Years ago when I first read “All Creatures Great and Small,” I was captivated by the stories James Herriot shared about his experiences as a vet while in the Yorkshire Dales in England.
Then, PBS aired the most recent adaptation of the beloved book series. Our family watched every episode, often sighing and expressing wishes to walk those green hills, see that quaint village and have Mrs. Hall serve us a steaming cup of tea.
With the exception of the cup of tea from Mrs. Hall, my husband I got to do just that this past week. We arrived in London to attend meetings, then tagged on a few extra days to explore the Yorkshire Dales.
After landing at Heathrow, we took the Underground to Kings Cross Station, followed by a train bound for Yorkshire. We started our time in the Dales in the market town of Skipton, arriving on the day of the Queen’s funeral, which had been declared a national holiday. The town was dead, but we managed to find a pub open for business.
Richard, the proprietor of our hotel (The Unicorn) confided in us how he had been watching the ceremonies at the pub with his mates, bawling like a baby when King Charles swapped out the Queen’s colors for his own. “I didn’t wipe them tears,” he whispered, pointing to his cheek. “Them was for her.” We nodded our sympathies, our ears beginning to adjust to the strong Yorkshire accent.
The following morning, Richard served us a traditional Yorkshire breakfast of baked beans, toast, tomato, mushrooms, sausage, eggs and black pudding.
Black pudding, if you’re as unaware as I was, is a local dish made from a unique combination of pig’s blood and fat. One bite was enough to satisfy my curiosity, as it clearly fell into the category of “acquired tastes.”
After breakfast we saw the Skipton Castle, one of the best-preserved castles in England. There was a lovely little walk around the castle grounds which led us through a wood and along a stream.
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We then boarded a train to the village of Appleby, a journey of about an hour and a half. It took us through the heart of the Dales, which occupies an area of over 800 square miles in north-central England. There are 10 official Dales (Viking for valley), most of which are named for the river that runs through them.
The Pennine Mountains run through the Dales — by Idaho standards they are more like high hills, but in England they qualify as a full-fledged mountain range. Most of the Dales fall within boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
We heard someone refer to it as a ruined landscape — ruined by both the Vikings who first settled there and by the subsequent sheep and farmers. For a ‘ruined landscape,’ however, I had to admit it was one of the prettiest vistas I’ve ever seen. In every direction we saw ubiquitous and impressive stone fences, filled with sheep lazily grazing in green pastures nestled at the base of moor-topped hills. For domesticated country, it still possessed a degree of untamed wildness.
After our train ride, we hopped a bus over to the Wharfedale town of Grassington, the setting for the fictional town of Darrowby in “All Creatures Great and Small.” Our bed-and-breakfast was just steps from the cobblestoned town square, itself lined with quaint tea rooms, shops, and stone cottages, along with plenty of tourists taking in the sights. The popularity of the show definitely increased tourism, one shopkeeper told us.
On our second morning we headed out for a walk, starting on the Dales Way, an 80-mile footpath that runs through the middle of the Yorkshire Dales. If the train ride through the Dales gave us a broad view of the area, the walk provided us a more granular view. It was an experience rich for the senses. We smelled the sheep, felt the roughness and sturdiness of the rock fences, trod along paths that were alternatively muddy and rocky.
We walked along the tea-colored River Wharfe for a mile before climbing through sheep fields until we reached moorland, where we walked past some old mines and finally descended once more into Grassington.
Upon returning to the village, we headed straight for the first tea shop and plunked down in chairs, exhilarated and exhausted. Four hours of straight walking (or ‘hiking,’ as Americans could call it) earned us a cup of tea and a scone with jam and clotted cream, quite possibly the best post-workout meal ever.
That evening I still had an itch to walk, so I left my husband resting and struck out again along the Dales Way. I became lost in reverie, thinking of all the stories I’ve read that are set in the English countryside – “Jane Eyre,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Secret Garden,” “Winnie the Pooh” — and what a truly imaginative, peaceful, inspiring place it was. The entire experience was phenomenal, so if you’re ever in England, be sure to set aside a few days to visit the Yorkshire Dales and prepare to be amazed.