The opening of the Nidderdale Greenway, which runs along the route of the old Harrogate branch lines, has brought back memories of the golden age of the railways. Paul Darbyshire remembers the stories his grandfather used to tell.
My grandfather lived in a stone cottage overlooking the River Nidd by the old Killinghall road bridge. It has long been demolished but you can clearly see where it used to be, and where he used to fish out of his bedroom window. He was born in 1892 and survived the First World War. After the war he worked on the railways, primarily as a signalman. He spent forty odd years at Bilton Signal box at the bottom of Bilton Lane in Harrogate.
Recently, my wife and I took a stroll along the route of the old Ripley Valley branch line on the newly opened Nidderdale Greenway. I wanted to visit the location my grandfather had taken me to back in 1967 when the main Newcastle to Liverpool line had closed, and the detritus of the old railway network was still visible - sleepers, signalling equipment, signal boxes, lines and signage. I distinctly remember us wandering off the main line route onto the Ripley Valley Branch line and him telling me stories about the railways, and how he used to walk from his cottage at Killinghall bridge to the Nidd junction signal box. One particular story always captured my imagination, and that was rekindled last week as my wife and I wandered along the new Greenway route, passed by the occasional cyclist, pedestrian and horse-rider.
I cannot recall the exact date of the event my grandfather’s story alluded to, but it must have been between 1910 and 1930. The Royal Family used to travel by train far more often in those days, and apparently, whenever the King travelled northwards via Yorkshire, the favoured spot for the evening stopover was the Ripley Valley branch line cutting. The Royal Train was turned off the main line at Nidd Junction and it moved up the junction for about 300 yards, just enough into the cutting to shelter the King’s carriage from the prevailing wind. There, another tank engine would be shunted onto the rear of the carriages to enable vacuum pipes to be attached. This would ensure that the King was kept warm during the cold North Yorkshire night. According to my grandfather, the king then strolled along the banks of the River Nidd, which is only a few yards away, for his evening constitutional before turning in. Apparently, he was accompanied by two bodyguards, even in those days. My grandfather told me that he had passed the King on at least one occasion and had doffed his cap, and said ‘Good Evening Sir’.
This was a long time ago, and since the actual events possibly a century has passed.
However, since I am the link to this story and I have a very good memory, I know the exact spot where my grandfather told me of this information. I could take you there. Imagine.
What times were like then, how the simple events of life were the real pleasures and how quiet that location must have been on an evening a hundred years ago. That story would not have even made the local newspapers then, and the individuals involved are somewhere else now – but as I wandered that route last week, I could imagine the King’s train in that cutting, hidden from the world, and our own King George V safe in a little part of Yorkshire on a long discarded railway now called the Nidderdale Greenway.