Tag Archives: Castle

A Yorkshire Town called Thirsk

Thirsk, Yorkshire

Home of James Herriot

Set in the Yorkshire countryside 24 miles north of York, the charming medieval market town of Thirsk rests between the Hambleton Hills and the Dales. Perhaps most famously known as the home of Author James Herriot. Although James Herriot is the name we know him by, it is actually his pen name. Born James Alfred Wight (Alf to people that knew him), Herriot became a Veterinarian before turning to writing.

He is best known for his books on animals and their owners called ‘If only they could talk’. Herriot’s practice was located in the Yorkshire town of Thirsk, 23 Kirkgate to be exact and now the site of the Herriot Museum. The veterinary practice is still working on this site, caring for ‘all creatures great and small’. The museum is well worth a visit, even if you are not familiar with his work.

James Alfred Wight Blue sign
James Alfred Wight

James Herriot Museum

As you step through the bright red door into the museum you are taken back in time to visit the fully restored 1940’s home of the author and vet. A magical time capsule of the author awaits you, a moment frozen in time where you can imagine him sat at his writing desk, recalling the tales of the clients he had that day. During the war, his basement was converted into an air raid shelter. As well as a family home it is also the site of the veterinary surgery, dispensary and waiting rooms.

Herriot’s books were turned into a tv show called All Creatures Great and Small in the late 70’s and again in the late 80’s. A reproduction of the set and the vehicle used are still on show for visitors today. The legend of veterinary work is still being televised today with the popular programme ‘The Yorkshire Vet’ filmed here with Peter Wright (who worked alongside James Herriot) and Julian Norton.

James Herriot’s honeymoon in Carperby

We visited Carperby, a little village not too far away from Thirsk on the other side of the A1M. It was here that James took his bride for their honeymoon and according to the documents in the local pub, he stayed there and then spent half of his honeymoon working on the local farm looking at Cows! His signature is displayed in the pubs guest book.

Whilst there we highly recommend you stay for some food as it is incredible! You can take a nice walk to Aysgarth falls through the fields or head up the hills for some stunning views from the beacon.

Thirsk, not just a Market town in Yorkshire.

Thirsk Yorkshire
Thirsk, Yorkshire

The road that runs between York and Northallerton may be Roman built, but the Yorkshire town of Thirsk situated on that route is actually Saxon in origin, although it is likely there were settlements here even earlier than that.  The town has held a market here since the 12th century and been the meeting place for local villages to come together. Markets still happen here every Monday and Saturday on the cobblestone floor of the town square.

The sounds of the traders selling their goods has long been a sight on these stones and if you can imagen them in different clothing with different shelters, you can fall back in time. Horses tied up where cars now park, meat hung up for sale at the butchers, hand carved utensils form the wood turner. There would be people from all over the area coming to market to collect fresh goods for the week ahead or try to sell their wares.

The town square houses a nice collection of independent shops, a few branded shops, pubs, cafes and gorgeous architecture. It is easy to see where newer buildings were built next to old ones if you stop to take in the buildings character above the shop fronts.

LifeBeyondBricks

One of the plus sides of social media is that you get to connect with people like you. It is even better when you are then able to meet them in person. We had been following LifeBeyondBricks for a while, and unbeknown to us they were following us too!

We started talking over the internet and when we saw they were in Yorkshire we did a happy dance and tried to meet up, It was here in Thirsk that we finally met. If you havent heard of them before, here is what you need to know…

Tash and Jon travel in their motorhome. They started their full time adventure in March last year, at the same time we did but they took their 3 cats with them on the road.

See what happened when we met the team in Thirsk!

Thirsk Castle

Thirst Castle, Yorkshire
Thirsk Castle, Yorkshire

Sadly, barely any trace of it is left to be found. Built around 959-970’s this Motte and Bailey castle is now reduced to imagination, myth and legend. There is some argument to whether it was a Norman Castle as there is no mention of it in the Doomsday book. After the conquest, the castle belonged to the De Mowbray family. Around 1175, one of the descendants rose up against Henry II somewhat ineffectually. Thirsk castle was besieged, rapidly surrendered and totally destroyed as a result.

All that remains now are raised earthworks around town with information boards to tell you more about that area. There are plenty of walks around town that explain the history of the Yorkshire town of Thirsk.

12th Century Church – St Oswalds

Moss
Moss growing on the Church wall.

Whilst walking around the town, it is worth taking a little stroll down the lanes and side streets. When we visited with Jon and Tash from Life Beyond Bricks, we noticed a sign pointing to a 12th century church so decided to investigate. It was a little further walk than we expected but a glorious walk past the back of the Ritz Cinema, past the Thirsk and Sowerby Institute and stunning open views of the North York Moor hills rising sharply as if from nowhere.

