Heritage profile: The Wensleydale Railway

Running through some of the best scenery North Yorkshire offers, the Wensleydale Railway is a relative newcomer to the heritage and tourist railway sector. Graeme Pickering finds out more about its growth and expansion plans.

A train ride is undoubtedly the main highlight of a trip to a heritage line, but with railways increasingly trying to cater for greater visitor expectations, the journey itself is often just one aspect of the visit.

For the Wensleydale Railway (WR) in North Yorkshire, the next stage of enhancing that wider experience is the restoration of the station building at its Leeming Bar headquarters, for which it was awarded £368,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund earlier this year.

Scruton station, between Northallerton and Leeming Bar, was restored from a derelict state in 2014. Now resembling a rural station from around a century ago, it is used for the railway’s heritage education programme and involves a cast of suitably attired volunteers. VIRGINIA ARROWSMITH

“People want more to do,” says Wensleydale Railway general manager Richard Brown. “They’re not just turning up at the train at the time of departure, they’re turning up half an hour earlier, they’re wanting to look around, they’re wanting to see things, they’re wanting to touch, be tactile with things.

“We’ve got to be able to start capturing people’s attention. I think this is in general for all heritage railways. It’s about that experience of: ‘Oh yes, I got to do this and I got to pick that up, then we had a train ride’. It can’t be just about the train ride any more.”

The WR’s heritage education programme, which offers pupils up to 11 years old a school visit to the railway, is now into its fourth year.

It is currently centred upon Scruton station, between Leeming Bar and Northallerton, which was fully restored from a derelict state in 2014.

‘K1’ 2-6-0 No. 62005 gets into its stride on March 21, 2015 with a train to Leyburn past the dry stone walls that typify the Wensleydale countryside. DAVE HEWITT

With the help of volunteers dressed in period costume, the station and a collection of artefacts is used to cover several areas of the national curriculum through group activities based on life at a country station 100 years ago.

Richard adds: “At present we do a small schools’ engagement project, but we want to expand that, and by getting the grant for Leeming Bar that will enable us to enrich the experience for the kids that are going to come. They can see a station in one period, move down the line by train to a station in another period.

“They’re seeing a bit of difference so they can see how things used to be. It also means an awful lot more to us than that. It’s not just about just about solely education. It’s about starting to re-create an experience for other passengers who come. For instance, downstairs is all going to be changed back into how it was originally. We’ve managed to find the original drawings.

Read more and view more images in the July 2019 issue of The RM – on sale now!

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