by Judy M. Zimmerman
In the clean country air of England’s Yorkshire Dales, we can still find a peaceful
solitude that’s hard to imagine in today’s troubled world. Here, the cherished
stories of beloved veterinarian and author Dr. James Herriot’s All Creatures Great
and Small remain unchanged.
PHOTO - JAMES HERRIOT
Thirty-five years ago, I joined a small guided Wayfarers walking group to discover
the same enchanting Yorkshire paths made famous by the devoted country vet. (A
new adaption of the original BBC TV series premiered on Masterpiece Theatre
Sunday, January 10).
Join me now to experience firsthand the blessings of that remote world where
Herriot found so many of the good things of life. Briskly we tramp, up rocky green
fells and down gentle hillsides into the dales below amidst seas of purple heather.
High on a wild and windswept moor, only the cry of a curlew or grouse betrays
the silence of the endless networks of dry stone walls that enclose the pastures of
a hardy people who’ve farmed there over the centuries.
We swing our legs over one of many stiles into a wheat field edged with bright
red poppies. Here, rabbits and pheasants abound in the wild open field. On the
other side, we follow the velvet grasses of a narrow wooded bank along the River
Nidd, careful not to disturb a fly fisherman’s silent cast.
Then, strolling past tall hedgerows of a country lane, we stop to pick a handful of
juicy wild gooseberries. Ahead, an ancient parish church beckons us to explore
its heritage or stop to rest awhile.
Perhaps it will be a busy market day in the town ahead, where the stalls of the
cobbled streets are abuzz with local shoppers. There’s sure to be a pub filled with
red-cheeked farmers sipping pints of ale and enjoying a “ploughman’s lunch” of
crusty whole-grain loaves, chunks of cheese, chutney and salad.
Over lunch, our fellow Wayfarers remember the first foggy morning’s walk out of
Harrogate, where this five-day journey began. A few had arrived by train from
London a day early to enjoy the former spa town’s award-winning gardens of
dahlias, roses, snapdragons, and sweet peas in their fragrant blooming peak.
Harrogate’s wide stretch of groomed grassy land, preserved as a public park, is
popular with white-clad lawn bowlers and others who gather to enjoy the band.
Nearby, there’s Betty’s Tea Room, famous for its elegant lunches and delicious
Whatever had drawn each Wayfarer to Harrogate that first Sunday, they arrived
from all parts of the world: married couples; mothers and daughters from the
United States, Canada, and Australia; two women in their twenties and two in
Charming Walk Leader Basil Jacques accompanied by his clever dog Taj, chooses
obscure paths that highlight all sorts of intrigue along the way. These “public”
paths actually traversed private land, some even dating back to Roman times.
Each day Walk Manager Betty Freeman transports our luggage ahead to the next
night’s stop, then returns to join us for lunch at a pub. Sometimes she appears
out of nowhere to set up a picnic along the way.
Our walking days usually cover a leisurely ten miles or so. For anyone who wishes
to relax after lunch, Betty offers a ride in the van. It’s tempting to ride along just
to hear her witty tales of life in Yorkshire.
The first night’s stop is in the idyllic hamlet of Summerbridge, where our group
stays at three different lodgings: a farm, a thatched cottage, and an ivy-clad inn.
For dinner, we gather at the Clough farmhouse for a delicious dinner of pork
roast and garden-fresh cauliflower, followed by Mrs. Clough’s prize desserts of
raspberry-apple pie and strawberry pavlova meringue.
In the cathedral town of Ripon we have dinner at a jovial small hotel before
dispersing to several “bed-and-breakfast” homes. As we drift off to a sound
night’s sleep, the town horn blower sets the watch at the market square at nine
p.m., a civic tradition unchanged since Saxon times.
The next day, Betty arranges a special visit for eight of us with her long-time
personal friend, Dr. James Herriot (whose real name is Alf Wight). Herriot, now in
his 70’s, reserves Wednesday afternoons to chat with Betty’s friends in his
veterinary office in the the cobbled market town of Thirsk.
As one admiring Wayfarer shakes Herriot’s hand, she says, “I just want to know
ONE thing. Is the story about Amber really true? She reminds me so much of my
“Of course!” Herriot smiles. “All the stories in my book are true.”
Our conversations with the beloved author are cut short when veterinary son
Jimmy interrupts, urgently in need of his Dad’s help with an animal in surgery.
The following afternoon, we picnic on a hillside of springy grass that overlooks
the tranquil panorama of Wensleydale below. Then there’s a long stretch of
bleak open moorland to cross-- harsh treeless country covered with heather and
bracken. As we weary walkers approach our next overnight stay, the majestic
ruins of Middleham Castle, once home to King Richard III, looms in the distance.
Middleham today is home to many famous racing stables. In the morning, before
moving on, a few of us early risers greet the jockeys at the “gallops” as they
exercise their horses in the mist above the town.
Our last town is Richmond with its quirky little streets and alleys that twist in all
directions. Some lead to the Norman castle on the cliffs that overhang the River
Swale; others to the ancient church with shops built into its walls, a feature
unique in all England.
Now at the end of our trail, together with Herriot, we have found the
incomparable sense of wonder and wild beauty of Yorkshire’s countryside.
For Guided Walks in England and Elsewhere