The church dates back to around 1140 and over the years had been refurbished with bits added on to allow for larger congregations. The Church has a large cemetery and a sign displaying a sign for war graves. Squirrels were racing around in the trees and on the ground the snowdrops were standing with their heads bowed showing how much life was ongoing, even in this cold January afternoon.

The Clock.

clock in thirsk
Thirsk Clock

The clock in the main square was erected in 1896, commemorating the marriage of the Duke of York and Princess May of Teck. They later became King George V and Queen Mary. The position of the clock ensures that on a sunny day the clock face glows almost golden. The skyline dominated by it at sunset means that many a photograph have been taken here.

Tour De Yorkshire

The Tour de Yorkshire cycle race thundered through the town of Thirsk in 2016 but sadly wasn’t on this year’s route, that didn’t stop the whole of Yorkshire celebrating the coverage of its glorious county. Everywhere you went, bicycles were being decorated, bunting was out and strange knitted racing jerseys were being hung around windows. Thirsk threw themselves into Yarn-Bombing the town and drew crowds in for miles away to see! Now this tradition reappears every year and is a favourite of many a tourist.

The hope is that the race will return here again in the coming years.  The nearby town of Leyburn has been nominated again as a start/finish point for the 2020 races. We recommend booking accommodation early if you wish to come and watch the events as it does get very busy!

Ritz Cinema

Cinema thirsk
Ritz Cinema, Thirsk

The charm and history of Thirsk reveals itself like peeling an onion. Everywhere you look there is a blue plaque denoting something from history. The Ritz cinema is one of the oldest continuously run cinemas in the UK after opening the doors to the public in 1912. The 200 seat cinema was originally the mechanics institute but converted for entertainment. Now, the cinema is run by volunteers desperate to keep the history of the local cinema going.

A Question of sport

One of Thirsk’s most famous sons is Lord Thomas, founder of the cricket ground. He was born here in 1755. However, one of Thirsk’s more visible claims to fame is the racecourse. Established in 1854, the flat ground made it a fantastic venue for horse racing. At one time, other then Newmarket, Thirsk was the only other racecourse where prize money was allowed for races.

Thirsk’s rich history with racing dates back as far as 1740 and was the site of the first official racecourse in England. During the 2nd world war, the racecourse was closed and turned into an Army camp before returning to, and still operating as a racecourse.

Food and Drink

Yorks Cafe

Located next to the town clock, is the Yorks café. It is full of racing memorabilia and jerseys decorating the walls. We do love to drop in here for a brew or a spot of lunch when visiting as they are very welcoming to tourists. They are dog and muddy boot friendly and also cater for vegan, veggie and gluten free diets. We visited them again last week when we met up with Life Beyond Bricks and all opted for a nice warming bowl of soup and fresh bread.

Upstairs Downstairs

Here is a cute tearoom and deli with lovely cakes displayed as you walk in to the shop. Homemade pies and a wide selection of cheeses will have your mouth watering and craving more. A small selection of dried products are also available such as teas, pickles, chutneys and breadsticks. Several butchers shops also tuck neatly in to the town and provide fresh and local produce to locals.

A pub dominates each side of the square like a monopoly board giving lots of options. The pubs likely made their appearance around the 17th and 18th century when Thirsk became a popular coaching stop for people travelling to and from Scotland.

Thirsk, Mowbray Arms

The Mowbray Arms, a nod to the family that owned the land many years ago, sits on the south east corner, the Three Tuns, Golden Fleece, Black Lion and Black Bull are also located on the perimeter of the square.

Transport

Getting to Thirsk is very easy, good road signposts pave the way from the A19 and A1M. Getting around the coast to Whitby and Scarborough

Parking in Thirsk is easy as multiple car parks dot the surrounding area, each just a short walk to the town square. These include long stay, short stay, disk parking and even some free parking is you are savvy!

Thirsk has a rail link connecting it to other parts of Yorkshire. It is part of the East Coast main line which travels 210 miles from London Kings Cross in a southern direction and north to Durham, Newcastle and Middlesbrough.

National Express also operate to here and the coach from London to Thirsk is just £7.50

Supermarkets.

Just outside of the main square you will find a Tesco Superstore and a Lidl both with their own car parks. A little further out of the main town but still easily reachable (and easier to park large campers) is Aldi.

We love Thirsk

Thirsk at Sunset

The Yorkshire area has turned up so many hidden gems that we honestly didn’t realise were here and Thirsk is one of them. Driving through on our first trip, we knew we had to come back and explore the picture postcard town. With the main roads connecting here had travelled through it on a few occasions before getting to explore on foot and the things we found took our breath away.

We really do recommend that you visit Thirsk should you be in the Yorkshire area and stay tuned for other locations in Yorkshire that we have visited!

Thirsk in low sun.

