Yorkshire is a country – sorry, county – of superlatives. Of stuff that matters, anyway. The best beer, finest scenery, tallest people, most interesting phone boxes, oldest and highest pub. And – I was delighted to learn – the World’s Oldest Working Railway.
Because in Hunslet, a suburb of Leeds, there’s been a train running on the Middleton Railway line since 1758. Slowly.
Yes, 1758: it serviced the local mine decades before the passenger-railway boom of the mid-1800s, and is now a volunteer-run heritage railway (Britain has well over a hundred) offering scheduled rides to the public. So today I took advantage of the £2 flat fare scheme to take a bus to Leeds with my folder, and have look.
The Middleton line branches off the main line at Hunslet, one stop south of Leeds’s main station. To get there from the bus terminus involved some pretty decent shared-use and segregated cycle paths that the city is installing.
A driver stuck in traffic in the Netherlands looks at cyclists whizzing past them on bike lanes and wishes that they, too, had decided to cycle instead of taking the car. A driver stuck in traffic in Britain looks at cyclists whizzing past them on bike lanes and wishes that the cyclists, too, were stuck in a car like them.
Many are impressive – by British standards, I mean; in the Netherlands they wouldn’t cut the mayo, never mind the mustard – and I’m afraid they put my home town of York to shame.
Anyway, after a couple of car-free miles, I was at Middleton’s station, Moor Road, in time to see their final departure of the Easter weekend.
There’s a cafe and free museum full of locos, and some volunteers were doing spannery things on a steam engine that was shuffling a satisfying cumulus of vapour.
Having snapped the world’s oldest continuously operating service as it passed my lineside cranny, I tried to follow it to the only stop on the line – Park Halt, barely a mile south. Being slow, wheezing, ancient and high-maintenance, of course I didn’t manage to keep up with it.
However, I did take the opportunity to look round Middleton Park, which adjoins Park Halt. It’s a very pleasant and picnickable, with a pond-sized lake, table tennis tables, and some good tarmac paths for cycling round (one evidently along an old raised wagonway).
The park’s Visitor Centre cafe was closed, so no chance of coffee or chocolate. So I headed back to the city centre hassle-free along the cycle path network and found something to drink that tasted satisfyingly of both: a pint of Nethergate’s Umbel Magna in Leeds station Wetherspoon.
I’d passed the brewery while doing the Painters Trail the other week. Clearly there was a subsconscious itch that had to be scratched.