Among the preserved steam railways of Great Britain, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway [http://www.kwvr.co.uk] was notably quick off the mark.
British Railways closed the branch from Keighley to Oxenhope in 1962, the year before the publication of the Beeching Report, and the Keighley & Worth Valley Preservation Society had the line running again by 1968, the year that steam traction finally disappeared from main line British railways. (For comparison, the narrow-gauge Talyllyn Railway opened in 1951; the standard-gauge Bluebell Railway in Sussex opened in 1960.)
As a result the K&WVR remains the only British heritage railway that operates a branch line in its entirety, and in its relatively short five-mile length it offers the traveller connection from the main line at Keighley, two tunnels, a significant viaduct and a succession of stations with attractions of ranging from rolling-stock displays to tearooms. The penultimate station on the ride up to Oxenhope is Haworth, the key location in understanding the writings and personalities of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. (Their brother Branwell was, briefly, a ticket clerk at Luddendenfoot station on the Manchester & Leeds Railway: he was not a success.)
The line also benefitted, both financially and in terms of publicity, as the location for the Lionel Jeffries’ 1970 film The Railway Children and John Schlesinger’s 1979 film Yanks.
One of its other proud claims to fame is that it is the only railway that serves real ale in its buffet car. The railway’s real-ale festivals are, by all accounts, jolly affairs.
This branch, opened in 1867 and operated from the outset by the Midland Railway, was not the only railway in the valley. The rival Great Northern Railway reached Keighley in 1882 by a contorted system connecting Bradford, Halifax and Keighley linked by an unusual triangular station at Queensbury. The Queensbury-Keighley route trailed into the Worth valley through the 1,533-yard Lees Moor Tunnel, built on a ninety-degree curve that was no fun to drive a steam loco through. Almost all of this improbable network has disappeared and can be best explored at http://www.lostrailwayswestyorkshire.co.uk/Queensbury.htm. Lees Moor Tunnel became, of all things, a caravan park: http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/tunnels/gallery/leesmoor.html.
The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £7.50 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.