Showing posts with label James Herriot Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Herriot Books. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

If Only They Could Talk By James Herriot - A Book Review



If Only They Could Talk, was Alf Wight's first book published in 1970 under the author name of James Herriot. It was also his first book that I read, and as a young child, I was completely and utterly enthralled. My copy is now very old and looks a little time-worn. This book has been with me on trains, and holidays and moved with me to every home I have lived in and I still love it. 

Surprisingly, knowing now just how popular his books and the series that followed, James Herriot was turned down by publishing houses when he first presented his book. I imagine given his subsequent success and place in many people's hearts, that the publishers who turned him down bitterly regretted their decision! I am very glad that Alf White did not take rejection to heart and persevered to get his first book published. 

Alf Wight could not publish under his own name as that would have been seen as advertising, which was professionally frowned upon by the veterinary profession. He chose the pen name James Herriot from the name of the Scottish goalkeeper Jim Herriot, who Alf would have known about.  

Surgery in Thirsk
Surgery In Thirsk Where James Herriot (Author) Alf Wight (Vet) Practiced. 

If Only They Could Talk is a warm hearted book recounting his early experiences as a young veterinary surgeon in Thirsk, a small rural town in North Yorkshire, UK during the 1930's. I have written about Thirsk in my article Reviewing Our Visit To James Herriot Country Thirsk North Yorkshire UK, should you wish to know more about the town and the surgery where he practiced. 

His first book is full of witty observations, humourous moments and heart warming stories about the animals he treated and their owners. He depicts with honesty the difficulties, challenges, passion and wonders of a young vet starting out in the 1930's.   


His writing style is very easy, engaging and descriptive, bringing the animals and people to life so you feel like you are living his experiences right along with him. I just love the stories and tales he so wonderfully brings through the page.

His growing love of his adoptive county of North Yorkshire shows in his writing as he skillfully transports us via his words to the gorgeous stunning scenery of the Yorkshire Dales countryside. 

Whether he is helping a sheep in difficulty give birth in a cold field on an early Spring evening, performing small animal surgery, or diagnosing a beloved dog's illness, his love of the work and his passion to do his best for both animal and owner and his commitment to veterinary practice shines through. You really feel the dedication he has to his patients and the joy and sadness, frustration and amusement the work brings. 

Reading it again now makes you realise how much the world has changed and how much we have lost and gained. How community was so important and how they lived with significantly less technology than we do now. It was often frustrating that vets did not have the medicines they needed yet they were inventive and persistent to do their utmost to relieve suffering and cure, working hard and valuing each other.

He clearly has a wonderful sense of humour and the book is filled with hilarious anecdotes of his experiences with the animals and their owners which will make you laugh. I love the way he depicts the many wonderful often larger than life characters both human and animal he came across in his work. Truly one of the joys and gifts of all his writing.   

horse biting enclosure

If Only They Could Talk, is a touching, funny and uplifting book. I loved it as a child and as a teenager, often reading deep into the night, way longer than I should have on a school night. I loved it even more as an adult, picking up more on the nuances of life as a vet and the challenges, joy and frustration it would bring. It can be read on many levels, appealing to animal lovers, depicting life as a young vet, and for anyone seeking an escape into the 1930's Yorkshire countryside along with a young vet making his way in the world. 

Whatever age and stage of life I have been when I read the book it has made me laugh and cry every time. There were times I quietly smiled and times I felt it pull at my heart. The book appreciates the special bonds we can develop with animals and recognises those deep enduring feelings. It brings to life the struggles of farming life, making a living in harsh conditions and of being a pet owner with the deep bonds and emotions that prevail.

It depicts clearly and without pretension or hubris what it was like for a country vet in the 1930s in North Yorkshire including the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures and slowly becoming a part of the landscape he worked within.


Overall If Only They Could Talk available at Amazon, is a beautiful book, a timeless classic I have enjoyed reading and rereading for decades and I would highly recommend it. As his first book as a published author, I think he writes very well, easy enough for older children to read, yet there are I think deeper levels to recognise as an adult. If you have enjoyed the TV series then do read the book which has the scope and time to go into more detail. 

Reviewing Our Visit To James Herriot Country Thirsk North Yorkshire UK

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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Reviewing Our Visit To James Herriot Country Thirsk North Yorkshire UK

Thirsk Church North Yorkshire UK


We recently visited the North Yorkshire town of Thirsk. It lies about 22 miles north of York and 192 Miles north of London in UK. Thirsk is a beautiful market town located in the district of Hambleton in North Yorkshire, England. Thirsk has a rich history that traces back to the 12th century and archeological information indicates there was s settlement there 500 years BC. Its name originates from the old Norse word presk meaning lake or fen and is a very interesting place.

Thirsk is really lovely with a large market square, many independent shops, and great cafes surrounded by the most beautiful countryside. It is located between the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales, making it an excellent base for exploring the stunning natural beauty of the area. This review is about our experience of the town of Thirsk itself. 


St Marys Church Thirsk
View from the river walk, Cod Beck, to St Marys Church

Alf Wight The Vet and James Herriot The Author

It is also the place where James Herriot the writer and Alf Wight the veterinary surgeon lived and worked. He was born Oct 1916 in Sunderland and died 23rd Feb1995. He started working in Thirsk as a vet in 1940 after he graduated from Veterinary College in Glasgow and worked with Donald Sinclair for the next 50 years. 

The World of James Herriot, is a museum that honors the life and work of Alf Wight, the author of the books "All Creatures Great and Small". We especially wanted to see the World of James Herriot Museum located in Alf Wight's former veterinary practice, as it showcases his life, the stories behind his books, and the history of veterinary science.

