Discovering Sowerby and Thirsk
Writer and vet James Herriot based his fictional home town on his real one – the market town of Thirsk.
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.
Between Old and New
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 J M W Turner and the art critic John Ruskin here – as well as his cousin Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies (1863). More than a little eccentric, the vicar had signs in his garden saying 'Beware of Mantraps'. When asked where they were, he would parade his three housemaids.
Darrowby and Wight
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 Alf 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.
Walk down Front Street, away from Thirsk. Just past the Methodist church on the left, go left down Blakey Lane. Cross the bridge, turn left through a kissing gate and follow the stream, going through three more kissing gates to a footbridge.
Continue right of the stream to a stile. Go through two gates to a car park and ahead to the road. Cross and take a signed path that curves left, then right beside the bridge. At a paved area, turn right to go alongside a green to a road.
Cross the road and continue ahead, crossing a main road and going left at the top of St James' Green. Cross the metal bridge and continue beside the beck by the church. Before reaching the road take the path to the right, beside benches, to a footbridge on the right.
Cross the bridge and go straight ahead through a gate, curving left by an electricity pole 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 diagonally right to a stile on your right.
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 cross a second footbridge. Go across the field through a gate opposite, and across a track to reach the main road.
Cross the road and go up a signed path opposite, to another gate. After 350yds (320m), turn left at a waymarker opposite a hedge at right-angles to the track.
Walk down the field with a hedge on your left. In the second field, bear left through a kissing gate and continue with the hedge on your right, bearing half left to another gate. Continue across the field, then down the next field-edges to a path that becomes a grassy lane between hedges.
At a road go straight ahead, bearing left, then right past the church. Turn right and walk into the town centre. On Market Place, cross by the clock tower towards The Golden Fleece. Go down a passageway, Roses Yard, two premises to the pub's left, cross a lane and go down Villa Place.
Bear left to pass the leisure centre. Turn right and bend round the building. Go ahead to a gate and straight ahead, parallel with the beck. At the bridge, turn right on a grassy track right of the hedge, to a gate onto a lane, then walk straight ahead back to Sowerby.
Town paths, field paths and tracks, 4 stiles
Streamside and undulating pastureland around town
Keep dogs on lead
OS Explorer 302 Northallerton & Thirsk
Roadside parking in Sowerby village
Thirsk town centre
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover North Yorkshire
North Yorkshire, with its two National Parks and two designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is England’s largest county and one of the most rural. This is prime walking country, from the heather-clad heights of the North York Moors to the limestone country that is so typical of the Yorkshire Dales – a place of contrasts and discoveries, of history and legend.
The coastline offers its own treasures, from the fishing villages of Staithes and Robin Hood Bay to Scarborough, one time Regency spa and Victorian bathing resort. In the 1890s, the quaint but bustling town of Whitby provided inspiration for Bram Stoker, who set much of his novel, Dracula, in the town. Wizarding enthusiasts head to the village of Goathland, which is the setting for the Hogwarts Express stop at Hogsmeade station in the Harry Potter films.
York is a city of immense historical significance. It was capital of the British province under the Romans in AD 71, a Viking settlement in the 10th century, and in the Middle Ages its prosperity depended on the wool trade. Its city walls date from the 14th century and are among the finest in Europe. However, the gothic Minster, built between 1220 and 1470, is York’s crowning glory.