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Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Real Herriot Way

"I wonder.  Where might James Herriot stay in Hawes?"

During our visit to Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales, I came across a Bed & Breakfast called Herriot’s, which of course I had to photograph.  After returning home, I studied its website.  One feature that drew my attention was “The Herriot Way.”  An Internet search revealed lots of articles on this fifty-two mile walk named after James Herriot.  You can select from a wide variety of guidebooks and maps to navigate the trail.  You can stay in a B&B like Herriot’s, where the staff will pick you up at the end of the day and transport you back the next morning to continue the circuit.  Or you can carry your belongings with you, and stop at other B&Bs, motels, or Youth Hostels along the way.  You can even contract with a company like The Sherpa Van Project, who will make all the arrangements for you in advance.  Just tell them how far you want to walk each day, and they’ll book accommodations for you along the way, and transport your baggage from place to place.

If all this sounds a little plush and easy, at least by Alf Wight’s (the real James Herriot) standards, it did to me as well.  So I decided to do a little more research.  In James Herriot’s Yorkshire, he writes about the time his son Jimmy asked him to go youth hostelling with him over a long weekend.  “It seemed a little effete to spend the night under a solid roof, but I allowed myself to be persuaded and we set off from Leyburn one Friday afternoon.”  On Friday they hiked from Leyburn to the Aysgarth Youth Hostel, where they spent the night.  They spent Saturday night in Keld, and Sunday night in Grinton.  (For some reason I had trouble mapping Grinton, but it’s relatively close to Framington).  Then on Monday they returned to Leyburn.  Despite his reservations, Wight (Herriot) enjoyed his walk, as well as the experience of staying in those Youth Hostels with his son.

The Real Herriot Way, or as close as I could map it.
(Click to enlarge).

Google Maps came up with an estimated distance of fifty-three miles for their walk.  The program is designed to follow roads, not walking trails, and had a little trouble navigating between (J) Keld, (K) Gunnerside, and (L) Crackpot Hall, so the distance is probably off a little.  Still, it gave me an idea of how far James Herriot traveled with his son: roughly thirteen miles each day.  Phew!  Even thinking about that makes me tired!

Remember, this is something they did on a weekend.  Then Alf went back to work!

While the official, advertised Herriot Way is similar in length, it contains a notable difference.  The walk begins at Aysgarth, or at least one of the legs begins there, depending upon where you start the circuit and in what direction you walk it.  But it excludes Leyburn, Wensley, West Witton, and West Burton, while including Hawes as a major stopover.  I find this an intriguing alteration, as Leyburn held “a thousand happy associations” for Herriot.  Alf spent a lot of time working there with Frank Bingley, whom he immortalized as Ewan Ross in his James Herriot books.  He also loved the landscape surrounding the town.  Contrast this with the town of Hawes, which he never mentioned in James Herriot’s Yorkshire, his guide to all the places he loved the most in his adopted homeland.  It would be interesting to learn why The Herriot Way seems to follow the walk he described in his book so closely, yet also differs in such a fundamental way.  Perhaps it has to do with practical issues, such as the availability of accommodations and right-of-way for footpaths.  Whatever the reason, the advertised version gets people out walking, breathing in the fresh country air, and taking in some of the scenic vistas that Herriot loved so much.  And whether they’re walking the official Herriot Way, or the real circuit he described in his book, they’re remembering James Herriot, his stories, and keeping his name alive. 

Someday, I’d love to return to the Yorkshire Dales.  I think I side with his son Jim on the accommodation issue: staying warm, dry, and comfortable under a roof sounds better to me than camping, especially if I've been walking all day.  On the small matter of the walk itself, I'm torn.  I'd like to walk the Leyburn portion, but I'm not sure if I've got a fifty-two mile walk in me, let alone tacking on any additional mileage.  I guess I'd better get in training, huh?  Who knows?  If I began a walking regimen now, maybe I could complete such a long circuit long?  Maybe in around seven to ten days?

Dragon Dave

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