There is something in my genes that draws me to the ‘aroma’ of paper and ink bound in leather covers – books. These wonderful portals to knowledge, adventure and romance, rest patiently rows upon rows to be lifted gently and opened. In return they take me on unimaginable journeys through time and space, beyond limits of fantasy. I am very lucky to have befriended them for they have opened doorways that in my reckoning had never existed. They share a room in my house that I jealously guard against all intrusion for it is here that I find peace and solace. In this gathering of friends, I have some, who are closer to me than others. These are the ones that I have read and reread, enjoying each successive session more than the previous one. At the very top of this list are the works of James Herriot.

James Alfred “Alf” Wight, OBE, FRCVS (3 October 1916 – 23 February 1995), known by the nom de plume James Herriot, was a British veterinary surgeon and writer, who wrote a series of books on animals and their owners, based on his experiences as a veterinary surgeon in rural Yorkshire. His work became so popular that it was adapted for cinema and television, including a 1975 film titled ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, followed by a sequel ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ and a long-running BBC television program of the same title in 1976.

At the time of Herriot’s death, the Reader’s Digest Condensed Book volume containing ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ was the most popular book in that series’ history and the author’s last book ‘Every Living Thing’, immediately went into the top 10 best-seller list in Britain with an 865,000 copy first edition printed in the United States.

James Herriot’s fame generated a thriving tourist economy in the small town of Thirsk, close to the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, where he lived and practiced. Visitors thronged to the ‘World of James Herriot Museum’ located at 23 Kirkgate, the celebrity vet’s original surgery and a pub called the ‘Darrowby Inn’ (this establishment has now been renamed). Many of the original contents of Herriot’s surgery can still be found at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming in Murton, York. Parts of the BBC TV series set, including the living room and the dispensary are on display at the James Herriot Museum, which is also open to the public.

Reading Herriot was personally a humbling experience, for his characters made me laugh and cry. His writings gave me an insight into the wonderfully simple lifestyle of a rural community so similar to our own in more than one ways. It was perhaps this that made me plan a trip to Thirsk, during a visit to the UK many years ago.

Getting there was easy as my destination lay on the A19, close to the main north-south A1. On arrival I found myself in what can best be called a time warp into the 1920s. The town was built around a busy cobbled square with twice a week markets and independent shopping, dominated by the town clock.

It was however the people that amazed me no end. I found them friendly, simple and refreshingly forthright, kindling memories of our own rural residents and their honest hospitality. I was so impressed by the experience that I took it upon myself to defend them passionately, when one of their own countrymen from metropolitan London told me that the ‘hospitality and charm’ emanated from a desire to reap revenue from tourists.

Another surprise awaited me at my destination, when I was told that Thirsk had another famous son named Thomas Lord. The founder of Lord’s Cricket ground was born here in 1755 and his birthplace was dedicated as the town Museum.

I returned from my visit with the resolve to someday write about my trip. I have today fulfilled this promise in what can be termed as a tribute to James Herriot, who loved animals and dedicated his life to serving them. It is also a way to thank all Yorkshiremen and women, who reminded me of the pleasures in simple living.