A safe harbour for tradition

imageBack in May and June of this year, we watched a wonderfully engaging Channel 5 documentary series entitled The North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR). If we hadn’t already, coincidentally, booked a holiday which would include a trip on this very railway, then we may well have been persuaded to do so.

According to what we had seen, Pickering station would remind us of the golden age of the steam railway.  Tiled walls, original signage and staff (many are volunteers nowadays) in traditional uniforms would add to the nostalgia.

We were holidaying for the first time on an escorted tour. Boarding the train at Whitby we enjoyed the scenery of the North Yorkshire Moors past rolling hills, small becks and a variety of wildlife including numerous pheasants as our train  chugged through the countryside. The itinerary  had promised us free time at Pickering. It would be our choice whether to use it to explore the 1930’s themed station and memorabilia, enjoy a coffee in the station cafe and take advantage of the great photo opportunities (essentials of the NYMR experience so far as we were concerned), or to visit the town described by the travel company as ‘delightful and traditional’. Sadly it didn’t work out as we’d hoped.  As it was, we were herded off the train by the tour manager straight out into the street to get back on the coach.  I managed just the one shot of the engine above as we rushed past. I have no doubt that the NYMR provides the ‘safe harbour for tradition’ of my post title but we got to see very little of it which was a shame, not only for us, but for the railway which relies heavily on its visitors spending money at the station, as we would surely have done.

It wasn’t the first time we’d missed out. Earlier in the day our coach had stopped in Goathland (mentioned in my previous post) and we were expecting to walk from the coach park to Goathland Station, enjoy the tea room (a conversion of the 1922 goods shed), and take our own versions of some of the stunning photos we’d seen online. However, the time given in Goathland was insufficient to walk down the valley to the station and get back before departure time. We had to settle for a brief, distant glimpse of the station from the coach as we left the village.

We hoped that the following day’s visit to the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Railway would go some way to recompensing us for the previous day’s disappointment. Hope, however, proved to be forlorn. We arrived at Embsay station where we were greeted with surprise.   We heard mutterings of being ‘double booked’ which meant hastily attaching an extra carriage to the train….clearly not one they had planned to use since the windows were so dirty that any view we could have seen was partly obscured. We boarded the freezing cold carriage and waited…and waited….and waited for forty minutes! Had we been made aware that the wait would be this long we could at least have spent the time in the cafe.

On arrival in Bolton Abbey we were once again hurried back onto the coach with no opportunity to peruse our surroundings. Here too we had been promised free time but it did not materialise. Initially the itinerary had included a trip on the Keighly and Worth Valley Railway but it had been undergoing maintenance. We understood this and accepted that it wasn’t the fault of the tour company, but that trip had included an ‘on-train tour guide and a chance to visit the Vintage Carriage Museum and goods shed in Oxenhope’. No alternative activities had been provided when they’d changed to the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Railway.  You can probably imaging that by now I was letting the tour manager know just how dissatisfied I was.  We were greatly looking forward to spending some time at the stations. In fact, we spent NONE – no time whatsoever, which denied us a major attraction of the holiday.

It’s not that we are great steam train afficondos, but we do like something a little different. I love 20th Century social history and had really looked forward to this holiday and absorbing the past by means of the restored stations. My husband is a keen photographer and had hoped to find shots which he could use in some of the many competitions run at the photography club of which he is a member.

This 5 day holiday was called ‘Yorkshire by Steam’. What a misdescription. The fact that it consisted on just two hours steam travel and that the holiday company had completely ignored the fact that there is more to a steam train experience than just the train journey, has formed the basis of a very comprehensive complaint letter to the company.  I also pointed out that on one day we had been so vigorously herded and hurried through the ‘tick boxes’ (done this, done that) that we had been left for FIVE hours without access to a drink! I await their response.

 

 

 

 

22 comments

  1. I was sorry to read about your experiences on the package holiday. How disappointing. I’m glad you have written to point out the problems. I made a resolution recently to be more outspoken about problems when travelling. I shall be interested to hearwhat kind of response you get.

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    • So sorry not to have responded before. I found your comment had gone into spam which I only clear now and then. I received acknowledgement and the company said that they’ll be in touch after they have investigated.

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  2. If it’s the company I think it is, my friends had similar experience last year on a Scottish steam holiday. Most of it on a coach with a driver who admitted he didn’t really know the area anyway so was totally reliant on the sat nav. On one occasion that took their luxury 30 seater coach into a dead end which resulted in all the passengers and the tour guide having to get off the coach and guide the driver back down the 200 yard private driveway he’d driven up!

