A Walk in Yorkshire - the English Countryside of James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small”

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

“high-cream teas.”


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

their seventies.


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

own dog.”


“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

• www.wayfarers.com

• www.countrywalkers.com

• www.backroads.com

• www.macsadventure.com

• www.footpath-holidays.com

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