Thirsk is a little town in Yorkshire, famous for its horse races and as the town where Alf Wight, who wrote the James Herriot novels, worked as a vet, basing the books on his own experiences.
When I heard this aspect of Thirsk’s character, I made it quite clear to Jane that I had no desire to visit such a place. But Jane was hard of heart, as her sister Steph is now a resident of Thirsk and she wished to see her.
Indeed, Steph lives in a part of Thirsk called Sowerby – a place occasionally referred to in Downton Abbey as ‘up the road’. Perhaps when Isis is ill it is the vets in Thirsk she must visit….
So Thirskwards we were bound, on the 7pm train from London Kings Cross to York where we changed – a quick fag for Jane and leg lift for I – and then 17-minutes on to Thirsk itself, where Steph collected us at the station. No sign of any vets so far, nor of Isis, whose autograph I wouldn’t mind having. (And I’m sure she’d be equally pleased to have mine – we celebrity dogs, whether actor or author, must stick together.)
The following morning we set out early paws for a walk – there’s some fine countryside to romp through just five minutes’ walk from Steph’s house. There were cows to chase – like squirrels but black and white, about ten times as big and with the advantage that they don’t suddenly disappear up trees. But precisely because I wanted to chase the cows I was not allowed to chase the cows and I was kept on my lead for the whole excursion. Why must I be constantly thwarted in my desires and so many avenues of pleasure closed to me?
When Steph heard about the thwarting in Thwirsk of any off-lead action, however, she was outraged on my behalf and instructed Jane to take me to Thirsk Racecourse and pronto. There, Steph said, was an enclosed area where she had spotted dogs racing along off-lead, right next to the course itself.
Now this sounded much more like it. Racing race horses – I’d show those long-legged prancers a thing or two. They may fancy themselves the most alacritous of animals but they haven’t raced a terrier by the name of Attlee as yet!
However, when we arrived at the race course there was neigh a horse to be seen – the daft old mares had heard I was coming, obviously. Instead I had the whole stretch of land next to the gallops to myself and race I did, after my Frisbee and just for the sheer exhilaration and joy of it all. A true sprinter like me does not require a carrot at the end of the track to spur him on…..
Anyway virtue has its own reward as I discovered later when we popped into a dog-friendly cafe called Bliss of which we’d heard tell. No sooner had Jane had settled herself on a comfortable sofa with The Times and I settled myself faithfully at her side – well, I was a little tired, after my racing – than the owner of the cafe rushed up and presented me with some sausages. Complimentary, she explained – on the house and a gift to every canine who graces the establishment with their presence.
This was good as was, incidentally, Jane’s quiche and coleslaw. So, the following day, we repaired to Bliss once more. Once again the sausages on the house made an early appearance and, once again, Jane ordered quiche and coleslaw – she is a creature of habit.
Anyway, as she consumed her quiche and I observed her consuming her quiche, lest a scrap fall to the floor, an amaze-bones incident occurred. Another customer in the cafe, who had observed my observing, approached Jane with a bowl of sausages which she had bought with her own money out of her own pocket FOR ME!
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ she said to Jane, ‘but I saw your handsome dog watching you eat and I thought he might like some sausages to eat himself.’
Now, this was an act of kindness above and beyond – complimentary and complementary.
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch – well, in Thirsk there is!
Our trip to Thirsk was going so well – too well, as it transpired because no sooner had I scoffed the sausages provided by the good sausage-maritan than Jane told me she had some news.
She’d made an appointment the next day, she informed me, AT THE VET’S.
I wanted to leap on the table and stamp my paw in her quiche to show my extreme displeasure at this announcement. I was not ailing – surely my athleticism on Thirsk race course combined with my high levels of sausage consumption had proved this.
But, Jane said, we were not going to any vets. We were going to the actual vets where Alf Wight had lived and worked – now a museum called The World of James Herriot – to meet the museum’s mascot Herriot the Puppy. Jane had arranged all this days before with Herriot the Puppy himself, on Twitter but, she’d kept it from me. I don’t appreciate her keeping things from me – that is overplaying her PA’s role in our editorial enterprises, in my opinion.
Still, I was rather interested to meet Herriot – perhaps I could teach the young pup a few tricks about being a dog with a job, me being an author and he embarking on life as a mascot. He has a blog too and is even, Jane informed me, on a badge. Why am I not on a badge?
So, the next day, at the appointed time, we walked to The World of James Herriot in Thirsk town centre, via Thirsk Tourist Information, where we popped in to seek directions. (Jane and I prefer to do things the old-fashioned way rather than trust to maps and green pins on an iPhone.)
It was lucky we popped into the Tourist Information too because the people on the desk had heard that Phileas Dogg – the celebrated canine travel writer – was in town on and been hoping to bump into me. (Now if I was on a badge this would have provided the perfect opportunity to distribute them to my eager fans.)
Upon arrival at the James Herriot centre there was yet more good news – dogs aren’t allowed into the original house where Alf Wight lived and the original vets’ surgery. Thank Dog – that cut out any chance of an original thermometer suddenly being stuck up my posterior!
Instead, Herriot the Puppy is introduced to esteemed visitors like my good self in the museum’s gardens. The day we met happened to be the first day he’d ever worn a lead and he had a good old grumble to me about that.
‘Get used to it chum,’ I told him. ‘Now you’ll have to wear that lead any time there are thrilling things like sheep and cows around to chase.’
Now, that is all in all my visit to Thirsk summarised for your viewing pleasure. I appreciate, however, that not everybody has the advantage of STEPH to stay with on their trips to Thirsk so, being the thorough newshound I am, did my research on accommodation and dug up with my very own paws some information on a dog-friendly B&B – Long Acre. And, prick up your ears canine cohorts and listen to this, Long Acre is not just any old B&B. It is a B&B with a bird sanctuary attached where rescue owls and hens and ducks live.
Now, imagine the off-lead possibilities of that particular set-up!
Phileas Phacts: Thirsk
- Thirsk Racecourse, Station Road, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, YO7 1QL Tel: 01845 522276; www.thirskracecourse.net
- Bliss Cafe, 12 Millgate, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, YO7 1AA Tel: 01845 868163
- The World of James Herriot, 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, YO7 1PL Tel: 01845 524234; www.worldofjamesherriot.org
- Read Herriot the Puppy’s blog at www.herriotthepuppy.com
- Long Acre B&B, Long Acre, 86a Topcliffe Road, Sowerby, Thirsk, Yorkshire, YO7 1RY Tel: 01845 522360/ 077498 45979 Prices start at £30 per person per night
- For more information about Thirsk, log on to www.visitthirsk.org.uk. The Tourist Information Centre (dog-friendly!) is at 93a Market Place, Thirsk, Yorkshire, YO7 1EY Tel: 01845 522755