Steamy sagas on the moor

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
Val Hall finds industrial pride and religious rivalry as she chugs through the Yorkshire Moors by steam train.

Snaking through the picturesque hills and dales of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, the Esk Valley railway connects Middlesbrough to Whitby. For the Year 7 students and their teachers from Eskdale school, Whitby, this journey isn't just about getting them from A to B. It is a key feature of their study day out.

Disembarking at Egton Bridge, clipboards at the ready, they approach The Postgate Inn, better known as The Black Dog in the television series Heartbeat. In the late 19th-century, it was named The Station because rail workers were billeted there.

Coming up to St Hedda's Church, where local martyr Father Nicholas Postgate is commemorated, teacher Julie Kiddle reminds her group that: "The actions of one person can have great influence on a community." She cites Nicholas Postgate as an example. He was hung, drawn and quartered for his Catholic faith in 1679.

As the party takes the old Toll Road, a short-cut linking Egton Bridge and Grosmont, Mrs Kiddle explains that the landed gentry used the road to keep poor people out, by forcing them to take a much longer route. The tolls levied - which included 6d for a hearse - are listed on a sign fixed to the Toll House.

On arrival at Grosmont station, the impact of another man on his environment - George Stephenson, constructor of The Rocket - is immediately apparent, as smoke billows from a locomotive shunting along the North York Moors Steam Railway, which intersects the Esk Valley line here.

From 1835, the railway at Grosmont developed rapidly with the discovery of significant iron ore deposits. The station has been recreated as it may have looked thn, but little trace remains of the iron smelting industry it serviced.

Grosmont, now a pretty village, hemmed in by hills, was until 1915 an industrial town, dominated by three huge blast furnaces. During its industrial phase, it was affectionately known as "Tunnel", reflecting the local people's pride in their engineering skills.

After lunch the group continues its journey on board the train to Castleton Moor, where the students study the view and locate features such as stone walling, a ribbon settlement, high moorland, a hill-top settlement and the River Esk on a map.

"A teacher of mine used to say that you learn geography through the soles of your feet and that's what we've done today," says Rob Plackett, the deputy head. "It's a natural extension of the class and exam work the students have done," he declares.

Other EskValley itineraries include a visit to Lealholm, where groups can explore the power and importance of water and mills. From Crunkly Gill, the Esk winds for 10 miles through gorges and glacial deposits until it reaches the sea at Whitby.

Whitby is well worth a visit and not just because the spooky churchyard alongside St Hilda's Abbey features in Bram Stoker's story of Count Dracula. Captain James Cook hailed from here and his ship, The Endeavour, was among those originally built to carry coal from Newcastle to London. The boats returned loaded with urine from London's growing population for Whitby's alum industry.

Esk Valley Train tickets start at pound;1.50 for children. Contact Richard Hill, Northern Spirit, tel: 0191 221 3450. A key stage 2 and 3 resources pack Train to Learn, costs pound;6.50, from the Esk Valley Rail and North Yorkshire business and education partnership, tel: 01947 603431.

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