    We were going to ‘do’ Harrogate’ this year and found a couple of minibus companies who did tours to places in the surrounding area, figured we’d do that instead. Sadly, illness put paid to it but definitely on the agenda for next year.

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    • Sorry to hear that you didn’t get your trip to Harrogate; it’s a lovely place. I’m sure we will go again, but by ourselves! I can’t imagine doing another escorted tour. We’ve been well and truly put off the idea. How awful the Scottish tour sounds! It makes you wonder how these companies keep going.

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  3. That sounds terrible, I must admit that I am not a fan of organised tours, to often they seem to turn out like what you describe. Hope future trips are more rewarding.

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    • We’ve never done an escorted tour before and won’t do another! We rarely do an organised tour when we’re on a cruise, preferring to do our own thing. What possessed us….I’m not sure! Sounded like a good idea at the time!

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  4. What a let down for what could’ve been a wonderful experience of railways and stations, for the stations are just as important, I agree. I hope you get a positive response and some recompense. Did you return to Harrogate to the hotel each evening?
    Margaret P

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    • Yes, we went back to Harrogate each day. We ducked out of the organised activities on the last day and caught the train to York. On the way back we stopped off in Knaresborough, though we had been there before.

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      • When we stayed in Knaresborough we were doing a house swap way back in 1981, I think, when our boys were young. We had a lovely time, and the house swappers looked after our house and our cat. We had a couple of days in York and also in Harrogate and also visited Castle Howard. It was a lovely holiday and free apart from travelling expenses which was ideal with a young family and tight finances.
        Margaret P

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      • Knaresborough is a pretty little place and sitting by the river in the warm sunshine was lovely. We’d been before but it was nice to visit again. House swaps sound an excellent idea.

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  5. I’m sorry your holiday tour didn’t quite live up to its hype in the amount of free time you’d have to spend at the various stations to take in the sights. I hope you receive a good response to your letter.

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  6. It’s such a shame you weren’t able to enjoy your trip as advertised. I hope you get an appropriate response to your complaint letter. I’ve never taken part in an escorted tour, but I hope the treatment you experienced is not the norm.
    I visited Pickering station a few years back and would have loved to have taken a trip on the steam train but, sadly, it was out of season and, therefore, not running. X

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  7. It’s such a shame when a holiday does not come up to expectations. I think the companies try and cram too much in to make them seem more attractive when most of us would like more time to appreciate each place visited. We learnt our lesson when we visited Amsterdam and the bulb fields earlier in the year, the hotel was two hours drive from each venue, we spent a day in the bulb fields which was good. Everything else was rushed and we never saw the promised windmills at all, even though they managed to fit in the clog factory and cheese makers. I hope you haven’t been put off coach holidays, we have booked another but with a different company and a more spaced out itinerary.

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    • Hi Janet, yes the timescales were not good, although they had factored in free time – we just didn’t get it. What a shame about the windmills which is surely a major part of the attraction! The annoying thing is that this was not a holiday booked through a coach company. It was a train company and nowhere in the brochure did they indicate that there would be so much time spent on a coach.

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  8. We booked a coach holiday to Yorkshire which included the railway trip a few years ago. Sadly my husband was too unwell and we had to cancel. That is the trouble I find with coach holidays being herded in and out of places too quickly. After watching the TV program this year I would still like a holiday including the railway but would go independently.

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    • What a shame that you had to cancel. We wouldn’t have booked if we had realised how much coach travel there was; the website and brochure did not make it clear. The fact that we had just two hours on the steam trains on a holiday called ‘Yorkshire by Steam’ was very galling. We will definitely go independently in future. “Under our own steam” so to speak!

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  9. Oh dear. What a shame. I love going on the train. My father worked for GWR after the war. He took us all over their network when we were young. Mostly to Devon and Cornwall. It was quiet in those far off days. Still I have lovely memories of those trips with my sisters and parents.
    I hope you get a good
    response from the tour company.
    Xx

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    • Oh what lovely memories, Wendy. I can remember being put on the train (one of those with a corridor and bench seats) to my grandparents’ Gloucestershire village and my mother asking a lady to ‘keep an eye on me’. My grandmother met me at the other end of the journey! Imagine doing that today.

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  10. That’s terrible, Eloise, no wonder you feel disgruntled – I would too, very bad management. I hope you get a decent reply to your letter.

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    • I hope so, Sue. The whole holiday was not a write-off at all. Indeed, some was very enjoyable, but disgruntled is a very good description of how we are feeling!

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