Castleton: Still delivering a first class service

Nothing has stopped the postmen of Castleton from getting the mail through. Chris Berry reports on a heroic effort.

The Jolly Christmas Postman is one of the favourite children's books at this time of year – and the postmen (and woman) of Castleton are fortunately blessed with the same spirit.

In the past four weeks they have fought through thick (snow) and thin (ice) to make sure the people of Westerdale, Castleton, Danby, Little Fryup, Houlsyke, Commondale, Kildale and Baysdale in the North York Moors have received their post on time.

Graeme Watson has been a postman for 18 years and he's not seen it as tough as this so early on in winter.

"It's been really hard work. Just getting the mail to and from Whitby has been tricky enough because most of the time we've only had one road open to Danby. The snowploughs have helped and the drivers have sometimes rung us to tell us not to bother because the roads have been too blocked even for them."

The Castleton sorting office is Yorkshire's smallest with just five staff and is situated in a shed-type affair just off the main street.

Paul Atkinson who has 21 years of service couldn't get out of Baysdale, where he lives, for 11 days the snow was that deep.

"The children in our dale haven't been to school for a month and with me not being able to get in there has been a lot of pressure on the rest of the team. Everyone works together here and they have done a great job under difficult circumstances. There's such a good community spirit here. Those people with 4x4s have come in and collected post on behalf of others. They've been a Godsend otherwise I don't know how we would have kept up to date."

Graeme has made deliveries on his quad bike and the rest have spent many hours trudging through snow to outlying farms – there are so many inaccessible areas in the Moors when the snow comes.

Farmer's daughter from Westerdale, Jacqueline Thompson, who has 15 years' service, tells of the worst moments:

"It's not good when you are delivering in the dark as we have been regularly over the past weeks. It is dark at four and one night I was still delivering at nearly 7 o'clock and it has regularly been around 6 o'clock I've finished, but we are all determined to make sure everyone gets their post on time."

With an ever-expanding internet shopping culture, the little Castleton sorting office is awash with parcels and packets every morning, as well as masses of cards and letters. Given their circumstances and the amount of isolated rural locations they have to get to the team is performing minor miracles in making sure their community isn't disappointed this Christmas.

"At the moment, we're bang up to date, so long as you don't keep us from this for too long," says Graeme. "During the worst of the snow, when it was two and a half foot deep all around here, we did struggle, but we're on top now."

Richard Glossop came to the Moors from Sheffield, where he also worked for the Royal Mail.

"'I love it up here. It's challenging at the moment that's for sure and everything takes longer these days because you need more and more signatures for more and more parcels but it's a wonderful place to be, in spite of the weather. The people are always friendly and helpful. I've been stuck with my van several times and was also stuck on black ice, but there's always someone there to pull you out and get you on the move again."

Paul Atkinson knows every round like the back of his hand and all of the people too. On his way to deliver in Westerdale we met up with a couple in their 4x4. He quickly passed them their post.

"That saves me one job," says Paul, easily adopting his jolly postman routine. "Just a few more miles to go now," as he sets off by foot leaving his van behind.

Today is of course the last post before Christmas – you can guarantee the Castleton team will be doing all they can to make sure every single item gets delivered. Now that's what I call true Christmas spirit. Forget reading the Jolly Postman – you don't need it after this.