Home of James Herriot
Set in the Yorkshire countryside 24 miles north of York, the charming medieval market town of Thirsk rests between the Hambleton Hills and the Dales. Perhaps most famously known as the home of Author James Herriot. Although James Herriot is the name we know him by, it is actually his pen name. Born James Alfred Wight (Alf to people that knew him), Herriot became a Veterinarian before turning to writing.
He is best known for his books on animals and their owners called ‘If only they could talk’. Herriot’s practice was located in the Yorkshire town of Thirsk, 23 Kirkgate to be exact and now the site of the Herriot Museum. The veterinary practice is still working on this site, caring for ‘all creatures great and small’. The museum is well worth a visit, even if you are not familiar with his work.
James Herriot Museum
As you step through the bright red door into the museum you are taken back in time to visit the fully restored 1940’s home of the author and vet. A magical time capsule of the author awaits you, a moment frozen in time where you can imagine him sat at his writing desk, recalling the tales of the clients he had that day. During the war, his basement was converted into an air raid shelter. As well as a family home it is also the site of the veterinary surgery, dispensary and waiting rooms.
Herriot’s books were turned into a tv show called All Creatures Great and Small in the late 70’s and again in the late 80’s. A reproduction of the set and the vehicle used are still on show for visitors today. The legend of veterinary work is still being televised today with the popular programme ‘The Yorkshire Vet’ filmed here with Peter Wright (who worked alongside James Herriot) and Julian Norton.
James Herriot’s honeymoon in Carperby
We visited Carperby, a little village not too far away from Thirsk on the other side of the A1M. It was here that James took his bride for their honeymoon and according to the documents in the local pub, he stayed there and then spent half of his honeymoon working on the local farm looking at Cows! His signature is displayed in the pubs guest book.
Whilst there we highly recommend you stay for some food as it is incredible! You can take a nice walk to Aysgarth falls through the fields or head up the hills for some stunning views from the beacon.
Thirsk, not just a Market town in Yorkshire.
The road that runs between York and Northallerton may be Roman built, but the Yorkshire town of Thirsk situated on that route is actually Saxon in origin, although it is likely there were settlements here even earlier than that. The town has held a market here since the 12th century and been the meeting place for local villages to come together. Markets still happen here every Monday and Saturday on the cobblestone floor of the town square.
The sounds of the traders selling their goods has long been a sight on these stones and if you can imagen them in different clothing with different shelters, you can fall back in time. Horses tied up where cars now park, meat hung up for sale at the butchers, hand carved utensils form the wood turner. There would be people from all over the area coming to market to collect fresh goods for the week ahead or try to sell their wares.
The town square houses a nice collection of independent shops, a few branded shops, pubs, cafes and gorgeous architecture. It is easy to see where newer buildings were built next to old ones if you stop to take in the buildings character above the shop fronts.
One of the plus sides of social media is that you get to connect with people like you. It is even better when you are then able to meet them in person. We had been following LifeBeyondBricks for a while, and unbeknown to us they were following us too!
We started talking over the internet and when we saw they were in Yorkshire we did a happy dance and tried to meet up, It was here in Thirsk that we finally met. If you havent heard of them before, here is what you need to know…
Tash and Jon travel in their motorhome. They started their full time adventure in March last year, at the same time we did but they took their 3 cats with them on the road.
See what happened when we met the team in Thirsk!
Sadly, barely any trace of it is left to be found. Built around 959-970’s this Motte and Bailey castle is now reduced to imagination, myth and legend. There is some argument to whether it was a Norman Castle as there is no mention of it in the Doomsday book. After the conquest, the castle belonged to the De Mowbray family. Around 1175, one of the descendants rose up against Henry II somewhat ineffectually. Thirsk castle was besieged, rapidly surrendered and totally destroyed as a result.
All that remains now are raised earthworks around town with information boards to tell you more about that area. There are plenty of walks around town that explain the history of the Yorkshire town of Thirsk.
12th Century Church – St Oswalds
Whilst walking around the town, it is worth taking a little stroll down the lanes and side streets. When we visited with Jon and Tash from Life Beyond Bricks, we noticed a sign pointing to a 12th century church so decided to investigate. It was a little further walk than we expected but a glorious walk past the back of the Ritz Cinema, past the Thirsk and Sowerby Institute and stunning open views of the North York Moor hills rising sharply as if from nowhere.
