The story of how a neglected Yorkshire railway closed by Beeching was given a new identity

The Cinder Track was once a little-known and underappreciated relic of a lost railway that connected Scarborough and Whitby.
A section of the Cinder Track between Scarborough and WhitbyA section of the Cinder Track between Scarborough and Whitby
A section of the Cinder Track between Scarborough and Whitby

The uneconomical coastal line was closed during the Beeching axe period in the 1960s, and by 1972 all of the track had been removed. The route remained as a designated greenway for walking, cycling and horse riding and was named the Cinder Track.

However, the path was neglected for years and struggled to fulfil its potential for recreation and tourism.

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In 2019, an ambitious scheme to restore the condition of the Cinder Track began and the first stage is now complete, although a ceremony planned to mark the milestone has had to be postponed due to the lockdown restrictions.

As well as improving the surface of the track for walkers and cyclists, the project aims to enhance the natural environment by 'rewilding' the old railway, which still has some of the old station platforms that have now been taken over by nature.

Scarborough Council, who manage the 20-mile route, led the work in conjunction with the North York Moors National Park Authority, the British Horse Society, Whitby Naturalists Club and cycling charity Sustrans. Two Friends of the Cinder Track volunteer groups were set up, based at Whitby and Staintondale.

Scarborough's mayor, Coun Hazel Lynskey, headed the working party.

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"The Cinder Track was in need of regeneration and restoration to make it safe for a wide range of people to use after so many years of neglect and lack of maintenance. We have had wonderful support from parish councils and farmers on the route, and from grant-making bodies," she said.

"It is now a gem on the Yorkshire coastline which can be enjoyed by walkers,cyclists and horse riders. The whole scheme has been a splendid example of teamwork with officers of the council, the National Park and other groups working together, and has generated considerable enthusiasm. It will be a great asset as an attraction for tourists and residents alike."

Over 1,000 trees have been planted alongside the Cinder Track, including limes to attract pollinating insects on the Cloughton section. Seeds have been donated by supporters including tearoom chain Bettys.

Connecting Nature, a consortium which works with local councils, advised on biodiversity for the project.

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Project officer Tim Burkinshaw said: "The Cinder Track is now renowned for its botanical treasures, stretches of grassland and wildflowers. Some of the old railway station platforms now have flowers and rich grassland."

"The Cinder Track was neglected for years but is now held in great affection by local residents and visitors. We now have a restoration plan to improve the surface, drainage and facilities on the Cinder Track. We have made great progress in the past winter."

The £3.5million project to restore the Cinder Track received council backing in 2018. The initial plans raised the possibility of eventually opening a visitor centre, cafe and car park to generate revenue for maintaining the route.

The history of the Scarborough to Whitby line

Given the revival of tourism on the Yorkshire coast since the 1960s, the closure of the Scarborough to Whitby line in 1965 now looks like a short-sighted decision.

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However, during its commercial life it was never operationally successful.

It opened in 1885, with a terminus at Larpool Hall near Whitby and stations at Hawsker, Robin Hood's Bay, Hayburn Wyke, Cloughton and Scalby before arriving at West Parade in Scarborough. The route includes the 13-arch Larpool Viaduct over the River Esk, which is now Grade II-listed and which is mentioned in the novel Dracula.

It was notoriously difficult to work and impractical. The junctions at both ends of the line - Prospect Hill in Whitby and Falsgrave in Scarborough - were engineered so that trains had to reverse direction to access the track. In the steam era, these movements were time-consuming and inefficient, and slowed down other trains. Scarborough Station was extremely busy during the summer season and the Whitby-bound services caused disruption.

The gradient of the route was also extremely steep, and the rails were slippery from sea mists and storms. Trains often stalled on the climbs and driving them in difficult weather conditions was challenging.

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Even after diesel services were introduced shortly before the line's closure - resolving the reversal issues at the junctions - there were still problems with the ascents and weather-related disruptions continued. Passenger numbers were never high outside of the peak tourist season and road links between the towns had improved.

The last engine to haul a service on the line is preserved on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.