MATT CLARK discovers a land that time forgot to spoil.

In Yorkshire, we’re never really stuck for something to do on a summer afternoon and not much beats a trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

Closed in 1965 as part of the Beeching cuts, it is seeing something of resurgence in fortune, now carrying more passengers than any other heritage railway in the country – 350,000 a year, to be precise.

And if you book an intimate dinner for two, it’s also a romantic way to explore our moorland scenery in all its glory. But for me, the best way to get to know this part of the county is to alight at the stations, don your rambling boots and explore at will.

The 18-mile line starts at Pickering, where there is enough to keep you busy all day. But save that for another day and instead set off for the station, climb aboard your Pullman carriage and head off into the wilds.

Then comes the tricky bit; deciding where to get off.

After sweeping through the awe-inspiring Hole of Horcum you might consider the first stop, which is Levisham; a one- road village with wide lazy verges and a “time forgot” feel to it.

This area is the epitome of outstanding natural beauty; one peppered with lush, steep valleys. Levisham makes an ideal stop for walkers and, being eight miles from Pickering, it’s a reasonably easy trek back to town.

But you could just wander around this pretty village because there’s more than enough to see.

Like the ruined and roofless St Mary’s church on the outskirts, which is beautifully located in a secluded valley – and has been since the Norman Conquest. Word is a village used to be here, but the Black Death forced its residents to flee and establish a community further up the hill.

Today St Mary’s is managed as a controlled ruin, with graves tended by locals and open-air services held every year. Look out for the Saxon gravestone with a dragon design in the churchyard.

How about getting off at Newton Dale Halt? It’s a hikers’ request stop and well worth the effort. The scenery around Newton Dale and Cropton Forest is matchless and there are four different waymarked walks from the Halt, as well as public footpaths leading elsewhere, including Goathland Station.

You could always save your legs and stay on the train to Goathland. The village is of course famous as Heartbeat’s Aidensfield and it’s a curious place, almost dressed for the next scene to be shot.

Many of the landmarks are easily recognisable, including the stores, garage and pub. And Goathland station was transformed into Hogsmeade Station for the Harry Potter films to serve the only all-wizarding village in Britain. You know the one, next to the infamous Shrieking Shack. But Goathland’s real-life magic is more pastoral.

This is a true moorland village; an oasis in a lonely bleakness of surrounding heather and with real character, despite the hordes searching for mementoes of Claude Greengrass.

The village green is a fine place for a family picnic, but take care; you may be joined by unexpected company. As you will soon discover, the local black-faced sheep have a common right to graze there, and they’re not afraid to exercise it.

Time for another stroll, this time to Beck Hole which used to be a stop on the Whitby to Pickering line until, in the 1800s, a carriage plunged down the hill and killed two passengers.

These days you have to walk in from Goathland, but it’s worth it. You approach the village from a steep winding lane and laid out in front is a gem of a place, with honey-coloured cottages clustered around the old fording point in a deep and verdant valley where on sunny days children splash in the babbling beck.

After scrambling down that one-in-four hill you probably deserve a pint – or maybe a chocolate fix to restore the flagging energy levels. Well, you’re in luck, because Beck Hole can offer both in one of the finest pubs you’ll come across. The old Birch Hall Inn has hardly changed since it was built and it doubles up as a sweet shop.

This is a much-favoured place and was named CAMRA’s Pub of The Year for 2010. Mind your head as you walk into the tiny bar with its quaint wallpaper, and the first thing you see is a little serving hatch which leads to the even smaller shop.

The second thing you notice is most people are gorging on Beck Hole butties or Beck Hole beer cake. I joined them; after a long walk, both fitted the bill admirably.

This place makes no commercial sense and any brewery would knock it about. But that would completely destroy its character and thankfully landlady Glenys Crampton has vowed it will never change.

Amen to that.

Once refreshed, you might fancy a game of quoits which is a popular summer pastime on Beck Hole’s village green. So that’s what the unusual covered planks are for. I’d often wondered.

Last stop is Grosmont Station, the terminus for NYMR and home to its locomotive sheds. The station has been restored in 1960s style and this is an altogether grittier village; one built to serve the railway. There is still a wheel tappers club, complete with a warning on the door that oily overalls are not at all welcome.

Egton Bridge is a pleasant mile or so walk from the station and is blessed with two fine pubs, the Horseshoe Hotel and the aptly named Postgate Inn, which was placed in The Times’ 50 best places to eat in the countryside.

It gets its name from the relics of Nicholas Postgate which are held across opposite in St Hedda’s Roman Catholic Church. Postgate was a Catholic martyr who was hanged, disembowelled and quartered at York for daring to practise his faith during the persecution of the Catholics.

The primary school attached to the church is the only rural Roman Catholic Church in the area.

So there you go. An achingly beautiful land that time forgot to spoil; one full of nostalgic toots from steam locomotives and the atmospheric whiff of belching smoke. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Whitby-Pickering line, so if you haven’t explored its delights now is the perfect time.

You’ll kick yourself for leaving it so long.

Let train take strain

Trains run every day until the end of October and on weekends and selected holidays during the winter (with no service from December 24 to 27).

This month, you can step back to the swinging 1960s with a mix of period locomotives, vehicles and live music at stations along the railway.

For more details, log on to