Alcala De Jucar

The Journey to Alcala De Jucar

Today we are taking another coach trip with David’s Coaches. We are heading 2 and a half hours North of Torrevieja to a town called Alcala de Jucar. It is here that we will get to see and experience the Cave Houses. 

Boarding our coach for an early start we are able to fully relax. The air conditioning and USB charging points in the bus mean we can relax. Time to enjoy the scenery, something that usually only one of us can do at a time! We collect the other passengers and continue our journey. As we travel our rep brings us lots of information about the towns and villages that we pass. 

The bus is a happy one today. People say hello to the new additions as they board. A steady chatter fills the coach. There is a real mix of age groups on the tours we have been on. Sometimes there is an age bracket and personality type associated with coach trips. We found that to be untrue. The tours was were filled with people from all age groups and backgrounds.

Almansa

Visit Almansa Castle - on the way to Alcala de Jucar
Almansa Castle

As the journey was so long, we broke our route with a brief stop in Almansa. Almansa stems from the Arabic المنصف (al-manṣaf), “half way of the road” and this was very apt for us. Set in the province of Albacete and built at the foot of a white limestone crag. At the top is a castle built during Moorish times. During the Reconquest, a long period in history where the Christians and Muslims fought over territory in Spain and Portugal, this area became a ‘frontier’. This was between the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and the Muslim kingdom of Murcia. 

The castle was built in the early 12th century. Quite a few remains of this original building survive in the present structure. As with many historic castles, the building we see today is a vastly modified castle. Over the years, and changes of inhabitants, it has seen parts added and removed. The castle finally fell inactive at the end of the 15th century, after the expulsion of the Moors and a unified nation emerged.

Over the hundreds of years the castles fell into decay. In 1919 the Mayor requested its demolition. The castle was saved and declared a national monument following an outcry to save it. Restoration work continues still today to save the castle. Sadly during our visit we could not go inside due to this work.

vanlifediary Almansa Castle

Almansa Town

That didn’t stop us having a wander around the charming town’s high street and narrow side lanes. There were local bakers with windows full of sweet pastries. Cafes with chairs on the pavement serving hot drinks as well as refreshing cold drinks while the sun warmed up.

The town hall was absolutely stunning and well worth a few pictures. It had a lovely shaded garden with lots of sculptures in and this beautiful courtyard.  

River Jucar

The Jucar River is on the Iberian peninsula of Spain. It runs for around 510km from its source in Montes Universales to the sea in the resort of Callera. The gorge where the road runs is very deep in parts, especially as we get closer to the town. Our rep for the day, a delightful woman with a bit of wiggle room on her sense of humour, announces that we are about to start our ascent to the top of the gorge we are currently in. She advises us (tongue in cheek we hope) that our coach driver only passed his test last week and that he is nervous about the road ahead… Great!

Soon we start to see the road ahead. Winding left to right up the side of a mountain reminiscent of Lombard Street on San Francisco but on steroids. Louise and I look at each other and hope we get to tell the tale. Spoiler alert – she was joking and we survived.

Alcala De Jucar winding road
View from the top of Alcala De Jucar

Cave Houses

We are heading to the top of the gorge for lunch before visiting the cave houses. There are lots of cave houses here and we find out that during the time of the reconquest, the Moors fled for safety. Due to the relatively soft rock in Spain many of them hid in caves. These caves are visible from the road as we drive.

Originally seen as a sign of poverty, recent building and home shows such as Grand Designs, have started to make these cave houses popular. It is interesting to note that these cave houses are subject to the same planning permissions as ‘normal’ houses. This is especially relevant if they want to dig out another room.

There are a lot of benefits to living in a cave house in a hot country. The caves stay an ambient 18-20 degrees. Due to the thickness of the walls and that the windows are at the front of the house only, it stays nice and cool in the summer and retains the warmth in winter.  A quick scan of the internet will bring you up plenty of examples of cave houses for sale in the region of 30,000 euros upwards. A point to remember is that walls are hardly ever straight or symmetrical. If you have OCD or want to hang a large mirror, take your spirit level with you to the viewing! 

El Mirador Restaurant views

Reaching the top of the gorge after a half hour see-saw of winding roads, we stop for lunch at a stunning restaurant. The town, clinging on the edges of the gorge walls, seems peaceful. An odd shape bull ring lies further down. A tear drop shape.

Standing in the garden of the restaurant you get some amazing views of the gorge. They leave you breathless and suddenly the drive seems worth it. We stop for a few photos before heading inside.

Lunch at Alcala De Jucar

El Mirador Alcala de Jucar
View from the restaurant

Entering the restaurant you find yourself in an elegant bar area. To the left is the dining area. The tables pulled together to form 4 long banqueting tables to seat the 52 guests and complimentary wine is on the tables ready for our arrival. Organised into our groups we are then seated. We manage to grab two window seats and get to know our neighbours. 

