The heart of the matter

The film crews have left but tourism is thriving. Nicholas Rhea returns to the village where his books and the television series were set.

've often thought Goathland's village name-signs should bear a notice saying, "Twinned with Aidensfield" because the two are now inextricably linked through Heartbeat. But it wasn't always so.

Goathland was the home of my farming ancestors. My dad was the local man from the Pru and mum taught at the primary school to make Goathland part of my childhood. As I grew older, I built a bicycle out of old bits and pieces and set off to explore. As I lived a few miles away at Glaisdale, Goathland seemed to be on a distant mountain top such were the hills I had to climb to reach it.

In reality, this most intriguing of moorland villages nestles in a green hollow deep among the heather, albeit some 500 feet above sea level. It is just off the A169 almost within sight of Fylingdales Ballistic Missile Warning Station, and is some eight miles from Whitby.

In my youth, there was a busy railway station in Goathland but Dr Beeching put paid to that in 1963 although the viability of that line was later proved by the revival of the historic steam railway that now serves Goathland. Charles Dickens travelled on the original line and described it as a quaint old railway. Fortunately, it still is.

I considered Goathland different from other villages. Its pubs were all posh hotels where people stayed to go fishing, shooting grouse, hunting or simply walking through the heather. They didn't pop in to enjoy a pint. Very smart detached houses lined the green and the entire village seemed set apart from the hurly-burly of modern life. It was considered very exclusive. There seemed to be nothing that would interest young people although there had once been a golf course on the sheep-trimmed green that runs through the village. It is said that Goathland means God's Land but others say it could come from a Scandinavian settler called Goda. Earlier history is recalled in a beautifully preserved stretch of Roman road running for a mile and a half over Wheeldale Moor. It is nicknamed Wade's Causeway due to a bygone belief that it was built by a giant of that name. Local folk could not think of a reason for the huge paved footpath across their moors – the work of a giant was a logical answer. There is also the fearsome Gytrash that haunted the area around Julian Park on the road to Egton Bridge but that ghost has been inactive for about a thousand years.

I was aware of all this when I began to think about a job. There was nothing in Glaisdale and I rejected ideas of being a farm labourer or something on a building site so having read lots of crime novels with heroic and glamorous detectives, I decided the police service offered an out-door career with excitement and interest. Thinking I might become a famous detective, I joined at the age of 16 and was posted to Whitby.

I wore uniform and was officially a police cadet but in reality I was the office boy who made tea, sharpened pencils and answered the telephone. At times there was little to occupy me in the office so a helpful young constable taught me to use a typewriter, a skill that led other constables to ask if I would type their reports.

I learned a lot about police work as I found myself amending their words and then recalled the rural author Major Jack Fairfax-Blakeborough whom I'd met at Lealholm's tiny Catholic Church when I was a child. I used to read his famous column in the Darlington and Stockton Times and it was this memory, plus my new skills with a typewriter, that prompted me to start writing.

Like the Major, I wrote about the Yorkshire countryside and was later to inherit the Major's column that I have now written every week for 33 years. Crime fiction and then books about the work of a rural constable were to follow – with Heartbeat emerging from those efforts.

I never became a glamorous CID officer but I did produce some attractive village constables and one or two top detectives. I must admit I was surprised – and pleased – when Goathland was selected as my fictional village. I felt it was ideal – it had changed little during the last 40 or 50 years, its village green was still shorn by unfenced sheep and the village retained its image of aloofness and propriety. Heartbeat visitors see little of this when they visit Aidensfield. All they desire is to see and meet famous faces, hopefully in the act of being filmed, and then to visit locations shown regularly in

the TV series. It really means that Aidensfield is quite different from

the real Goathland even though they may look alike.

I had never served in Goathland as a police officer and, in fact, the village did not boast a resident policeman – in the 1960s, it was served from Grosmont and sometimes Sleights. But its alter ego, Aidensfield, has hosted umpteen bobbies.

The Aidensfield of my books was elsewhere although the parish church in Goathland does have a stained glass window bearing an image of St Aidan (with two 'a's) whose name helped me produce the title of the fictitious Aidensfield.

Although production of Heartbeat has ended there remain some episodes for screening early next year and there will be many repeats. The name of Heartbeat will live for a long time and so will Aidensfield. Goathland will continue its role as a film set as yet more tourists arrive full of hope and dreams with no wish to embrace its real history.

It will continue to play its famous part even though well-known faces, camera crews and the production team will no longer be among the village attractions. Whether their absence will bring about a reduction in the number of tourists remains debatable. I suspect that Goathland will continue to wear its Aidensfield hat for many more years. It has certainly borne it well during the past 18 years or so but underneath all the glossy TV and tourist veneer there remains the stylish and genuine Goathland.

Nicholas Rhea's new title is Constable Beats the Bounds (Hale).

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