Thirsk: A Small Town Where Things are Great

Hi everyone,

Welcome back and thanks for all the comments on last week’s post on the U. S. Capitol. If you missed it, here’s a link: The Capitol of the United States in Prose and Photos. This past Wednesday, just two weeks after it was under siege, the Capitol was in the news again as the new President and Vice President were sworn into office. Democracy held and a peaceful transfer of power occurred.

Three Sunday’s ago, the PBS Masterpiece Theatre began broadcasting the seven-part series, All Creatures Great and Small, adapted from the books by Jame Herriot. Watch it tonight with us on your local PBS station, for more information on the program click here. It looks like there will be a second season so we can anticipate another winter of watching Mr. Herriot make his rounds taking care of the animals and more importantly, their owners.

My Traveling Partner and I were introduced to the Herriot books many years ago by The Eldest. As a young girl, she devoured all his books, as did we, reading about the young veterinarian, the smallholding farmers, the animals, the dark and cozy barns, the tea, the pub, and the town’s people. All these elements are wrapped in a story that draws readers in, making them feel and believe they are right there with the storyteller. The well-worn books inspired The Eldest to travel to England (she did) and consider studying to become a veterinary technician or even a veterinarian (she changed her mind).

James Herriot was the pen name of James Alfred Wight, a veterinary surgeon who practiced in Thirsk, England located in the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. As a young boy growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, “Alf”(as he was known to his family and mates) had an Irish Setter he adored. This dog and other animals along with influences at his school motivated him to study at the Glasgow Veterinary College. He graduated in 1939 and soon after took a job in Thirsk, working for the practice owner, Donald Sinclair. Wight and Sinclair tag-teamed the veterinary practice during World War II, both serving in the Royal Air Force. Eventually, Wight took over the practice. His son followed in his footsteps by also becoming a veterinarian.

It was only after he practiced twenty-five years that he began writing stories at the encouragement of his wife. During his early life, Alf kept a diary and wrote stories for the school paper. After working all day in the veterinary practice, Mr. Wight would sit at his typewriter and write stories of the things he knew. The books are not entirely autobiographical, the town in his books is a composite of several of the surrounding villages. The characters names were changed but many of the adventures are close to real.

In 2014, my Traveling Partner and I spent five wonderful days in York, England. We rented an AirBnB apartment about a half mile from the York train station. The Eldest told us that we had to visit the nearby village of Thirsk to see the James Herriot sites. On our last full day, we walked to the train station and bought our tickets to Thirsk. When northbound trains pulled into the station, we had to check to make sure we boarded the right train, not all trains stopped at every station. It seemed we were barely seated and comfortable when we pulled into the Thirsk Railway Station sixteen minutes later. As we stepped onto the platform, we observed there wasn’t much around the station, Thirsk was about a mile and a half walk. Oh, we could have waited for a bus to come along, but the day was so beautiful with mild temperatures, a blue sky, and white poofy clouds, so we walked.

On the edge of town, we saw some activity at the show grounds near the road. It was our first detour to the car boot (trunk) sale, known here in the states as a flea market. We wandered around looking at what the vendors had for sale, many of the items were the typical things people here in the US have for sale; used dinner plates, frying pans, kids toys, clothing, bedding, and even a few collectibles and antiques.

Upon arriving in the city center, our first stop was the tourist information center. We picked up a map and information on the Herriot Center. This was followed by a stop at the local cafe for a coffee to rest our feet and read a little about Thirsk. We learned that its name comes from the Viking word for lake. You have to remember that the Vikings got around, they invaded and occupied the area around York for about 100 years in the 800’s. At the time of our visit, the city had about 5000 residents. Thirsk is a market town with the central plaza hosting an open air market a couple times each week. There is also a livestock auction market where cattle, sheep and hogs are sold.

Feeling refreshed after coffee and a biscuit, we walked around the plaza and checked out a few of the small locally owned shops.

From the city center, it’s a short walk to the World of James Herriot Museum located at 23 Kirkgate. A kirkgate is the road or the gate to a church as seen in the photo below.

We popped into the Museum entrance and had a nice chat with the woman selling tickets. We paid the entrance fee and walked through the museum reading the plaques and looking at the displays. At the end of our tour, we looked around the gift shop and purchased a few items for gifts.  

The only photo I took inside was of the supply/medication room. In the first episode of the TV show, Herriot is reprimanded for not keeping the shelves stocked with tools of the trade even though he’d been on the job for only a few days. 

After our pleasant visit to the Herriot Museum, we walked up the street to St. Mary’s Church. It’s of the Anglican persuasion and dates from the 15th century. There was a welcome sign and a friendly volunteer welcomed us in to look around. There was no admittance fee but there was a box for free will donations. The volunteer pointed out the pipe organ that dates from the early 1800’s and told us there are four church bells, one dating to the 1400’s.

After our time inside the church, we roamed the adjoining cemetery where some of the headstones were so old that we couldn’t make out a date.

We walked around town and then stopped to for a late lunch. I snapped a photo of this view into a courtyard. We were amazed at the age of some of the buildings and how well preserved they were. Lots of history here.

The walk back to the train station didn’t t get any shorter. The weather was warm and pleasant so we strolled, stopping occasionally to admire the beautiful scenery. We admired this house with its many color flowers planters.

A little further down the road, only one ewe out of the flock was interested in the passersby. Maybe she thought we would offer her a treat!

We had some time to kill before the train back to York arrived. Armed with a camera, I meandered around looking for some photo ops. Here’s what I found:

The Station Cat
Fence Shadows

Soon our train arrived. On our ride back to York, we talked about what a pleasant visit we had to the village and decided the next time we would find lodging here instead of a larger city.

If you are in the neighborhood and are a fan of James Herriot, please consider a stop in Thirsk. And tune into the series on your local PBS stations. You won’t regret either!

Until next week, happy virtual travels!


2 thoughts on “Thirsk: A Small Town Where Things are Great

  1. Good post on Thrisk Tom. Enjoyed the original series on WPT back in the day. Your post led me to dig out my CAD audio tapes from back in 1986 titled, Lord God Made Then All, read by Ken Ohst–17-half hour cassettes–good stuff.

    1. Thanks for checking Kurt. I don’t remember watching the older version of All Creatures but I remember reading all the books. Great wholesome stories.

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