My Yorkshire: Julian Norton aka the Yorkshire Vet on his favourite people and places

Julian Norton from the Skeldale Veterinary Centre in Thirsk.
Julian Norton from the Skeldale Veterinary Centre in Thirsk.
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Julian Norton, from Thirsk, stars as the Yorkshire Vet in the Channel 5 series. He is based at the original James Herriot practice made famous by Alf Wight whose books were turned into All Creatures Great and Small.

What is your first Yorkshire memory? I was brought up in Castleford and lived in Lumley Street. I remember when my sister, Kate, was born in Pontefract Infirmary. I’d be about two and as a toddler I’d go to the home of my grandparents who lived near us. They had boarding kennels and kept a few pigs. I suppose contact with animals at that age set me on the path to being a vet.

Julian Norton would like to take his childhood hero Sebastian Coe to lunch.

Julian Norton would like to take his childhood hero Sebastian Coe to lunch.

What is your favourite part of Yorkshire and why? I think the Thirsk area is the best. There’s a lot of space. You go into the Dales and it’s busy with tourists. Here you are close to the coast and the Moors, near Leeds and the airport and 20 minutes or so from Harrogate and York. So here has got everything. We go away for the weekend or on holiday and when you get back to Thirsk, you wonder why you went away.

Do you have a favourite view? My favourite is similar to the one described by Alf Wight as the best view in Britain. His was from the top of Sutton Bank looking down at the Vale of York. For me, the better view is from the bottom of Sutton Bank at a place called Gormire Lake. The view from there up to Whitestone Cliff at the end of a summer’s evening when the cliff changes colour to orange makes it the most idyllic of places.

What is your idea of a perfect day out or weekend out in Yorkshire? You need a helicopter to get from place to place. It would start with a run on Runswick Bay and then on the way back call in at Dalby Forest to go mountain biking. After that, we’d go to Scugdale, near Stokesley, which is perfect for rock climbing. It’s a lovely little dale and following that we’d get back in the helicopter and go to the Devonshire Arms for tea. If we were away for the weekend, I’d go with my dad and boys to watch England beat Australia at Headingley.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take out for lunch? When I was a young lad running around Castleford, my inspiration was Sebastian Coe. He did a lot of running in Sheffield. Seb took middle-distance running to a different level, he was so fast, fluid and effortless. I would like to ask him about his training regime in Sheffield and talk about the other things he has done since his athletics career.

A perfect day out in Yorkshire for Julian Norton would include a spot of mountain biking in Dalby Forest.

A perfect day out in Yorkshire for Julian Norton would include a spot of mountain biking in Dalby Forest.

Which Yorkshire screen or stage star, past or present, would you like to take out for lunch? This took a bit of thought, but in the end it was quite an easy decision because Jarvis Cocker, from Sheffield, and his band Pulp were real heroes of mine. I was at university in the mid-1990s and I can still recall every word of his songs. The tunes were brilliant and the lyrics were wonderful.

If you had to name your hidden Yorkshire gem, what would it be? It would be Gormire Lake. When you go there after work and you’ve got the entire world on your shoulders, it’s the most peaceful place. It’s wonderful. I could live there, take a boat and row into the middle and stay there for ever.

What do you think it is that gives Yorkshire its unique identity? What I think makes it the most amazing place is the extent of the county and its diversity. Some of Yorkshire is the same as it was thousands of years ago and some of it has changed dramatically, like the mill and coal industries. It has something of everything. Leeds is a vibrant city and you can be on Ilkley Moor in 30 minutes. You’ve got the coast and you can ski in Glasshoughton.

Do you follow sports in the county and, if so, what? I am a keen triathlete and I think the Brownlee brothers do a fantastic job in bringing young adults into the sport. I used to watch Castleford a lot at Wheldon Road. I was an avid fan, going to all the home games. I remember Kevin and Bob Beardmore, Kevin Ward and Graham Steadman.

Who is the Yorkshire person you admire the most? Jo Cox who was tragically killed last year. I knew Jo quite well when we were at Cambridge University together at Pembroke College. She was surprised and bewildered by the ways of Cambridge as I was. We became quite friendly and we used to sit at the same table in the library by piles of books revising. The passion that people speak of was so evident then. Jo was just 18 and fun, bubbly and vibrant. She had an unstoppable passion for life.

Do you have a favourite pub or restaurant? We are lucky to have some fantastic places to eat at around here. The Blue Lion at East Witton is one of my favourites and for special occasions, my favourite place is Sous Le Nez, in Leeds, which serves the best food.

Do you think Yorkshire has changed for the better or the worse since you’ve known it? Some parts have changed and some not at all. When I first started here, we used to have 20 or 30 dairy farms – now we have about two or three in the practice’s area. Beef cattle numbers are dramatically down and similarly with sheep. Most people living in Thirsk now are not directly connected with farming whereas 20 years ago probably most were.

If a stranger came to Yorkshire and had time to visit one place only, where would it be? York Minster. It’s spectacular and then you can look around York as well.

Julian’s book Horses, Heifers and Hairy Pigs: The Life of a Yorkshire Vet is published by Michael O’Mara, priced £12.99.