North York Moors Railway Light Spectacular 2023 – Review
By David Schuster, October 2023
‘Immersive event’ is a term that gets used a lot at the moment, but the North York Moors Railway Light Spectacular is truly that. Everyone, young or old, recognises the mysterious charm of steam trains, the distinctive chug of the engine, the explosive exhalations of smoke and the unique combination of smells. Add to that a night-time journey, speeding through the darkened valleys of the North York Moors like a comet of rainbow colours, and you have a magical recipe indeed.
Arriving at Pickering station, built in 1845 at the height of the Victorian age of steam, we get our first sight of the locomotive, the unromantically named 9F, pulling six carriages. Magnificently emblazoned with 17,000 LEDs in strings criss-crossing their full length, sitting by the platform like a steampunk starship. We’re booked into the first of the two evening departures, and we find space easily in the carpark behind the station, accessed by a level crossing. All passengers get allocated seats for the journey, so boarding is also stress free. Inside, the carriage too is beautifully festooned with fairy lanterns. The platform is subtly lit with coloured uplighters, and there’s time to buy a coffee and a cake to enjoy on the journey from the quaint café.
“Kaleidoscope of colour”
There’s a palpable sense of excitement, and a small cheer, as we set off, the engine straining as our momentum slowly builds. The fun starts straight away, as we are greeted via speakers by the dulcet tones of Peter Dickson, better known as the ‘Voiceover Man’ on major family television shows, such as Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Britain’s Got Talent and the X Factor. He’s ideally suited to the role Master of Ceremonies, giving the entire journey a joyful singalong feel, an atmosphere helped by the soundtrack which plays throughout. Dixon intersperses the songs with a liberal sprinkling of deliberately cheesy jokes, eliciting good natured groans from us all.
The music is a mixture of old party favourites; the Jackson Five, Queen, Abba and, of course, the Village People’s everyone-knows-the-moves classic YMCA. On arrival, we had been given clever illuminating wristbands, synchronised to the music. Encouraged by Dickson to wave our arms and clap, we too become part of the show. Everyone throws themselves into the spirit, with some literally dancing in aisles.
Along with the ropes of lights that adorn the carriages, there are spots pointing outwards. These illuminate the trees and embankments rushing past in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour, with beautiful and mesmerising effect. Every so often these pick out pheasants roosting in the branches, presumably startled to be so unexpectedly awoken. There’s also a surprising number of people who have turned out to watch the locomotive go past, standing on bridges and level crossing gates, waving enthusiastically as we glide past.
Very soon we reach Levisham, the halfway point of our railway adventure. Have you ever wondered how you turn a steam train around, to go back the way you came? Rather than reverse all the way back, the engine is detached and manoeuvred onto the opposite track. It’s then driven past the carriages, and re-attached. This undoubtably complex and very manual process is achieved quickly and efficiently by the staff and volunteers, who clearly love what they do.
The return journey is the same mix of music and fun. The whole experience lasts a truly memorable hour and provides a fantastic opportunity to relish the longer autumn nights.
The NYMR Light Spectacular departs from Pickering Station every evening from 27th October to 5th November and 10th to 12th November 2023, at 6pm and 7:45pm. To book tickets or find out more visit: nymr.co.uk/light-spectacular