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Travel: Dallying in the dales in Yorkshire, England

I have the strangest feeling that I’m on camera in a movie shoot.
Travel: Dallying in the dales in Yorkshire, England_0

I have the strangest feeling that I’m on camera in a movie shoot.

It is a mild summer afternoon and, at any moment, I expect to see Claude Greengrass, stubby-jowled and in his shabby overcoat, emerge from the Aidensfield Arms with his mongrel dog at heel.

Across the street is the Scripps Garage, where I reckon Bernie Scripps can be found fiddling with the engine of an old car.

This is the small village of Goathland in Yorkshire, which faithful viewers like myself know as Aidensfield from the popular TV series Heartbeat.

The village green has a line of shops and sheep grazing on a patch of grass, just as they do in the opening credits of the show.

It feels a little unreal to be standing here, but I’m thrilled nonetheless.

And then there’s Askrigg.

Think the TV series All Creatures Great And Small — a favourite for those of a certain vintage, like myself.

Askrigg is where it was filmed in the 1970s and 1980s.

Author Al Wright wrote these autobiographical tales with pseudonyms for the characters and locales. Askrigg became Darrowby on the TV screen.

Our tour coach draws up in front of what used to be door to the Skeldale House surgery and the church where veterinarian James Herriot married his sweetheart, Helen Alderson is just up the street.

The Drovers’ Arms pub (now called The King’s Arms) is where James and the Farnon brothers, Tristan and Sigfried, would quaff a pint or two. And they still do — but only in a series of photographs displayed on the walls of the pub.

Back on the tour coach, we head to the coast, driving through Yorkshire’s rural landscape — meadows white-freckled with sheep and farmhouses encircled by hand-built uneven stone walls.

Fitful sunlight and wisps of cloud cast drifting shadows across lavender-covered moors.

We wind through small villages with red-roofed brick houses, their gardens bursting with blooms — geraniums, hollyhocks and roses — past ivy-covered inns and venerable old stone churches.

We roll into the town of Whitby, its old ruined abbey high on a hill, silhouetted skeletal and gaunt against the sky.

It’s what inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula and I have no problem imagining a blood-thirsty vampire lurking there on a dark moonless night, with a banshee wind screaming across the lonely hillside.

As if to dispel any such ghoulish thoughts, the sky suddenly clears and the Abbey is bathed in bright afternoon sunlight.

At the town’s square, a bronze Captain Cook, high on his pedestal, looks benignly down on throngs of visitors.

It is from here that he sailed off to distant lands and I’m gratified to see Canada’s plaque commemorating the 250th anniversary of his birth at the base of the statue.

Houses, jigsawed against each other, cluster at the foot of the hill and a flotilla of little pleasure boats, including a mock pirate ship, sail jauntily along an inlet between the hill and the town’s pavilion.

Whitby, with its souvenir shops and restaurants, is buzzing with activity, but it is the abbey that whets my curiosity.

The Abbey Museum is at the end of a large cobbled courtyard and I gather from the information pamphlet that the first building here was a monastery founded by Abbess Hildy in 627A.D.

Nothing remains of that original structure and the present abbey dates from the 11th century, with several changes and additions in the Gothic style taking place through the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.

Up close to the ruins of the silent abbey, my imagination conjures up Benedictine monks in procession, their chants echoing against these walls.

The empty arches and crumbling window frames, far from being spooky, have a scarred, jagged dignity.

As I sit on a bench in their shadow, I am filled with a sense of awe at the power of faith and prayer that endured over the centuries in this sacred place, high on a windswept hillside.

I glance at my watch. It’s time to walk the 199 steps from the abbey down to the town below and grab something to eat before boarding the homeward-bound tour bus.

The scene from the top of the stairs is a jumble of red-roofed houses, tossed helter-skelter like miniature Lego blocks.

The occasional church spire spikes the sky, the street on the waterfront teems with ant-sized figures and toy-like boats anchor along the water’s edge.

I leave Yorkshire with regret, but beguiled by its many legends, its pretty market towns and its varied landscapes, I shall be back some day.

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