WITH a crash of steam, smoke and noise, the 44871 drew to a majestic halt at Pickering Station, drawing gasps of approval and awe from its soon-to-be passengers.
It was a swaggering, mesmeric entrance from the coal-fired celebrity oblivious to its puny human worshippers.
In this age of instant gratification and globe-trotting travel there is something utterly appealing about taking a train ride in restored carriages being pulled by a 76-year-old locomotive.
If ever there was a case to be made for the journey being more important than the destination, it’s when that journey is on the volunteer-run North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and that’s no slight intended to Whitby, which is at the other end of the line.
The nation’s most popular heritage railway, NYMR’s fleet of rolling stock steams 50,000 miles a year, carrying its cargo of happy punters between the prosperous market town of Pickering and the characterful port of Whitby.
Intermediate stations include Goathland and Grosmont, and the first of these couldn’t be a more magical whistle-stop.
It is more familiar to millions of cinemagoers as Hogsmeade Station, frequented by Harry Potter and his schoolmates aboard the Hogwarts Express.
We were in North Yorkshire for a round trip on the NYMR, with a noon start heading out to Whitby for a truly memorable 90-minute journey, followed by around three hours in the town justly famed for its excellent fish and chips, before the return journey.
I’d been looking forward to the trip, as much for the fish and chips as anything else, but the cod took a back seat as 44871 belched past me on the platform.
It was absolutely stunning. I scoff at trainspotters as much as the next man, but when beasts like this rock up, I’d be happy to join the fraternity.
There is something so elemental and powerful about a steam locomotive, and its heavy metal symphony is music to the ears.
Everyone was excited, including the hardworking volunteers, as we were travelling just days after services had resumed post-pandemic.
It meant a reduction in capacity so we could safely socially distance onboard but that was a blessing in disguise as it meant we had room to move around the train as we rocked and rolled along through some awesome countryside.
Our guard — the post itself is a pleasant anachronism, no sign of a train manager here — gave us all a rundown of our engine’s history as he moved through the genteel carriages.
He was so happy and smiley as he told us: “Going sweet as a nut, this engine. And it’s so nice to hear a few giggles again.”
Apart from the face masks, you could forget about Covid for the first time in months, with the smell of smoke curling through your nostrils as the train passed through a tunnel a most welcome intrusion.
We pulled up at Grosmont station alongside the railway’s Pullman service, which not only offers you a steam cruise through the moors, but also gives you afternoon tea or fine dining in first-class style.
Soon enough, though, as we pulled back in to Pickering Station, it was time to bank the fires and let 825 — yes, we had a different engine for the trip back — go back to the sheds to join the rest of the “stunning six” as the NYMR has dubbed its locomotives for the 2021 season.
It wasn’t the end of our trip, though. We weren’t going to mark coming out of lockdown without a much-missed overnight stay away and we checked in to the Best Western Forest and Vale Hotel, right in the heart of the town and a mere five-minute walk from the station.
It was such a treat to stay in a lovely, pristine, clean hotel with welcoming staff and we had a great room overlooking the walled garden.
Breakfast was a delight, a perfectly-prepared full English served with a smile and a tasty end to our magical staycation adventure.
I’ll wave goodbye now. Oh yes, waving, it’s what happens when you are dashing through the countryside on a steam train.
EVERYBODY waves at you. Homeowners on the route (who can’t be that surprised when 44871, 825 and their mates thunder by), road workers in their hi-vis jackets, folk out for a hike stuck as level-crossing gates shut them out, anglers, not the least bit concerned you may be frightening the fish, and children, of course.
And you wave back. Even if you are a curmudgeonly oldie like me, damn it.
GETTING THERE: Tickets for the North Yorkshire Moors Railway are currently only available up to June 20 in line with current Covid rules. Tickets for later in the year will be released soon.
The Freedom Ticket starts from £38pp and £19 per child, allowing you to hop on and hop off. Pullman Dining, including afternoon tea, is from £117 per table for two people and lunch and evening meal is from £139 per table for two. See nymr.co.uk/freedom-ticket.
STAYING THERE: To stay nearby, the Best Western Forest and Vale Hotel, Pickering has single rooms from £95 per night and doubles from £135 per night in June and July. See bestwestern.co.uk.