the declassified first at the front of the train, and had a quick butty or two while the 141 pulled away back to Harrogate. A few minutes later our train made its departure, and we settled back to enjoy the trip.
The line to Ilkley is Midland Railway as far as Burley in Wharfedale, where our route joins the aforementioned Otley and Ilkley Joint. We set off along the Midland main line to the north, leaving this route and climbing up out of the Aire Valley at Apperley Junction. The line is now single track as far as Guiseley, though about a mile south of this point the line from Bradford joins us, running as a parallel single track to the station. Here the routes join, the remainder of the route being conventional double track.
The intermediate stations - Guiseley, Menston, Burley and Ben Rhydding - all provide basic passenger accommodation in the form of bus shelters, though some features of an earlier era remain, with former station buildings intact though boarded up at Menston, and one or two Midland - type footbridges still in use. I looked hard, but could barely discern any remains of the triangular junction for the Otley line, between Menston and Burley in Wharfedale.
Ilkley station proved to be a very pleasant surprise, with its buildings and canopies mostly intact and in good repair. Tracks are in place only in platforms 1 & 2, those in platforms 3 & 4 - the former through platforms on the line to Skipton via Embsay - having been lifted a few years ago. Gas lighting remains for the dubious delight of travellers here - an unlikely reminder of a bygone era.
We had a brief wander round the streets of Ilkley. This didn't take long, largely because we had inadvertently picked half - day closing. The steady drizzle, last remains of Charlie, discouraged any further exploration, so after a cup of tea and a sticky bun we returned to the station, where we boarded the 1440 for Leeds, another 101 class unit. This one had been recently displaced from its Tyneside home, the information on Tyne and Wear fare zone being of little use in West Yorkshire.
We did not return to Leeds on this train however, but got off at Guiseley. Here we joined the 1500 for Bradford Forster Square, which ran into the station from the Bradford line as soon as our previous train cleared the junction. Yet another 101 set!
The train quickly got under way down the single track, swinging to the right through Esholt tunnel. Two more short tunnels followed, before we paused briefly at the re-opened Baildon station. Then on down to Guiseley Junction, still controlled by a fine Midland box, across the main line and into platform 4 of the triangular Shipley station, an attractive spot with its original stonework and canopies, and the brand-new platform 5 on the main line, enabling trains on the latter to stop without having to reverse.
The next point of interest is Harry Crossley’s scrap yard, where a small Barclay 0-4-0ST saw use until recently. Working loco today was ‘Prince of Wales’, a Hunslet 0-4-ODH, formerly resident at Esholt Sewage works nearby. Two very disused Rustons stood forlornly amid the scrap.
Finally we arrived at Forster Square, perhaps the most depressing point of the whole journey. Once a busy main line station with many trains arriving and departing for Carlisle, Morecambe and other such places, as well as the many local services, it is now a place of great dereliction. While lots of evidence of the Midland Railway remains, in the form of much ironwork, for example, bearing the Midland Griffin, only two platform faces are now usable and the whole place has an atmosphere of doom and gloom. We left as quickly as possible, and walked quickly across the city centre to the new Bradford Interchange, a modernistic Bus/Rail station on the site of the former Lancashire & Yorkshire Bradford Exchange. A complete contrast here, with clean, airy buildings, an escalator to the railway platforms and hanging baskets everywhere.
Here we joined the 1542 for Leeds, a 2-car class 108 set. This departed promptly, only to expire on the steep gradient a few yards outside the station. The driver turned, gave a shrug to the passengers in the front car, and we free-wheeled back into the station. Here, with admirable efficiency, we transferred to another similar set standing at an adjacent platform. A pity the guard on our train didn’t bother to tell the passengers in the front car what we were doing! When I tackled him, rather angrily, he looked sheepish and said he thought the driver had told us. Perhaps that was the meaning of the shrug!
By 1554 we were on our way again, lurching round the tight left hand bend onto the former Great Northern line to Leeds.
Within half a mile we passed the old Hammerton Street depot, closed nearly two years ago, though with all tracks still in situ. We paused at New Pudsey and Bramley stations, both new and basic halts, before arriving in Leeds City once again. We were just in time to catch the next train to York, the 1618. 1 had hoped for a proper train, but once again it was a DMU.
We struggled away up the bank, after a while passing Neville Hill, home of most of the local multiple units. Several 141s were in evidence, including one in BR livery. Most seem to be in West Yorkshire PTE "Metrotrain" livery.
First stop is Cross Gates, hardly an inspiring spot, followed by Garforth and Micklefield. The site of Peckfield Colliery, once a favourite haunt of industrial steam enthusiasts, is now levelled, the tips landscaped. We took the left fork here, away from the historic Leeds & Selby route we had been following, and ran down the bank to Church Fenton, where the line from Burton Salmon joins from the right - the route taken by York’s first London trains, travelling via Normanton and Rugby to London Euston. We paused briefly here, then pulled away to Ulleskelf, the last stop before York. Shortly after Ulleskelf, the new Selby Diversion line joins us from the right at Colton Junction.
Shake, rattle and roll best describes the last part of our journey, as we travelled at full speed (!) along the straight and level line to York, where we arrived on time at one minute to five, after an interesting and varied day’s travelling. I ought to add that the worst part of the journey was now to follow, it taking us nearly 45 minutes to drive from the station to our destination, about four miles away. Most of that time was spent travelling the first half mile….