THE NYMR steam trains are a familiar sight to anyone visiting the Yorkshire Moors during the summer months. And for reporter Alexa Fox, finally setting foot on one was well worth the 20-year wait.
I CONFESS. Despite living in and around North Yorkshire for the best part of two decades, I had never set foot on the iconic locomotives that steam their way along the famous North Yorks Moors Railway (NYMR).
I'd wave at them as they passed through Goathland on a sunny day walking the Moors, yet despite always making a mental note to take a trip on one, I never got round to it - until now.
With Covid-19 restrictions relaxing across the country, the NYMR is back in action, having relaunched in mid-May following months of lockdown closures and restrictions.
So now it's full steam ahead for what is possibly the country's busiest heritage railway line, with teams operating trains to and from Whitby every day, as well as intermediate services between Pickering and Grosmont.
Now I cannot claim to be a locomotive expert by any stretch, but like most people, I have a real appreciation of the steam locos of old.
You don't have to be a trainspotter to be moved by their industrial beauty, their glossy livery and all the soot and steam that harks back to bygone days of coal-powered ingenuity.
The evocative power of the steam engine was clear in the buzz about the platform as that unmistakable engine noise and accompanying billow of steam heralded the loco's arrival at Pickering Station.
From railway enthusiasts with impressive-looking cameras, down to the smallest passengers - including the two and six-year-old we had in tow - everyone was captivated by the fine machine.
Indeed, trying to get to the front to take a picture whilst respecting social distancing was difficult as people crowded round the locomotive as they would an A-list celebrity.
And a taste of celebrity is exactly what you get when you ride a steam train on the NYMR.
People stop, smile and wave as you chug through the moors and one feels a real sense of privilege at being a passenger in such an iconic, timeless machine.
Our train was the former British Railways Stanier Black 5 44871, one of the original locos to haul the last main-line passenger train before the introduction of a steam ban in August 1968.
That final trip - between Liverpool and Manchester via Carlisle - was known as the Fifteen Guinea Special because of the high cost of tickets, with15 guineas equalling £15 in pre-decimal British currency.
Of course, the loco itself and the history it brings isn't the only attraction - the North York Moors more than play their part in the whole NYMR experience.
Any fears we had about entertaining two small children on a near two-hour train ride once they'd recovered from the excitement of 'riding a Harry Potter train' were thankfully laid to rest as they too were captivated by the landscape.
An ongoing competition to spot the most exotic wildlife along the route was a huge success thanks to the abundance seen from the comfort of the carriage.
From the expected - cattle, sheep and rabbits - to the rather more special - raptors, deer and alpacas - there can't be a more relaxing way to enjoy the beauty of the moors and the wonderful flora and fauna that thrives there.
Our train was a direct 24-mile run through to Whitby and we had a good three-hours to experience the many attractions of this most popular of seaside towns.
From the Dracula Experience - admittedly a little too scary for a previously plucky six-year-old - to a spot of crabbing and a refreshing ice-cream on the seafront, there's more than enough to fill an afternoon with in Whitby.
Returning to the station and settling back in our carriage, we reflected on what a lovely day we'd had.
The moors were no less alluring on the return journey and the loco no less a source of excitement - we still craned our necks at the window when rounding bends to see the steam engine leading us along the tracks in all its shiny splendour.
The NYMR is partly run by volunteers and all aboard are enthusiastic and friendly, smartly turned-out in their black uniforms.
Public donations are a vital part of keeping the locos running and the team has just commissioned the start of a £600,000 restoration project of the No. 3672 ‘Dame Vera Lynn’ locomotive.
With special events mostly cancelled and associated fundraising hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, it's more important than ever to support this vital piece of our region's heritage.
After all, it's only fair that future generations get to spend the perfect British day out at the seaside, made all the more special thanks to the most perfect way of travelling there.