Spend A Long Weekend Exploring Thirsk And Herriot Country

19 January 2022

Sitting between two national parks in Yorkshire and surrounded by beautiful countryside, patterned stone walls and hedgerows, the market town of Thirsk promises a relaxed mix of town and country.

Many an aspiring veterinarian is aware of Thirsk as the home and workplace of James Herriot, pen name of Alf Wight, the author of All Creatures Great and Small and other similarly themed books.

While the genre still graces our television screens on The Yorkshire Vet and the remake of All Creatures Great and Small, Thirsk offers you a lot more.

It’s close to the North York Moors National Park – a day out could include a visit to the World of James Herriot Museum in the morning, then a scenic walk on open moorland by the afternoon.

Want to experience it all for yourself? Here's a three-day itinerary to help you along the way.

Day one: Keeping it local

Allow some time to explore the market town of Thirsk. Arrive on a Monday or Saturday, and you’re treated to a busy market in the town centre, full of fresh produce, books, and homewares.

Spend a few moments window-shopping in the number of independent shops or settle in with a cappuccino and a crisp hardback at White Rose Books.

Learn about the area

Dip into the modest Thirsk Museum and delve into the history of Thirsk, housed in the building where Thomas Lord, founder of Lord’s Cricket Ground, was born. Each themed room displays tools, toys, clothing, kitchenware, or memorabilia.

While you’re here, pick up some traditional lunch in one of the nine pubs dotted around the market. Fancy something a tad a lighter? Bagels & Bakes offer a variety of bagels, salads, wraps, and cakes.

Keep your afternoon open to visit the World of James Herriot Museum. Set in the renovated home where Alf Wight lived and had his veterinary practice, you’ll easily find something to occupy your imagination.

Part of the museum is a time capsule of a 1940s home, veterinary office, and medicine dispensary. You’ll see veterinary tools and instruments both old and new and a memorabilia room full of the books and papers of James Herriot.

A few rooms are also now dedicated to the modern television programmes.

By now, you’ll probably want to stop somewhere for dinner. We’ve got a few recommendations in mind, such as Racha Thai Bistro, Bianco Ristorante, or Bengal Kitchen, for some international flavours.

Day two: Explore a little further

Just a ten-minute drive from Thirsk is the border of the North York Moors National Park.

And at the top of Sutton Bank is one of two National Park visitor centres, complete with a café, bike hire, gift shop, walking and cycle routes, and a cyclocross loop.

Pick up a map of the White Horse of Kilburn three-mile accessible walk at the visitor centre and enjoy the spectacular views from the top of the White Cliffs.

On a clear day, you’ll see York Minster in one direction and landmarks in the Yorkshire Dales in the other.

Take flight

The runways of the Yorkshire Gliding Club back up to the walking path, and you may even see gliders float right above your head. Flights are available to anyone, but we suggest you book in advance.

You’ll soon arrive at the White Horse of Kilburn, a huge horse figure cut into the limestone of the escarpment. Inspired by the chalk hill horses in southern England, Kilburn locals built it in the mid-1800s.

The walk takes you below the horse, through the woods, and into a car park, where you have better views of the figure, before carrying on up a steep staircase that loops back to the Centre.

Be sure to pick up a takeaway lunch at the Park Cafe and indulge in a feast outside at a picnic bench as you watch and listen to the flocks of native birds at the busy bird feeders.

If you’re there at the right time of year, you may catch a glimpse of the fleeting turtle doves that have been coming back to Sutton Bank each year.

”England’s Finest View...”

... declared by James Herriot, is at the top of Sutton Bank overlooking the Vale of York and the Pennines – worthy of a few social media snapshots.

Reached by an accessible path, the walk can be made longer by following the Cleveland Way along the top of the cliffs.

The Cleveland Way, a National Trail of 109 miles from Helmsley to Filey, follows the escarpment for about four miles, then meanders into woodland and heathland, before eventually connecting with the coast.

You’ll spot Gormire Lake below the limestone cliffs. This lake formed during the last ice age, as glaciers retreated.

But local legends say it’s bottomless, has no inlet or outlet, covers an ancient city below the waters, and could be the home of the devil. A steep footpath winds down to the tranquil lake.

A delightful dinner to end the day

On your drive back to Thirsk, stop at The Carpenters Arms for a dinner made with local produce from their own gardens, as well as locally sourced meats – they also provide bed and breakfast accommodation, and dogs are welcome.

Perhaps you’re interested in some late-night stargazing? The North York Moors National Park has recently been named an International Dark Sky Reserve, and Sutton Bank has its own viewing hub.

Day three: Art and abbeys

Get your art and culture fix at Zillah Bell Gallery, 1234 Gallery, or Rural Arts, where they also host workshops, performances, and screenings, alongside local arts and crafts.

New to the art scene of Thirsk is a Sculpture Garden. Tucked into the grounds of Thirsk Hall, beside St. Mary’s church, the green space is dotted with stunning contemporary sculptures.

A short drive outside Thirsk are two abbey ruins. English Heritage maintains them, and both describe life as a Cistercian monk in the 12th-century.

Destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries, by Henry VIII, in the late 1530s, their rural settings are ideal for walking or a picnic.

Byland Abbey ruin sits between Coxwold and Wass villages and has a small museum on-site to learn more about why the monks chose to settle in the area.

Stop to refuel

Across the road from the abbey ruins is the Byland Abbey Inn and Tea Rooms with bed and breakfast accommodation.

Offering hearty Sunday roasts, afternoon tea, and gastropub fare, the Inn overlooks the abbey and is welcoming to walkers.

After lunch, take a drive through the small villages of Wass and Scawton to end up in the tranquil setting of Rievaulx Abbey.

Overlooking the abbey is Rievaulx Terraces, managed by National Trust. The terraces are an example of an 18th-century landscaped gardens, complete with two temples built in the style of classical Roman design.

On the way back to Thirsk, stop by The Hare at Scawton for dinner in a restaurant with accommodation, offering imaginative local seasonal dishes, along with taster menus and beverage pairing suggestions.

Fallen in love with Thirsk

Thirsk manages to span history, from museums, shops, and traditional pubs, through to the present day with quaint coffee shops, art galleries, and electric vehicle chargers.

Consider the town for its wide-ranging interests, as well as its access to York and wild, open spaces, for your next short break.