 We took a self-guided tour of the house and saw how he lived and worked and it was truly fascinating and quite emotional to experience the life, sights and sounds that inspired the famous books and series.

This is the house where he lived and worked as a vet. The museum itself is in 2 parts, one is the actual house where he lived frozen in time in the 1940s with all the decor of that time. 

House Of James Herriot Thirsk
World Of James Herriot Museum -house on the right.  

The second part is how the series was filmed with the original sets. It is also the only Veterinary museum in the UK showcasing the various remedies and instruments used at that time. There is also a fun section for children or the child in all of us, where you can try out different veterinary activities and fun things.  

We were also able to see the wonderful car he used and a short explanatory film about his life and work which was fascinating. 


James Herriot The Author

I grew up on the amazing books of James Herriot and the memories of a Vet working in Yorkshire so I was excited to see the place where he practised as a vet and where the stories he later wrote about were born. He started writing relatively late in life. He had the stories in his head for a very long time and meant to write but it wasn't until his wife challenged that he would never do it that he started writing! 

I love all of his books and spent many happy hours reading them including he following with their published dates. 

If Only They Could Talk 1970

It Shouldn't Happen To A Vet 1972

Merged into one Volume called All Creatures Great and Small when published in the US 1975

Let Sleeping Vets Lie 1973

Vets In Harness 1974

All Things Bright And Beautiful 1977

The Lord God Made Them All 1981

Every Living Thing 1992

The Complete James Herriot Box Set is a wonderful way to start reading these books and a lovely gift idea

Then of course there was the wonderful filmed TV series "All Creatures Great And Small"

We spent about 4 hours there and I would strongly recommend a visit to this wonderful museum if you have any interest in James Herriot. We were able to take photos inside the house but as they are only to be used for personal use I cannot show them on this review. 

 It should also be noted that James Herriot also wrote wonderful children's books, based on his experiences as a vet all of which had illustrations. These include

Moses The Kitten 1984

Only One Woof 1985

The Christmas Day Kitten 1986

James Herriot Treasury For Children 1982

Bonnie's Big Day 1996

In addition, he wrote some books about his beloved Yorkshire such as James Herriot's Yorkshire 

People often wonder why Alf Wight did not use his own name when telling his stories of practicing as a vet in the Yorkshire countryside. The reason was that as a practicing veterinary surgeon, he was not permitted to use his own name as that would have been seen as advertising.

St Marys Church, Thirsk

We also visited the St Marys Church the heart of Thirsk where Alf Wight married his love and it is a truly beautiful church with a lively active congregation. It is over 500 years old and is of Gothic architecture. It was renovated during the Victorian era but retains its original character. 

The most notable and imposing feature is its tower which can be seen for 100 miles around and is over 100 feet tall. Inside the Church there are amazing wooden vaulted ceilings and decorated with ornate carvings. The chancel screen is gorgeous with its tracery and stained glass.   

St Marys ChurchThirsk
St Marys Church, Thirsk

St Marys Church Thirsk Timber Roof
St Marys Church Timber Roof

Thirsk Blue Plaque Trail.

We finished our time in Thirsk by following the Blue Plaque Trail which highlights many and various interesting and important landmarks throughout the town. The walk around took us about two to three hours so there were many places of interest but here are just a few highlights for you. 

We visited the grand Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden. Thirsk Hall is owned by Bell family who are opening their 20 acres of gardens and parklands to exhibit culture from different artists. The artists' work is changed on a regular basis and it was a very interesting walk around the grounds seeking out the various beautiful sculptures and talented artists work. It was a wonderful way to spend two or three hours. Again photos can be taken but are restricted to personal use only.  It is a family home and the family do live there.

Thirsk Hall Blue Information Plaque

The Ritz Cinema was an amazing experience. We arrived about 30 mins before the film was due to start and were lucky enough to get talking to one of the volunteers there who kindly showed us around. It dates back to the early 20th century and as first established as a music hall venue. It has been entertaining the locals for over a hundred years. 

There have been many changes of use over the years including a Bingo Hall before it was once again converted back to a Cinema in the early 1980s. It has been modernised and has comfortable seating but has a most beautiful art deco interior. It is now run by enthusiastic volunteers and screens current and classic films.

Ritz Cinema Thirsk

Ritz Cinema Blue Plaque

The Three Tuns Pub is three hundred years old dating back to the 18th century and is located in the market square in Thirsk.

It is a beloved building and over the years has been a meeting point for travelers, local businesses and farmers. Now it is a public House serving local ales and beer and food. It has a large beer garden at the back enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. 

Three Tuns Pub

Three Tuns Pub Blue Plaque

The Golden Fleece Old Coaching house dates back to the 16th century and was a coaching inn stage for Royal Mail Edinburgh to London.

One of its most famous guests was Captain James Cook who used to drink there. It is very popular with people who go to the Thirsk races such as Jockeys, Trainers and racing enthusiasts. It is now a large central Hotel well situated in the market square in Thirsk.

The Golden Fleece Old Coaching house

The Golden Fleece Blue Plaque

The Golden Fleece Building Frontage

Thirsk is home to the Thirsk Racecourse, which is a major attraction for horse racing enthusiasts.  Although we did not visit the racecourse. It hosts a range of races throughout the year, including the annual Thirsk Hunt Cup, one of the country's top flat races.

All in all it was a really wonderful visit to the town of Thirsk and would appeal to anyone with a love of the beautiful quite stunning scenery which surrounds the town, a love of James Herriot books and TV series, a slice of British history and culture at its best and just embrace a part of the world that is a joy to experience. 

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