The memoirs of Yorkshire vet James Alfred Wight, written under the pen name of James Herriot, have proved perennially popular since they were first published in the 1970s. So far, they have spawned a couple of films, two TV series, and have introduced legions of fans to the wonderful countryside and gentler pace of life of the Yorkshire Dales.
The latest TV adaptation starring Nicholas Ralph, Samuel West, Nigel Havers, and the late Diana Rigg has hit our screens in 2020, rekindling the affection of the British public for this traditional Yorkshire vet and winning a new generation of fans along the way.
All about James Herriot
The character of James Herriot may be fictional but many of the stories contained in the series of All Creatures Great and Small books are based on actual events that happened to their author, James Alfred Wight, during his early career in the 1930s and 40s.
The setting of the books is the fictional Yorkshire Dales town of Darrowby, which mirrors the rural practice near Thirsk where Wight actually worked. He once described Darrowby as a composite of Thirsk with the nearby market towns of Leyburn, Richmond, and Middleham.
James Alfred Wight loved Yorkshire, particularly the countryside that surrounded his practice in Thirsk, so exploring here is a great way to follow in his footsteps. He once described the view from Sutton Bank as the finest in England so it’s well worth climbing up and taking in the scenery.
All Creatures Great and Small
In total there were eight original James Herriot books, telling the often humorous tales of Yorkshire Dales folks and a menagerie of animals, ranging from working cattle to family pets. The first All Creatures Great and Small adaptations came in 1975 with a couple of films starring Anthony Hopkins that were shot in and around the market town of Malton.
A popular BBC series came next which starred Christopher Timothy as James Herriot with Robert Hardy as practice owner Siegfried Farnon and Peter Davison as his brother and fellow vet, Tristan Farnon.
Other popular characters included the aristocratic Mrs Pomphrey and her extremely pampered pekingese called Tricky Woo. The series was such a success that it ran from 1978 to 1990.
A number of different Yorkshire filming locations were used for this long-running TV adaptation including:
Askrigg - this pretty Wensleydale village near Hawes and Leyburn doubled as Darrowby for the series and many of the exterior shots were filmed here. The Kings Arms in Askrigg was used as the Drovers Arm and it remains a wonderfully dog-friendly traditional pub where you can enjoy a plate of home-cooked food washed down with a local ale as you sit in front of the roaring log fire.
Leyburn - many of the farms that James Herriot visited in the series were genuine Yorkshire farmsteads, typically in the rolling Wensleydale countryside around Leyburn. The market in Leyburn was also used as a stand-in for Darrowby market.
Hawes - the highest market town in England, Hawes was featured in the original series of All Creatures Great and Small as the Darrowby Cattle Market.
Bainbridge and Redmire - this pair of Wensleydale villages were also used for a number of exterior ‘Darrowby’ shots with Redmire Village Green featuring in the series as the Darrowby Bus Stop.
Hadraw - The Church of St Mary and St John at Bellow Hill was used as Darrowby Church, and Hardraw Beck was also featured in the TV series.
A reboot of a Yorkshire classic
Channel 5 have brought James Herriot and the fictional village of Darrowby back to life once more with a new TV adaptation hitting our screens this year.
The classic characters are all still there, including the slightly eccentric practice owner Siegfried Farnon played by Samuel West, the posh Mrs Pumphrey played by Diana Rigg and our favourite cosseted canine Tricky Woo (who lives on a diet of caviar, roast beef and trifle). This time, though, the filming locations have changed from Wensleydale to Wharfedale with Grassington taking centre stage as Darrowby.
The Upper Wharfedale village of Grassington is located deep in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and, with a bustling market square and a range of lovely independent shops, it has always been a popular choice for visitors.
You can potter around quaint streets, call in at cosy cafes for a cup of tea and slice of cake, and spend time exploring Yorkshire Dales countryside that’s peppered with classic dry stone walls.
A trip to Grassington is like travelling back in time as the village has remained virtually unchanged over the years. It’s the ideal location to double as a 1930s Darrowby with the vintage costumes, hairstyles and vehicles of All Creatures Great and Small blending perfectly with the traditional stone buildings and cobbled square. If you want to follow in the footsteps of the 2020 cast, we recommend:
Image credit: Pete Stuart
- Heading to The Devonshire pub for a photo - the building was used to film exterior shots of The Drovers Arms.
- Enjoying a pint at The Green Dragon Inn at Hardraw - the cosy rooms here doubled as the interior of The Drovers Arms too.
- Browsing the books at The Stripey Badger - the shop was transformed into Darrowby’s greengrocers for the filming of All Creatures Great and Small.
- Visiting Grassington gift shop The Rusty Rabbit - the gorgeous store became Darrowby Cycles for the series.
- Taking a cooling dip in the waterfall pool at Janet’s Foss in Malham - it’s where you see James Herriot go for a swim in the show.
The World of James Herriot
Image credit: Red Carpet 2020
If you fancy further immersing yourself in the life of a Yorkshire vet, then we recommend paying a visit to James Alfred Wight’s former home in Thirsk which has been transformed into a fascinating museum.
The World of James Herriot includes reproduced sets from the original TV series, an interactive gallery where children can learn more about caring for farm animals, and a series of restored 1940s rooms that show how the home, surgery, and dispensary would have looked at the time.
The museum also houses the world’s largest collection of James Herriot memorabilia including books, letters, photos, and even an original 1938 Austin Seven car that was featured in the original series.
Explore the Yorkshire Dales
If you fancy exploring the locations that inspired the James Herriot books and feature in the All Creatures Great and Small TV series, you’ll find a range of luxury Yorkshire Dales cottages that make perfect bases for your short break or holiday.
This beautifully refurbished building is nestled in the heart of Askrigg with wonderful views of the Yorkshire Dales from its peaceful enclosed gardens. The stylish open-plan kitchen/diner is warmed by a wood burner and there’s a second log fire in the cosy living room.
Sleeps: 6 guests + 2 dogs
This luxurious two-bedroom holiday home was converted from former waiting rooms on the heritage Wensleydale Railway line. Hunker down in your sumptuous surroundings and explore nearby villages of Wensley, Redmire, and Middleham
Sleeps: 4 guests
This traditional stone cottage is as cosy as can be and has a prime location in Grassington with the Dalesway footpath just a short distance away and The Devonshire pub (or should that be The Drovers Arms) within walking distance.
Sleeps: 4 guests
This is just a small selection of the properties available from Gorgeous Cottages. Browse our range of Yorkshire Dales cottages and start planning your idyllic Yorkshire getaway.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.