Exploring the East Coast Mainline – Northallerton, Thirsk & York

The eighth part of my series Exploring the East Coast saw me catching an early morning LNER service north to tick off the three remaining stations between Peterborough and Morpeth. With a plan to head north and work my way back south, the plan was to cover the stations of Northallerton, Thirsk and York.

Northallerton Town Hall

Having arrived at York, I jumped onboard a TPE service for the 20 minute journey north to the town of Northallerton. The town is well served with three TPE services an hour in each direction, with both the twice-hourly Liverpool to Newcastle and hourly Manchester Airport to Redcar Central services calling at the station. In addition to these Northallerton is also served roughly every two hours by LNER services between London and the Newcastle/Edinburgh along with five return Grand Central services a day.

From the station its about a 10 minute walk to Northallerton’s historic town centre, however just outside the station is the first of the town’s historic buildings, County Hall. Constructed in the early 20th century on the site of the former Northallerton Racecourse, the building is home to North Yorkshire County Council and is now a Grade II* listed building.

York’s Lendal Tower

Unfortunately there’s not much to actually do in Northallerton with no museums or attractions to visit, however you can enjoy a wander around the town centre with there being quite a few historic buildings dotted around. These include the Grade I listed Town Hall, opened in 1873 and All Saints Church, with parts dating from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries and is also Grade I listed.

With not much to occupy my time in Northallerton, I decided it was time to head back to the station and attempt to catch an earlier train and get myself ahead of my plan for the day. Northallerton is a lovely town, however unless you enjoy pottering around and looking in shops there’s genuinely not much to do and so I wouldn’t recommend planning a special visit to the town.

Grand Central serve Northallerton, Thirsk and York with their London Kings Cross to Sunderland service

Whilst Northallerton is well connected to the rail network, its North Yorkshire neighbour of Thirsk is slightly harder to get to, being served by only the hourly TPE service between Manchester Airport and Redcar and five daily return Grand Central services between Sunderland and London Kings Cross. The journey by train between the two stations is less than 10 minutes, although the location of Thirsk station compared to the town itself makes it a significantly longer journey.

With the town located 1.5 miles to the east of the station, the walk to the town centre takes you along the entirety of Thirsk Racecourse where, combined with its predecessor, racing has taken place for over 300 years. A settlement is known to have existed on the site of the town since 500–600BC, with the present town having held a market charter since 1145.

The World of James Herriot – pic by Peter K Burian via Wikimedia Commons

My first stop, on the outskirts of the town centre, was the remains of Thirsk Castle, built in the late 11th century to the traditional Motte & Bailey design. Whilst there is not much of the castle left, the parts that do remain are now a scheduled monument with some of the earth works clearly visible. There’s not much known about the castle and subsequent manor house, however records do reference the destruction of a house by the Scotts in 1322.

Another attraction within Thirsk is the World of James Herriot, a museum dedicated to the life and books of the famous author and veterinary surgeon and is located in his former home and surgery. With part of the building set up as a 1940s veterinary practice, other areas are dedicated to the TV show ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ including reproduced sets and original vehicles from the show. The museum is located in the centre of Thirsk and £8.50 for adults or £5.00 for children.

York Minster

With Thirsk being a historic market town, you can also wander around the town centre which can either be a giant car park or a bustling market depending on the day of the week. Unfortunately during my visit it was the former, however it was bustling with people visiting the shops, restaurants and cafes and I decided to grab some lunch from the town centre chip shop before heading back. Unfortunately, just as I finished my lunch, the heavens decided to open and so I jumped in a taxi back to the station to find some shelter ahead of my train to York.

My train back to York was one of the five daily Grand Central services that run between Sunderland and London, with this one being operated by Grand Central’s Liquid Natural Gas-powered class 180, one of the efforts the operator is undertaking to make its unelectrified fleet more sustainable. Whilst Northallerton and Thirsk have regular services, these are nothing compared to York which has direct services to most of the country. Cross Country operate between Scotland and South-West England, Northern operate local services across the North along with TPE’s services, whilst LNER and Grand Central connect the city to London and the North East.

47798 ‘Prince William’ on display at the NRM

The city of York has just too many attractions for me to go through them all here, however I will cover some of my favourite ones. The first, York’s city walls, are visible as soon as you leave the station through its main entrance and a set of access steps are just a minute or twos walk away. Almost three quarters of the city’s original walls are still accessible to walk along, although they are closed during inclement weather. The Friends of York Walls have a great website with trails both along the walls and at ground level to allow you to explore.

York’s most significant attraction is the stunning York Minster which can be seen from across the city, with the road leading from the station providing an excellent view once you’re within the walls. Construction of the Minster was completed in 1472 after several hundred years of building and includes the Great East Window, the world’s largest expanse of medieval stained glass. Entry to the Minster is £12.50 for adults and free for children with entry times varying dependent upon the day and season. If you’re a York student or resident you can visit the Minster for free and anyone can enter the Minster for worship without charge.

Narrow Gauge Trains from the Construction of the Channel Tunnel

The final York attraction I visited during this visit was the excellent National Railway Museum which is completely free to enter and can be found the other side of the station from the city centre. I’ve done a dedicated blog to the NRM on a previous visit but I genuinely couldn’t recommend it enough as even during short visits I always seem to find something new. The museum has two large halls containing a wide variety of locomotives, coaches and wagons and also have other areas containing exhibits and a large portion of the museum’s smaller items. Even if you can only spare an hour, make sure you go for a look around.

In conclusion, this part of Exploring the East Coast was a bit of a mixed bad. York of course has enough to do to spend multiple days in the city exploring and visiting the attractions and a visit to Thirsk could fill a day, especially if you visit on a market day and pay a visit to the World of James Herriot. Unfortunately, as much as Northallerton has a beautiful town centre, there’s not really much to do and so I’d only recommend stopping by if you’re in the area and have an hour or two to kill. Of course, if you visit any of the three, make sure to try and shop in the local stores rather than chains as these are the shops that really make the communities.

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