NINA WILSON, eldest daughter of founder member, Tom Salmon – who herself volunteered as a teenager on the fledgling NYMR in the 1960s – realises the dream of a lifetime when she rides the footplate of a steam engine along the line.
I HAVE just enjoyed one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.
My daughter, Natalya, organised a footplate ride for my 57th birthday.
Now I am not a person who is usually envious by nature, but I must admit to having being rather ‘green’ when Natalya enjoyed an exhilarating footplate ride on the NYMR earlier this year and subsequently wrote a captivating feature about it for the Gazette and Herald and The Press.
In fact, I had hoped to celebrate my 50th birthday by riding the footplate, but because of work commitments, was unable to do so.
Well, it was certainly worth the seven year wait.
As we drove over the moors from York to Grosmont to join the train leaving for Pickering at 11.30am, I was so excited that I could scarcely contain myself.
On arrival at Grosmont Station, we collected my special yellow driving cab pass from the control office, where we received a very warm welcome from the staff. The platform was very busy with smiling passengers hurrying to climb aboard the waiting train and I noticed how neat and well-kept the station was and thought how proud my Dad, founder Tom Salmon, would be when I told him.
I was then introduced to the friendly crew of the driving cab: driver Shawn Kay, fireman Pete Shaw and trainee fireman Jack Prince.
At last, I eagerly scrambled aboard the footplate of Southern Region locomotive 825 in anticipation of the 18-mile journey from Grosmont to Pickering – a journey I had already done numerous times, but always inside a carriage behind the engine.
Shawn made sure that I was safe and comfortable and lent me a cap to tuck my hair into, before Pete instructed Jack to shovel the largest chunks of coal I had ever seen into the firebox to set the wheels of this huge machine in motion.
As we waved a cheery farewell to the onlookers at the level-crossing, we were immediately over the Murk Esk bridge and into the tunnel adjacent to George Stephenson’s original railway.
Memories of early childhood holidays in Yorkshire came flooding back, as I remembered being in the carriage of a steam-hauled train with my parents and younger sister going through Grosmont tunnel, in the days of British Railways before Beeching wielded his axe on the branch lines which criss-crossed our countryside.
I recollected smartly-dressed passengers hastily getting out of their seats to shut the windows before the acrid sooty fumes could enter the carriage and pondered how times have changed and how we now love the nostalgia of the days of steam, and how a ride on the footplate of a steam engine epitomises the very stuff of dreams.
We quickly emerged from the tunnel into bright sunlight and I soon had a lovely view of Esk Valley’s row of cottages with livestock in the back gardens to our right. Shawn told me that he is ‘the most junior driver on the NYMR’, as he qualified last year after eight years training. He went on to explain just how much effort is required on the part of these giant ‘iron horses’, powered by steam, to haul their sets of coaches up the three-and-a-half mile incline to Goathland, with its gradient of 1 in 49.
As I peered through the windows of the front of the cab, I had an entirely different perspective of how steeply the incline rose in front of us.
Jack was under instruction from Pete to double the amount of coal he was shovelling into the firebox, to feed its now insatiable appetite.
Meanwhile, the view from the footplate provided a stunning vista of the steeply wooded slopes around Beckhole and Darnholm, with their soft green colours and a clear view of the recently renewed bridge no 30.
After toiling up the seemingly never-ending incline, we chugged into picturesque Goathland Station, to be greeted by enthusiastic crowds of onlookers and passengers jostling to board the train.
I watched as Jack received a lesson on how to give the passing-loop to an outstretched arm in smart NYMR uniform held aloft in attentive anticipation from the platform below us.
Two children in a carriage of the train alongside us heading for Grosmont gazed wistfully up at me and returned the smile and wave that I gave them before we left in opposite directions.
As we pulled out of Goathland Station behind a good head of steam in the direction of Moorgates, I felt quite overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the surroundings, evoking different aspects of nature.
From my vantage point high upon the footplate, I could enjoy a truly multi-sensory experience: the wind blowing in my face and the warm sunshine with white clouds occasionally scudding across the blue sky above, while down below us primroses, celandines and wood-anemones adorned the grassy banks alongside the track. I spotted newborn calves in the meadows and lambs scampering up the hillsides at the sound of the approaching train, their tails bobbing up and down.
Then onward we hastened towards Ellerbeck and the point at which the Lyke Wake Walk crosses over the track, the wild moorland stretching beyond our horizon into the distance. As the engine curved round a bend into Fen Bog, I glanced back at the train snaking along behind us and recognised Natalya’s beaming face, peering out of a window, camera in hand, as she captured the moment for posterity of her Mum’s long-awaited footplate ride on the NYMR.
The water glistened in the beck below us as I discerned the sweet scent of Newton Dale’s pine forest ahead of us and some men cutting timber waved to us, as we broke the silence of dense tall dark green trees.
I thought of my parents, Tom and Erika Salmon – NYMR members one and two – with gratitude for all the hard work that they did to save this glorious railway, as we journeyed on to Levisham through this, their favourite part of the line.
I was delighted when Shawn invited me to blow the engine’s whistle near Platelayer’s Cottage and again as we neared our journey’s end at Pickering.
As we drew into Pickering Station, I was very impressed by the wonderful reconstruction of the engine shed roof – it was so much more impressive viewed from the footplate of the locomotive which had brought me on this trip of a lifetime.
As a final word, I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all those who made this footplate trip on my beloved NYMR possible for me!