Picture credit: Chris Wardle (IFY Community)

“I hope to make people realise how totally helpless animals are, how dependent on us, trusting as a child must that we will be kind and take care of their needs.”

– Vet, Alf Wight (James Herriot)

Thirsk is a market town that is home to around 5,000 people. It can be found in North Yorkshire which was originally the North Riding of Yorkshire.

The town is situated directly between the Moors and the Dales in the valley of Mowbray. Running through its centre is a small river called Cod Beck.

It’s location makes it a perfect hospitality town for tourists wishing to explore both Yorkshire and the National Parks. However, Thirsk also has some attractions of its own that are worth exploring.

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James Herriot Country

Thirsk is often called James Herriot country. James Alfred Wight, James Herriot, was a veterinary surgeon in Thirsk, Yorkshire.

He’s famous for writing a book series collectively known as All Creatures Great and Small. This was also later the title of the TV adaptation.

In 1940 Wight joined the town’s veterinary practice. He carried on with this until the 1970’s when he began writing about his experiences.

His first book was called “If only they could talk”. This was then published in 1970.


After his first book, it was followed by seven other volumes throughout the next two decades. The last of these was published three years before his death in 1992.

The TV series broadcast from 1978-80 which were based on the vet’s books. The second run from 1988-90 was filled with original scripts but maintained the same characters.

These were based on Wight’s real life colleagues. However, each of the characters had different names.

The cast included Christopher Timothy who played James Herriot and Robert Hardy who played Siegfried Farnon. The late Lynda Bellingham took the role as the author’s wife.

Museums and Attractions in Thirsk

In 1999, the World of James Herriot opened. This was in commemoration to the vet and author.

It attracts half a million people worldwide. This attraction gives visitors an insight into what it would have been like as a vet between the 1940’s to 1950’s in Yorkshire.

There is also information about the life of Wight and his colleagues. Wight joined the surgery which was then restored to its former glory.

The attraction also houses the largest collection of Herriot memorabilia in the world. It also includes many features that are suitable for children.

The James herriott experience is a major attraction in Thirsk: Picture credit: Gordon Hatton geograph wikipedia creative commons.
The James Herriott experience is a major attraction in Thirsk: Picture credit: Gordon Hatton geograph wikipedia creative commons.

The Thirsk museum is located at the birthplace of the town’ other famous son, Thomas Lord. Born in 1755, he helped to create the Lord’s cricket ground in London.

In total, the museum has eight rooms. Each of these are filled with cricketing memorabilia, farming equipment, costumes, and toys.

One of the exhibits contains the remains of a Saxon giant. The giant was found during excavations of an ancient burial ground near the museum.

St Mary’s Church in Thirsk is one of the most impressive religious buildings in the region. It has an 80ft tower and has served the town for 500 years.

The nearby village of Kilburn is famous for two things. One is the Robert “Mousey” Thompson Visitor Centre, and the other is the Kilburn White Horse.

Robert “Mousey” Thompson was born in 1876. He was a famous church furniture marker.

His legendary trademark is the carving of a mouse. This can be found as a feature in all of his work which can be seen in places of worship throughout Yorkshire.

Robert chose this particular creature for a reason. He said his choice of the mouse comes from the saying “poor as church mice”.

The village is home to the famous Kilburn white horse. This horse has been carved into the hillside.

It was created in 1857. Both businessman Thomas Taylor, and schoolmaster John Hodgson, along with his pupils, joined together to create the white horse.

In total it is 318 feet long and 220ft high. This makes it the largest white horse chalk figure in the country.

Taylor deposited six tons of lime on the grey rock to make it stand out. The horse can reportedly be seen as far away as Lincolnshire on a clear day.

During the Second World War, the landmark was covered. This was so German bombers couldn’t see it as they navigated through the skies of Yorkshire.

The horse is frequently covered with chalk chippings. These come from the Yorkshire Wolds and help maintain its clarity.

Travelling In & Out of Thirsk

Thirsk white horse kilburn
The Kilburn white horse. Picture credit: Helen Robson (IFY Community)

Thirsk is a hospitality town. As a result, it’s well linked to other Yorkshire towns and cities.

It’s located between two important roads which are the A1 and the A19. These connect the town to Middlesbrough in the North, and York to the South.

In the East, the A170 takes travellers across the Yorkshire Moors National Park to Scarborough. On the other hand, the A61 goes to Ripon and Harrogate in the South West.

In 1841, Thirsk Railway Station was built. It became another stop along the York to Darlington line.

