Sunday, July 3, 2016

Saturday, July 2: A James Herriot Day

David and I are big fans of "All Creatures Great and Small" -- the books as well as the TV series.  Just in case you've never heard of them, they are autobiographical stories by James Herriot, who was a country vet in Yorkshire, and they're beautiful.  He writes with great love of the Yorkshire Dales and I've always wanted to see them.  Even if David and I had been willing to try driving on the "wrong" side of the road way out in the country we wouldn't have known quite where to go to find the kind of places Herriot wrote about.  I went online beforehand thinking I might find a bus tour, but instead I found someone offering private tours in Yorkshire and one of his options was a James Herriot tour.  He had wonderful reviews online so we took a chance and booked a tour and were very, very glad we did.  Alan, our guide, spent the whole day driving us around the Dales and showed us wonderful places and told us great stories.  It was another really wonderful day that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

Our first stop was the James Herriot museum in the village of Thirsk.  (If you have read the books or seen the TV show, Thirsk is the real name for "Darrowby", the village where Harriot lived and practiced.)  Here are David and me outside the museum:
The name "James Herriot" was also a pseudonym; his real name was James Alfred Wight ("Alf" to his friends).  The museum is in the house where he practiced and where he also lived for some of his life.  I was very moved to see his nameplate:
The first book ends on his wedding day, when his boss (the vet who owned the practice) gave him some trivial reason to ask him to stop by the house before leaving on his honeymoon. He got there to discover a new nameplate, revealing his wedding present -- he'd been made a partner in the practice.

Here's a picture of Alf Wight, the real James Herriot from the museum:

and the recreated dining room of "Skeldale House":
and the dispensary:

Thirsk itself is a nice enough little town, but wasn't deemed picturesque enough for the TV series.  We learned that all the exterior shots of "Darrowby" were staged elsewhere, in places we saw later in the day.  But here is Thirsk, the real thing:
Like many of my pictures, this one looks fairly gloomy because it was an overcast day and rained off and on.  We had good luck because it seemed like the rain let up every time we wanted to get out and explore.  I brought along a raincoat but never actually had to put it on :-)

It seemed appropriate to be greeted by a playful cat as we walked down the street after leaving the museum:

And in Thirsk I found something near and dear to my heart: the local knitters had been yarn bombing!

Soon after leaving Thirsk, we stopped by for a look at Middleham Castle, the "childhood and favorite home of Richard III".  There wasn't much to see there besides the outer walls.  The castle had been damaged by fighting during Richard III and then (like a whole lot of castles, apparently) torn up a lot more during the Reformation.  Still, pretty cool!

And shortly after that, we passed a pretty spot which was used as a location in a popular movie set in the time of a different King Richard:
Anybody recognise it?

After Alan realised I loved castles, he added a stop at Bolton Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was once held prisoner:
Another ruin because of Reformation violence, but still really neat to see.

Our next treat was a drive through the high dales.  We went across some ridiculously narrow roads -- the kind where you pray nobody's going to show up and want to pass you! -- through an amazing landscape.  All that grows there is rough grass sort of stuff.  It's bleak but has its own sort of beauty.  Farmers let their sheep loose there, since they like that sort of grass.  They leave them out there all summer and collect them for the cold winter weather -- fattened up without any of the farmers' money spent on sheep food.  Apparently sheep have a strong homing instinct so it's not as hard as we might think to sort out whose sheep is whose.  Many of them also have spots of paint on their backs, which identify their owners.

A notable landmark on the way was the Tan Hill Inn, "Britain's Highest Public House" at 1,732 feet above sea level.  Not very high by Canadian standards, but I can tell you it feels pretty high and remote when you're there.

Back down nearer civilization, we ended our tour by visiting several spots where exterior shots of the TV "Darrowby" were made.  These two places were used in the opening credits:

It was a truly wonderful day.  I first read the Herriot books when I was a teenager, several decades ago, and now I finally can picture what this beautiful part of England looks and feels like.

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