21 Miles to Walk, Crossing of the A1 and East Coast Railway line, James Herriot the World’s most Famous Vet, Our Editor, the Air Raid Shelter

Post 71: 8 April 1993: Day 10 – Ellingstring Youth Hostel to Thirsk – 21 miles

We left Ellingstring Youth Hostel at 9.15am. At first my knee was a little sore, but after a slow start it gradually eased. On a long-distance walk there is always one day you are not looking forward and this was it. I had desperately tried to find a satisfactory route across the Vale of York to Thirsk, a route which did not involve too much road walking but many of my efforts were thwarted. My aim was to combine safe crossing-places of the A1, the River Swale and the main east coast railway line with good footpaths, but the options are few.

‘Aren’t you being a bit wimpish?’ my Editor Jenny Dereham (I was in good company as she was also editor to Alfred Wainwright, James Herriot, Dick Francis and Gervaise Phinn) said. ‘Couldn’t you cross the A1 and East Coast railway line without bridges?’ Fortunately, she seemed to accept I couldn’t swim the River Swale with a 30lb pack on.

‘I wouldn’t sleep at night worrying about my readers being run over by cars or trains.’ I pleaded. ‘When originally checking the route it took me ten minutes to get to the central reservation of the A1 and ten minutes to get off it. It was terrifying; with a 30lb pack you can’t outrun cars and lorries travelling at 80-90mph.’

‘Well, what about crossing the railway line? Your revised route over the bridge involves a lot more road walking,’ she replied, not easily persuaded.

‘On originally checking the route, I did once cross the railway line on the public right of way. It was four tracks wide and I later found out that it is the fastest section of the East Coast line. Inter-City 125s hurtle along at over 100mph, you can hardly see them coming let alone outrun them.’

Eventually my Editor was persuaded I had done all I could, barring spilling blood; although my crossings have bridges to make the walk as safe as possible, inevitably this has added to the ‘tarmac’ mileage. It is best to use trainers to walk across the tarmac sections, much better than walking boots with stiff soles. Following my request, it is possible a bridleway bridge may be built over the A1 near Middleton Quernow, but due to the usual financial constraints it may be some way off yet. In the meantime, I took advantage of the many grass verges along the lanes and wore a pair of trainers; I found these eased the foot pounding.

To add to the days hardships I had to skip between Ordnance Survey maps almost continuously. Although the day was the unavoidable link between the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, there were some attractions on the way, not least the town of Masham, which is reached after pleasant walking along the River Ure.

This is a medieval market town and St Mary’s church dates from the mid-12th century. An important survival from the Anglo-Saxon period is the lower portion of a round-shafted cross of sandstone in the churchyard near the porch. It has been dated to the early 9th century. The bands contain figurative scenes and animal ornamentation. A series of Old Testament scenes has been identified in the highest complete band.

Masham is noted for Theakston ales, which have been brewed in the town for over 165 years. Walkers can refresh themselves at the visitor centre, and discover how a small brewery continues to produce traditional cask Yorkshire ale; there are displays of old tools, pub games and a brewery shop and tours of the brewery are available. For some coast to coasters their ‘Paradise’ may simply be the ‘Black Bull in Paradise’ at the Theakston Brewery visitors’ centre. In 1992 a new brewery was established, the Black Sheep Brewery, and a visitor centre opened; there are tours. It is likely that many coast to coasters never get beyond Masham and live there happily ever after.

As dedicated walkers we re-joined the tarmac lanes and the foot pounding continued until arrival at Thirsk, our feet so hot we could fry an egg on them. Our bed and breakfast happened to be in the oldest house in Thirsk, built in the 1820’s, with wattle walls (interlaced rods and twigs). The landlord was very informative on the life and times of James Herriot.

Thirsk is a market town, boasting one of the most popular racecourses in the north. The grandstand was opened in 1854 and it hosts eight to ten flat race meetings each year.

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In the Market Place is what is known as the Bull Ring, which is marked out in cobbles (update – I recently tried to find this but in my limited time didn’t locate it) . This is where bulls were baited by dogs before going to slaughter, a nasty sport which took place even as late as 1750. The buses now stand there. The Three Tuns used to be a bustling coaching inn with extensive stabling at the rear, some of which remains.

p1040694The stagecoach trade provided employment for large numbers of townsfolk until the coming of the railway. Now tourists provide a lot of employment.

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Pevsner reckoned that St Mary’s church, built in the Perpendicular style in the 15th century, is without question the most spectacular perpendicular church in North Yorkshire, so it is well worth a visit.

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The real James Herriot, James Alfred Wight, the World’s most famous vet practised in Thirsk

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At the time of writing, plans are afoot for the building to become a museum (update – now open); the practice has moved elsewhere to more peaceful surroundings.

In the Visit England Awards for Excellence 2015 the museum was voted the ‘BEST IN ENGLAND’ small visitor attraction.

The web-site is at: http://www.worldofjamesherriot.com

These are my own recent pictures:

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The house is immaculately as it was in James Herriot’s lifetime.

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Including the Air Raid Shelter:

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For a tour of the other rooms see the slideshow:

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For some other parts of the museum see the next slideshow:

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There is also a farrier’s workshop, TV studio, statue of Alf Wight, restored vintage car of Alfs time, model Grand Central Station and other areas for children which I haven’t included.

James Herriot left £5 million in his will so certainly sold a lot of books.

You may recall that Gary was seriously ill after drinking water out of streams in the Yorkshire Dales. Well apparently James Herriot, when on his rounds, used to drink water out of streams at lunchtime to compliment his Wensleydale cheese and digestive biscuits. My theory, although I have no scientific evidence to prove it, is that the cheese acted as a water steriliser and purifier.

In the evening we went in search of food. In my case this usually means finding the first place that sells reasonably priced good food, be it fish and chips or a pub meal. For Dan this means a revue of every menu in town, inspecting the curtains of every pub, restaurant, and fish and chip shop, wiping your fingers on every window sill to quantify the amount of dirt, looking through every window to ascertain cleanliness, and checking for flacking paint on doors. On one occasion, Dan got so excited at the look of a pub he marched in with his muddy boots on, then across a carpet that looked as though it had never seen the sole of a shoe.

‘Oh we don’t usually have your sort in here,’ the owner said in a condescending accent that ensured we didn’t stay.

If the pub or restaurant passes every one of the various ‘Egon Ronay’ tests and the owner seems alright, Dan might then agree to go in and stay for a meal, or he might say, ‘Lets just look down this street. There might be a better one down here.’

After having already walked 21 miles, I was convinced that evening we walked another 10 miles, until we eventually settled for a meal in the Three Tuns Inn.

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