The public appetite for all things All Creatures Great and Small seems to be insatiable. It matters little that the final TV episode based on James Herriot’s famous stories was filmed three decades ago.
After a walk last summer I wandered into the Kings Arms at Askrigg, renamed the Drovers in the series, and heard a middle-aged man with an Australian accent inquire earnestly if “Mr Herriot has been in”. An expression of disappointment passed over his face when he was informed that “no, we haven’t seen him today”.
I once got into conversation with a shepherdess in Masham’s big market square who said she came from California but was now living in a caravan near Leyburn because, she admitted, she had seen All Creatures Great and Small on US television and wanted to live that life herself.
So with such enduring global appeal it comes as no surprise to find that a new scheduled weekly bus began operating at the weekend for people who still can’t get enough of James Herriot.
The ‘World of James Herriot’ service links two routes - the 830 and 857 - on Sundays and Bank Holidays until October 20, and is part of the splendid DalesBus network. The circular tour includes all of Swaledale as far as the timeless outpost of Keld, a run over the spectacular Buttertubs Pass that was one of the Tour de France highlights in 2014, and a return journey along Wensleydale from Hawes to Leyburn then back to Richmond.
It visits Askrigg, renamed Darrowby in the 90 episodes that were filmed by the BBC between 1978 and 1990. The village tends to draw most All Creatures fans, for besides the Kings Arms aka the Drovers there’s also the building - now a B&B - used as the exterior of the vets’ practice, Skeldale House. Interior action was filmed mostly at the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham.
But these locations would have little appeal without the surrounding landscape, which made the series so unforgettable. Herriot populated it with characters like the payment-dodging Mr Biggins, the knackerman Jeff Mallock and a host of hardy though often cantankerous farmers who dragged Herriot and the Farnon brothers Siegfried and Tristan out of bed in the middle of the night to deliver calves and foals.
The quintessential Herriot Country is the rumpled patchwork of fields, still known as “garths” in some places. These are studded with stone barns out of which, when I pass them on walks, I imagine an old Dalesman’s voice saying “nah then vit’nery”. Then there are the old ramshackle farms at the end of rutted tracks with buildings that haven’t changed in 50 years.
Perhaps the best location of all is a minor road running from Feetham in Swaledale to Langthwaite in Arkengarthdale. The watersplash is where actor Christopher Timothy, playing James Herriot, drives an old Austin 7 over Bleaberry Gill at the start of each episode. Visiting it recently I could almost hear Johnny Pearson’s stirring theme music.
For bus times visit www.dalesbus.org