Then, in 1933, it became the first station to have a route setting power signal box. This was something that was rolled out throughout the rail network in the years after.

Sadly the station has been at the centre of two fatal train crashes. These happened in 1892 and 1967.

The station runs services to Middlesbrough, Sunderland, London Kings Cross, and Manchester airport via York and Leeds. Local bus services run to York, Ripon, and Northallerton from the marketplace.

Cinema in Thirsk

Thirsk is home to a historic independent cinema in the shape of “The Ritz Theatre”. The original opened in 1912 by Walter Power and is one of the longest running in Yorkshire.

During the 70’s it closed down, however it was later revived in 1995 by a group of volunteers. Now it’s a community run cinema showing new releases and children’s matinees.

Sport in Thirsk

Sport in the town comes primarily from horse racing. It was first recorded here in 1612 when James I provided a Gold Cup for a race in the nearby Hambleton Hills.

Regular meetings were first held in 1855. Local landowner Squire Fredrick Bell provided his estate to hold horse racing events.

Nowadays, the racecourse hosts fourteen flat fixtures per year. It attracts some of the top jockeys and trainers from around the circuit for its main event, the 300 Guinea Stakes.

Shopping in Thirsk

Thirsk has many distinctive features within the Yorkshire town. It’s most notable is arguably its mediaeval cobbled marketplace.

Within the market, there are some well-known supermarket chains. Despite this, the town has kept it’s shops largely independent.

Shoppers will find many interesting and unique shops. These are often down the ginnels and alleyways off its main square.

The market is held on Mondays and Saturdays. People will find a variety of goods ranging from fruit and vegetables to computers and DVD’s.

Located between the Dales and Moors, Thirsk is a delightful town with plenty to offer visitors to the area.

Thirsk is a delightful town located between the Dales and Moors. It’s location and attractions means that the Yorkshire town has plenty to offer its visitors.

History of Thirsk

Since the mid-6th century, during Anglo Saxon times, there has been a settlement in Thirsk.

The town’s proximity to the Viking capital of York, meant many of the surrounding villages are of Danish origin. These end in the suffix “by” and “ton” e.g. Sowerby and Hambleton.

For a time, during the Vikings dominance in this part of the Yorkshire, the town was known as “Thraesk”. This means a lake or fen.

The place was significant to be mentioned in the Domesday book. It was recorded as the parish of “Tresche”.

Tresche was split into two manors. These were “Orm” and “Thor” which were the names of two local Anglo Saxon leaders.

The Norman invasion saw typical changes to the town. Lands were given to baron Robert de Mowbray which the whole valley is still named after, and a castle was built to maintain order.

Thirsk Castle was destroyed in 1174. This was due to an uprising in the town against the monarch Henry II.

The de Mowbray family replaced their castle with a manor house. However, in 1322, this also became dust when it was destroyed by Scottish raiders.

During this time, in 1145, Thirsk was granted a charter to become a market town. This was to be held on a Monday.

Old picture of Thirsk, Photo Credit Jo Weston, (IFY Community)
Old picture of Thirsk, Photo Credit Jo Weston, (IFY Community)

These rights, along with the town’s flat and fertile land, meant that Thirsk started to thrive. It became the home of livestock traders and merchants trading in leather, skins, and hides.

Bartholomew-Smith was one of the first draping companies in the county. It started trading in 1540 and carried on for nearly 400 years until 1972.

One of Thirsk’s most proponent features is St Mary’s church. This was completed in 1480 and took fifty years to build.

The 18th Century brought further changes to Thirsk. One of these was the building of turnpike roads and improved transport.

This meant that the town became an important stopping place on the London to Edinburgh route. Nowadays, this is known as the A1.

The town centre also became full of inns and taverns. Many weary travellers would stop here to rest during their travels.

Some of the oldest inns include The Golden Fleece and The Three Tuns. These date back to the 1740’s and still exist in the town today.

Industries also began to grow in the town to support this trade. Brewing and tannery began to pop up along with farriers and blacksmiths.

Thirsk is home to two historical figures. These are Thomas Lord and James Alfred Wight.

Thomas Lord was born in 1755. He helped found the famous Lords cricket ground.

Thirsk was home to James Alfred Wight during the 20th Century. He wrote famous semi-autobiographical books about his life as a Yorkshire vet under the pen name James Herriot.

His books “All Creatures Great and Small” have since become a TV series. More recently the series has been recreated with a new cast.

Although many of the old crafts have long since left, Thirsk is a thriving North Yorkshire market town. It continues to attract tourists who explore its history and nearby national parks.