Friday, 4 August 2017

Kildale and Commondale

A while back I mentioned that one of my strategies for pottering around the countryside in Fiona was to identify remote-looking railway stations, work out a route between them from the map, and then go and see them all one by one. It's a way of seeing out-of-the-way places, sometimes well off the standard tourist trails. I'm always prepared to be surprised.

I do like railways very much, but from an historic and photographic point of view, not from an engineering or operational one - although it pays to soak up as much knowledge as you can, even about arcane subjects like signalling. Signals can tell you whether a train might come along shortly. It's galling when one appears, and there's suddenly a great shot, but you've put your camera away (the phone, nowadays) and are already moving off in the car. For much the same reason, it pays to glance at the board on the platform that shows the timetable, so that you can find out if a train will be stopping in the next half hour or so. If it might make a great picture, it's worth sitting down and patiently waiting. I will especially do this if I'm unlikely to be in the area again for years to come, and the train service is sparse, for I'll be recording an uncommon event that I may never have the chance to experience again.

On my way north in June, I stayed for a few days at Thirsk, which is handy for forays onto the nearby North York Moors. A fine evening said 'explore!'. I decided to look at a string of stations on the line from Middlesbrough to Whitby, starting with Battersby, and then visiting Kildale, Commondale and Castleton. This would involve mapwork, narrow lanes, moorland driving, and plenty of sunset views. Excellent!

I'd been to Battersby before, in 2010. It used to be a junction, but for decades past, it had been no more than a quiet unstaffed station with a dead-end feel - though an oddity: the train from Middlesbrough has to reverse here in order to continue towards Whitby. The stations at Kildale, Commondale and Castleton would all be new to me. So let's begin with Kildale station.

This was a tucked-away station, but even so it had a decent car park and that most unusual thing, astonishingly well-maintained toilets. I got the impression that this was a station much-used in daytime by walkers, and the National Park people had ensured that, to encourage use of the railway line, pleasant facilities were provided. Well, they were indeed pleasant to use. The rest of the station was equally well cared-for, a most attractive and restful place to wait for a train, and good for photos, especially from the footbridge over the line.

I consulted the timetable up on an information board.

As you can see, only five trains a day. But a Whitby-bound one was due shortly. I decided to hang around for it. I took up position on the footbridge. It was only a little late. Here it comes!

A man and his girlfriend got off, both with backpacks, clearly on a walking holiday. I don't think anybody noticed me, up there on the bridge. The train chugged off, and all was peaceful again. The bridge led into the graveyard surrounding the local parish church. I couldn't remember seeing such a close juxtaposition of church and station before.

The show was over. Time to move on. But I did wander into the churchyard, and contemplated the view from it. It wasn't moorland, but in the sunset light it was certainly very nice to look at.

On to Commondale. On the way, wide views to the south, across real moors now.

In my own opinion, the North York Moors encapsulate in miniature the best of Yorkshire upland scenery, with fine coastal scenery thrown in. There isn't the endless forbidding bleakness and grandeur of the High Pennines, but you can see that it's still a place to respect in any kind of bad weather.

Commondale station proved uncommonly hard to find. It isn't in the village of that name. You have to drive a way beyond, and then turn off up a narrow dead-end road. But that road doesn't go as far as the station itself. After a false turn or two, and much awkward reversing, I parked Fiona and tackled the station on foot. The map assured me it was close by, but there was no sign at all of it, apart from this signpost, which I began to suspect was lying:

Just over that stone wall were fields of lush pasture. One contained a pair of very friendly young animals of the cattle persuasion:

Another contained this lazy-eyed bull, who, like all bulls, had a somewhat aloof and superior air, clearly thinking himself very important and far, far above ordinary matters:

But none of these fine beasts could tell me where the station was. I walked on, and then saw a gate with a definite path leading to another gate, though still without any sign saying 'Lucy! It's this way!' I felt like a trespasser, going through those gates.

But there was a path, no doubt about it, though still nothing to suggest that a station lay down the hill. Sheep looked at me in an accusing manner. 'This is our field, and you're an interloper, and the farmer will be after you. Go away!' And then, suddenly, at last, a station sign, a wheelchair-friendly ramp, and then the station itself, gloriously secluded, serene in the setting sun:

As with Kildale station, it was clearly well looked-after. I could imagine walkers and back-packers alighting here by the dozen, all prepared for a long daytime tramp over the moors. But not at this time in the evening. I had it all to myself. I peeped into the shelter. 

Well. The local station-carers had put a framed painting on the wall, and had also a painted a 'fire' to cheer travellers up on a wet and misty day. 

The painting had a very eco theme, celebrating the natural world. No butterflies fluttered into my cupped hands, but I still felt cheered and refreshed! I was glad I'd come.

I'm afraid Castleton station was boring compared to Kildale and Commondale, so I won't go into it here. On the way there, though, I stopped to have a look at White Cross. Here it is:

Way-mark or boundary stone? Hard to guess. It's one of many stones and crosses that are scattered across the moors. Some are actual crosses, such as the Young Ralph Cross, shot by me in 2010 (as were all the following pictures):

Some are just standing stones, such as this example not far form the Ralph Crosses:

One of the best-known is Fat Betty:

These are all near (or fairly near) the roadside, but not actually on the roadside. You have to tramp through the heather a bit to look closely at them. They are often painted white, as if meant to be navigational aids to foot-travellers in poor weather. I've only ever seen the moors in summer, generally in sunshine, but there was one instance I remember in the late 1990s when the rain was pelting down, and I was very glad to be in the car. On foot, one would be quickly soaked through and chilled to the bone.

I imagine that in the winter the moors are no place to be. Who then uses the stations on the Whitby line?


  1. What an awesome blog post! I, too, love trains and one of my favorites was in England. It was a single car, self powered, passenger train.

    The pictures are gorgeous, as are you Lucy!

  2. Thanks, Calie! This is Yorkshire at its best. Coming up, not-so-good Yorkshire.


  3. I DO like Commondale; what an amazing station it is! Congratulations on finding it.


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