This is an excerpt from my eBook entitled "England in the Footsteps of its Literary Giants". I wrote this in 1987 after I'd received my Bachelors Degree in English Literature. My husband & I took a 3 week trip to see the birthplaces and environs of some of my favorite British writers.
Our next stop was the Yorkshire Dales, where James Herriot lived and wrote of his experiences as a veterinarian in “All Creatures Great and Small”. We knew that the name “James Herriot” was his “nom de plume” and we wouldn’t be able to look up that name in the local phone book, but we wanted to make a pilgrimage to Thirsk, the town where we’d heard that he lived and practiced. We went into a bookstore in the town’s square, and, being the intrepid travelers, asked the clerk if he knew where the famous writer lived or worked. He told us that all we had to do was to walk across the street and look for the red door and the sign, “Veterinary Surgeon’s Premises”. Outside was a white drop off box where Herriot often left medication for his clients to pick up after hours. He was still practicing medicine at the time when we were there, but, unfortunately, we never got to meet him. He has passed away since our visit and his home/office is now a museum in his honor.
Home/Office of James Herriot
The Yorkshire Dales really were beautiful: rolling green hills with hedgerows discretely separating each farm. Another reason why we had come to this area was to visit the home of the Brontes. We saw the Parsonage where the family resided and were able to see the desks where the sisters had done their writing. We walked the moors and thought of Heathcliffe and Kathy from “Wuthering Heights”. It was cold there and we stopped for some tea in a little shoppe.
The Bronte Parsonage
The Brontes weren’t the only 19th century female writers whose house we visited--we also made a pilgrimage to two of Jane Austen’s houses. The first was in Chawton, which is about 60 miles from London. Walking the neighborhood, I was struck by the vision of thatch-roofed cottages and I saw an old, creepy cemetery attached to an ancient-looking church. The town looked like it hadn’t changed much since Jane Austen’s time.
Her last home was across the street from the Winchester Cathedral. She died here just when she was starting to get famous. She is buried beneath the floors of the cathedral. I again thought of music from the 1960’s and the popular song that said, “Winchester Cathedral—you’re bringing me down”. I seemed to have had a 1960’s song track playing in my head on this vacation. Not only did I think of music on this trip: almost every place we visited also spoke of England’s literary heritage. We strolled through the town of Winchester, and we saw a parade of “19th Century British soldiers” marching through the Victorian-looking town. We found out that the mini-series, “Vanity Faire”, by William Makepeace Thackeray (another of my favorite Victorian writers), was being filmed.
“Are you going to Scarborough Faire”? asks the song from Simon and Garfunkel—another of my favorites from the 1960’s. The town of Scarborough, northeast of York, sits on a bluff overlooking the coast. It is famous for the awe-inspiring remains of a castle and a church. The ruins were partially destroyed in 1645 during the Civil War between Cromwell and Charles I. When we were there, the wind from the coast was eerily whipping through the ruins. It was a very beautiful location and definitely “worth a detour” as guide book say.
When the time had come to return to our lives in California, we didn’t want to leave. England has so much more to see. California is so young compared to “jolly olde England”, with all its history and culture. The trip was a splurge—we were lucky that our bosses allowed us to take three weeks off for our vacation. Before we had left California for our pilgrimage to literary England, I had been saving up money from my paychecks all year. We wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was the trip of a lifetime and a dream come true for this English Major.
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