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Herriot's Darrowby

James Herriot based his fictional home town on his real one - Thirsk.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 66ft (20m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Town paths, field paths and tracks, 6 stiles

Landscape Streamside and undulating pastureland around town

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 302 Northallerton & Thirsk

Start/finish SE 430813

Dog friendliness Keep dogs on lead

Parking Roadside parking in the main street of Sowerby village

Public toilets Thirsk town centre

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1 Walk down the village street, away from Thirsk. Just past the Methodist Church on the left, go left down Blakey Lane. After the bridge turn left through a kissing gate and go through four kissing gates to reach a footbridge.

2 Continue along the path, with the stream on your left, to a stile and go through two gates to a car park, keeping straight ahead to the road. Cross it and take a path that curves left then right by the bridge. At a paved area turn right, to go alongside a green to a road.

3 Cross and continue beside the houses, going left at the top of the green. Cross the metal bridge and continue beside the beck opposite the east end of the church. Before reaching the road take the path to the right, beside a bench, to a footbridge on the right.

4 Cross the bridge, go through two gates and curve left to follow the beck to a gate by a bridge. Go straight ahead (not over the bridge) and follow the path across the fields, veering slightly right to a stile on your right.

5 Go over the stile and follow the stream, going over another two stiles to pass beside houses. Continue left over a footbridge by some mill buildings. The path winds right to a second footbridge. Follow the bridleway sign across the field through two more gates to reach the main road.

6 Cross the road and go through a signed gate opposite, to another gate beside a wood. At an open space past the wood, turn left through a gap in the hedge, opposite a waymark to the right.

7 Walk down the field with a hedge on your left. In the second field go left over a stile and continue with the hedge on your right to another stile. Bear left to meet a path that crosses the field and becomes a grassy lane between hedges, then a track.

8 At a metalled road go straight ahead, bearing left then right past the church tower. Turn right and walk into the town centre. In the Market Place head half left towards the Three Tuns Inn, and down a signed passageway by the drycleaners.

9 Cross the road diagonally right and go towards the swimming pool entrance. Turn left and bend round the pool building to a gate. Go ahead to a gate and alongside the beck. At the bridge turn right across the field on a grassy track to a gate on to a lane. Go straight ahead to return to Sowerby village street.

The elegant Georgian village street of Sowerby - now joined on to the town of Thirsk - is lined with a handsome avenue of lime trees. Such a civilised aspect belies the origins of the village's name, for Sowerby means the 'township in the muddy place'. Once you begin the walk, the reason becomes evident, even in dry weather. Sowerby is on the edge of the flood plain of the Cod Beck. Sowerby Flatts, which you will see across the beck at the start of the walk, and cross at the finish, is a popular venue for impromptu games of soccer and other sports, but is still prone to flooding.

Once you've crossed the road by the end of New Bridge, you are walking between Old Thirsk and New Thirsk - though new in this context still means medieval. Old Thirsk is set to the east of the Cod Beck; like Sowerby, it too has a watery name, for Thirsk comes from an old Swedish word meaning a 'fen'. New Thirsk, to the west, is centred on the fine cobbled market place. The parish church, which you will pass twice, is the best Perpendicular church in North Yorkshire, with a particularly imposing tower.

South Kilvington, at the northern end of the walk, used to be a busy village on the main road north from Thirsk to Yarm. For much of the 19th century it was home to William Kingsley, who was vicar here until his death at the age of 101 in 1916 - having been born as Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. He entertained both the painter Turner and the art critic John Ruskin here - as well as his cousin Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies. More than a little eccentric, the Vicar had signs in his garden saying 'Beware of Mantraps'. When asked where they were, he paraded his three housemaids.

For many visitors, the essential place to visit in Thirsk is Skeldale House in Kirkgate - on the right as you return from the church to the Market Square. This was the surgery of local vet James Wight - better known by his pen name, James Herriot. Now an award-winning museum, 'The World of James Herriot', this was where Wight worked for all his professional life. Thirsk itself is a major character in the books, appearing lightly disguised as Darrowby. The museum has reconstructions of what the surgery and the family rooms were like in the 1940s, and tells the history of veterinary science. Whether or not you're a fan of the Herriot tales, which began with If Only They Could Talk in 1970, you'll find it a fascinating and nostalgic tour.

What to look for

See if you can catch a film at the Ritz Cinema, just off the Market Place. Built in 1912, it went under several names during its 80-year history, finally closing in 1992 as Studio One. For the previous ten years it had been kept going by a dedicated husband and wife team, but the economics of local cinemas had become almost impossible. The people of Thirsk were determined to have films back in their town, however, and, under the control of Thirsk Town Council, it was reopened in March 1995, reverting to its original name and on a six-month lease. So successful was it, that it still continues to show a regular programme of films. It is now run entirely by volunteers. Its equipment - including a horn-shaped loudspeaker above the screen dating from the 1930s - has been updated, but the Ritz still retains the atmosphere of a typical small-town cinema of the past.

Where to eat and drink

Thirsk has a good choice of cafés, pubs and hotels. Recommended are the up-market Golden Fleece and the Three Tuns in the Market Place. The Lord Nelson has bar meals and Sunday lunches, while Yorks Tea Rooms, also in the Market Place, offers good lunches and a range of coffees. In Sowerby, Sheppard's Hotel and Restaurant offers lunch and dinner.

While you're there

Visit the Thirsk Museum and tourist information centre at 14 Kirkgate. As well as having interesting local exhibits and displays, this was the birthplace, in November 1756, of Thomas Lord. The son of a local farmer, Thomas made his name as a professional cricketer, and set up his own ground in Dorset Square in 1787. Lord's Cricket Ground moved to its present site in 1814.

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