The church dates back to around 1140 and over the years had been refurbished with bits added on to allow for larger congregations. The Church has a large cemetery and a sign displaying a sign for war graves. Squirrels were racing around in the trees and on the ground the snowdrops were standing with their heads bowed showing how much life was ongoing, even in this cold January afternoon.
The clock in the main square was erected in 1896, commemorating the marriage of the Duke of York and Princess May of Teck. They later became King George V and Queen Mary. The position of the clock ensures that on a sunny day the clock face glows almost golden. The skyline dominated by it at sunset means that many a photograph have been taken here.
Tour De Yorkshire
The Tour de Yorkshire cycle race thundered through the town of Thirsk in 2016 but sadly wasn’t on this year’s route, that didn’t stop the whole of Yorkshire celebrating the coverage of its glorious county. Everywhere you went, bicycles were being decorated, bunting was out and strange knitted racing jerseys were being hung around windows. Thirsk threw themselves into Yarn-Bombing the town and drew crowds in for miles away to see! Now this tradition reappears every year and is a favourite of many a tourist.
The hope is that the race will return here again in the coming years. The nearby town of Leyburn has been nominated again as a start/finish point for the 2020 races. We recommend booking accommodation early if you wish to come and watch the events as it does get very busy!
The charm and history of Thirsk reveals itself like peeling an onion. Everywhere you look there is a blue plaque denoting something from history. The Ritz cinema is one of the oldest continuously run cinemas in the UK after opening the doors to the public in 1912. The 200 seat cinema was originally the mechanics institute but converted for entertainment. Now, the cinema is run by volunteers desperate to keep the history of the local cinema going.
A Question of sport
One of Thirsk’s most famous sons is Lord Thomas, founder of the cricket ground. He was born here in 1755. However, one of Thirsk’s more visible claims to fame is the racecourse. Established in 1854, the flat ground made it a fantastic venue for horse racing. At one time, other then Newmarket, Thirsk was the only other racecourse where prize money was allowed for races.
Thirsk’s rich history with racing dates back as far as 1740 and was the site of the first official racecourse in England. During the 2nd world war, the racecourse was closed and turned into an Army camp before returning to, and still operating as a racecourse.
Food and Drink
Located next to the town clock, is the Yorks café. It is full of racing memorabilia and jerseys decorating the walls. We do love to drop in here for a brew or a spot of lunch when visiting as they are very welcoming to tourists. They are dog and muddy boot friendly and also cater for vegan, veggie and gluten free diets. We visited them again last week when we met up with Life Beyond Bricks and all opted for a nice warming bowl of soup and fresh bread.
Here is a cute tearoom and deli with lovely cakes displayed as you walk in to the shop. Homemade pies and a wide selection of cheeses will have your mouth watering and craving more. A small selection of dried products are also available such as teas, pickles, chutneys and breadsticks. Several butchers shops also tuck neatly in to the town and provide fresh and local produce to locals.
A pub dominates each side of the square like a monopoly board giving lots of options. The pubs likely made their appearance around the 17th and 18th century when Thirsk became a popular coaching stop for people travelling to and from Scotland.
The Mowbray Arms, a nod to the family that owned the land many years ago, sits on the south east corner, the Three Tuns, Golden Fleece, Black Lion and Black Bull are also located on the perimeter of the square.
Getting to Thirsk is very easy, good road signposts pave the way from the A19 and A1M. Getting around the coast to Whitby and Scarborough
Parking in Thirsk is easy as multiple car parks dot the surrounding area, each just a short walk to the town square. These include long stay, short stay, disk parking and even some free parking is you are savvy!
Thirsk has a rail link connecting it to other parts of Yorkshire. It is part of the East Coast main line which travels 210 miles from London Kings Cross in a southern direction and north to Durham, Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
National Express also operate to here and the coach from London to Thirsk is just £7.50
Just outside of the main square you will find a Tesco Superstore and a Lidl both with their own car parks. A little further out of the main town but still easily reachable (and easier to park large campers) is Aldi.
We love Thirsk
The Yorkshire area has turned up so many hidden gems that we honestly didn’t realise were here and Thirsk is one of them. Driving through on our first trip, we knew we had to come back and explore the picture postcard town. With the main roads connecting here had travelled through it on a few occasions before getting to explore on foot and the things we found took our breath away.
We really do recommend that you visit Thirsk should you be in the Yorkshire area and stay tuned for other locations in Yorkshire that we have visited!