Wensleydale Heritage Railway
Wensleydale Heritage Railway offers a historical and scenic trip through the beautiful rural landscape leading into the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The railway boom in the mid-19th century led to the rise and fall of numerous branch lines connecting passengers and freight to the English countryside. Yet many such branch lines have been left to fall into disrepair and are now disused.
The Wensleydale Heritage Railway is one of the few examples where a decades old railway heritage has been preserved despite lack of funding and continued practical challenges. The line is currently open between the newly restored Scruton in the East, through to Leyburn in the West, with a varied timetable catering to all kinds of visitors.
LOCATION: Leeming Bar Station, Leases Road DL7 9AR
Top image © Rosser1954 and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.
From steam locomotives to diesel engines and even the Polar Express in winter, there is great variety for railway enthusiasts and casual visitors to enjoy. Timetables change considerably throughout the year and can be found via the Wensleydale Railway website. Leeming Bar acts as the hub of the railway, conveniently located near junction 51 on the A1. And rail connections to Leyburn and Bedale offer local attractions such as markets, cafes and restaurants, and walking routes.
The history of this stretch of line date back to 1846, when the first connection from Northallerton to Bedale was built. Over the next ten years, various different rail companies added minor extensions to the line, largely for the purpose of goods and freight transportation, but also for occasional passenger services. What remains the most active stretch of the heritage railway today, the 11.5 mile line between Leeming Bar and Leyburn, was built by the Bedale and Leyburn Railway in the early 1950s, and was later administrated by North Eastern Railway.
From the western end, the Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne Junction Railway eventually connected the line from Northallerton to Garsdale via Hawes. This impressive feat spanned the Yorkshire Dale, with Garsdale providing connections to both Carlisle and Leeds via Settle. Although the majority of the line through the Dales was single-track, both Midlands Railway and North Eastern Railway managed to operate freight and passenger trains along the route for almost a century, before in 1969 the line between Hawes and Garsdale was finally closed.
This began the decline of the Wensleydale Railway, following the same pattern of gradual closure to many similar branch lines. In 1965, the track west of Redmire was deconstructed, and the future of the line looked bleak. There was a desire for passenger rail in the local community, but a lack of funds to support the maintenance of the track. In 1990, the Wensleydale Railway Association was founded to realise these dreams of passenger railway through the Dales. Conveniently, the WRA received help from the Ministry of Defence, offered to restore the tracks from Redmire to Northallerton, provided they could use the line for the transport of armoured vehicles to Catterick Garrison. By 1996, this work had left the line in reasonable running condition, and both MoD and Wensleydale Railway trains have operated on this track ever since.
Today the line is a major local attraction, connecting the Georgian market towns of Bedale and Leyburn to the well-connected Leeming Bar. A dedicated team of volunteers help ensure each station runs smoothly. Here’s what each station has to offer:
In the recently reopened Scruton station, volunteers wearing period costumes welcome visitors with historical information to make it feel like a genuine journey into the past. This is also where the Wensleydale Railway offers it’s unique Heritage Education Programme: an opportunity for primary school groups to learn about the history of the railway in an immersive and interactive setting.
Leeming Bar is where most visitors start their trip, functioning as the main visitor centre. There is plenty of parking, and it is easily accessed by road from the nearby A1 motorway. The ticket office here can cater to all your needs, whether its picking up tickets for the Polar Express or booking a unique driver experience day. There is also a buffet car restaurant accessible via the platform.
Bedale is a beautiful Georgian market town which is well worth a look around. The tearoom at the station welcomes guests while they wait for their train with a selection of cakes and hot drinks. Alternatively, visitors can venture into the village where there are other cafés and restaurants to enjoy. Market day is Tuesday.
Finghall Lane Station
Finghall Lane may be recognised by fans of the TV series All Creatures Great and Small (2020), based on the books by James Herriot. It is a request stop, and trains must be flagged down if passengers hope to board. If you wish to alight, you must first inform the guard to arrange for the train to be stopped.
Leyburn station is the current western terminus, and offers a variety of attractions. Markets every Friday offer a range of local produce and crafts, complemented by small local shops, cafes and pub restaurants. There are several different options for accommodation, for those hoping for a longer visit. And walkers wishing to escape into the wild beauty of the Dales can venture out along “The Shawl” walking route. Named after Mary Queen of Scots dropped her shawl when passing on her escape from Bolton Castle.
Although Redmire station is currently closed, there is a strong effort being made to renovate the line between Leyburn and Redmire, which has become unsafe. Redmire is the gateway to the Dales, and if it were to be reconnected, would mean the Wensleydale Railway offers access to countless hiking opportunities across the National Park. There is a JustGiving page set up to raise funds for the renovation work, and Wensleydale Railway is working hard to ensure that this beautiful area remains accessible by rail.
Wensleydale Railway Events
There are a number of events and activities offered by the Wensleydale Railway. Firstly, the driver experience days give a unique chance to ride in the engine, and learn about railway heritage in a very hands on way. The Herriot Autumn train is an immersive and interactive experience in which costumed actors take on the roles of characters from the book and series All Creatures Great and Small. Their cameos against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales really bring the story to life. The Wensleydale Afternoon Tea service offers an entirely luxurious experience. Cruise through the Dales whilst dining on a selection of locally sourced sandwiches, cakes and scones. And finally, come the end of October, Leeming Bar transforms into the site of the renowned WensleyAle festival, offering beer, gin, music and food.