Along the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway – ‘The Railway Children’ Walk
By Rob Batty
‘Perks must be about it’ and ‘right away Mr Mitchell’ are lines from a film that I’m sure you will have watched at some point. Either watching it as a child, or at Christmas with the family, The Railway Children film has captivated many people over the years. This year the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, the heritage railway line where it was filmed is celebrating its 50th (+1) anniversary. Filmed on the railway which had only been publicly running for two years was an achievement itself, and one that would last a lifetime.
A good few years back a walk was put together that would take you around the locations used in the film such as the Edwardian Oakworth station, the Tree Chimney’s House and of course Haworth Main Street. As the walk is a circular walk you can start it at any point, but here we’ll be starting at Oxenhope and work our way clockwise.
The walk starts by crossing the railway line, just below the railway’s carriage sheds. If you time your walk right you might just see one of the railway’s trains pass by before you cross. From here you’ll start to climb up out of the valley bottom and head towards the house that was used as the ‘Three Chimneys House’. When you reach this spot, don’t forget to turn around and sample the views down into the valley. You’ll have earned them by this point and probably need a moment to catch your breath.
Some of you reading this who have seen the film might be wondering if I’ve got my names right – because in the film the children fly out of the door and down the fields towards the railway line near Oakworth station, not Oxenhope station. That’s a common misconception – it’s down to the magic of filming and being able to film one location next to another one and make it appear that they are close by. In fact, the children would have had to have run for about two miles for it to be realistic.
“Piece of art”
From here we skirt across the tops of the fields before landing at the top of the Main Street in Haworth. Here you’ll notice a few more locations from the film, the main street itself was used along with the various shops and not forgetting Haworth Parsonage which was the beautiful setting for the Doctor’s house. The main street is probably a third of the way round, so it probably seems a little early to stop for a drink, but if you are thirsty or hungry at this point, there are a number of options available to you. In winter I call and get a hot chocolate to take out with me, but in summer I opt for an ice cream as a bit of a treat.
From Haworth we dash across the fields and footpaths, skirting around the side of the valley to head towards Oakworth – what I’d class as the centre stage of the 1970 film. Oakworth station is a well-kept Edwardian-themed station. It’s a real piece of art, being lovingly cared for by a dedicated team of volunteers. The maintenance of the building, the keeping up with the gardens, not to mention the running of the trains – all done by volunteers.
If the weather has decided to turn on you, or you don’t fancy carrying on with the rest of the walk, here you can do what I tend to do, which is sit and wait for the next train back to Oxenhope. There’s nothing like sitting back on the old spring seats with the window open, listening to the steam engine as it pulls away from the station and roars towards Mytholmes Tunnel – the scene of the landslide where Jenny Agutter shows some quick thinking and brings the train to a sudden halt.
But being fair, the walk so far might have had a few ups and downs, but for most of the dedicated walkers out there, I doubt that you’ll be ready for calling it a day just yet. From the station cross over the level crossing and follow the road around, under the Vale Mill archway and round to the start of the next footpath at Vale Mill Cottages. Keep an eye out for the trains as you will get a few chances to see them as they pass along the line, giving a whistle as they enter and leave the tunnel.
The footpath from here follows Bridgehouse Beck, with the River Worth forking off up a second valley which leads up to Lower Laithe Reservoir – a well visited location by many photographers, or walkers who want to head on up to the Brontë Bridge. But save that for another day, because you’re heading back towards the bottom of Haworth village and heading past the Station. Again if your legs are weakening you can always call in at the station and grab the next train back to Oxenhope – but if you do, you’ll miss what I would argue as some of the best views of the railway from the countryside.
After passing Haworth station you head along a footpath, which now sits behind a new housing estate, but don’t worry, that doesn’t last for long, and it doesn’t take away the views. You soon find yourself coming out the trees with the beck and railway line to your right. You can follow the footpath ahead, or cross the bridge and go to the adjacent field to watch the next train pass by – it’s one of the most visited locations for railway photographers, and makes an ideal location for a picnic if you’ve brought one along with you, made even better when the train passes by and you get to act like you’re back in the film as you wave at the passengers being carried along in their carriages.
Back on the footpath you find yourself feeling like you’re in the middle of the countryside with just the sound of the beck trickling away and the birds in and among the trees talking to one another. If you’re really lucky you might spot one of the valley’s deer! Around the corner is the old pack horse bridge, used many years ago to cross the beck. It’s a great place to teach your kids how to play ‘pooh sticks’. Again keep your ears open for the train passing by – it should be just above your head at this stage.
From here it’s not a long walk back to your starting point, where you can either pack yourself up and head home, or you can go for a ride along the line itself. Trains run daily along the KWVR throughout summer, and some of them even have a real ale bar onboard where you can sample some of the local ales on offer – or if you’re driving you can grab a nice warm brew and watch the countryside fly by.
Hopefully you’ll be able to get yourself to West Yorkshire and sample the walk for yourself – who knows – you might even spot the Green Dragon roaring up and down the line…