For starters we had a serving of traditional of hams and cheese with fresh slices of bread. The main course was a delicious turkey stew (and the vegetarians had a fried vegetable dish). The deserts were what ever they had in stock so we all feasted on Cornetto ice creams!  

Wine Drama.

Louise writes – The wine was going down a little too well. More had to be brought to the tables. Imagine this… each table was given 3 bottles of red and 3 bottles of white to SHARE between them! One lady didn’t get that memo and happily polished off a bottle of white before the main course had been served. She then asked the gentleman, sat to my left, to pass our bottle over and down the hatch it went too. Well, this lady had no idea that the 2 ladies from Germany were watching her and so was I at this point, all the while trying to contain my giggles silently. Em kept looking at me and trying to ask discreetly what was going on.

The chap then asked the waiter for another bottle of white and it arrived promptly……. Drum roll please……. The same lady took it from his hands and filled her glass once again. Bearing in mind these were large glasses and could hold over half a bottle. Well the German ladies rolled their eyes, looked at me watching them and we burst out laughing. 

If you thought that was bad – just wait for this!

We got back on the coach to drive us down to the town to the cave house museum. Our rep clocks a bottle of wine in someone’s bag and it turns out that some of the guests felt it was appropriate to steal a bottle of wine from the restaurant. This was a total disgrace. If you took the cost of the trip (27 euros each) and looked at the cost of the menu from the restaurant (17 euros without wine), you would see that they were already offering a highly discounted menu to the tour operator.  Bottles of wine in Spain are not expensive and start from around 2 euros a bottle. 

Our rep made it very clear to the individuals that this is not what is expected and that what they did was wrong. The told the rep that another couple in the group asked them to do it and lets just say it was made very clear to these people, in front of the whole coach, that this behaviour would not be tolerated. You may expect this from the younger generation but actually this couple were retired and living in Spain.

The Cave House Museum

entrance to the caves at Alcala De Jucar
Entrance to the caves

Moving on, we approached the drop off point for the coach. The rep advised that the paths were very steep and the cobbles could be slippery. A safety briefing warned us to use our own initiative. If we felt it was not suitable for us then to stay on the coach. Most of us decided it was worth the risk, after all – that is what we had come to see. She wasn’t wrong! Steep narrow lanes zig zagged from the drop off point to the museum. Ee don’t think anyone ended up on ‘You’ve been framed’ but it was a miracle!

The outside of the museum looked rather discrete. If you didn’t know it was there you could easily have walked past it. The history of Alcala tells us that there are two important caves here. Garaden and Devils cave. Garadén, has 750 years of history and was used as a sentry post. Due to the gorge, anyone who came through from Castilla-La Mancha towards the east had to pay a tribute. The 170m long tunnel essentially acted as a mini customs area! 

cave tunnel
The 170ft tunnel

Juan Jose Martinez

The owner of the caves is Juan José Martínez, an ex Mayor of Alcala De Jucar. Perhaps better known as the bull fighter El Diablo he is also the owner of the restaurant we visited. I can’t help but wonder how far his influence stretches. We are warned that he is a larger than life character and that he is a poet. He has written in excess of 2500 poems, some of them receiving awards. Best known for his moustache and is often at the caves ready to great guests. Juan Jose Martinez is happy to pose for photos. Be warned – he may try to kiss you as it’s customary in Spanish culture!

We each pay 3 euros and are told that at the end of the tour there is (here we go again) a free glass of wine. We are not sure how much of the caves half of our coach saw as they bee lined to the end for their alcohol… The rest of us had a good look around as we saw all of the artefacts that now reside in the museum. Some not seeming to have a specific reason for being there we might add but most demonstrating the layouts a stereotypical cave house may have looked. There were old farming tools, taxidermy animals, mirrors and old cinema equipment.

Strange goings on in the cave disco!

At the end of the bar is a larger section with the walls full of pictures of Juan Jose Martinez with high profile individuals and images of him with lots of beautiful women hanging on his arm. We get the impression he is a bit of a play boy. Not surprisingly perhaps, when we have a look around the area he commissioned as a disco, we see something our rep hasn’t seen before. We have alcohol fuelled minds in the gutter so we will just let the pictures do the talking!

We asked our rep about the rounding of the wooden bar tables and the strange shapes in the concrete ones. We tell her what we see and she blushes a little before trying to explain to the poor lady working the bar what we are asking! Is that table for more than drinking on? Why is it curved like that? 

Bemused we watch as the lady and the rep have a conversation in Spanish before heading off to the area in question. A few moments later our rep is laughing and shaking her head! Apparently the tables are old farm tools, a little like ploughs, that were used to harvest crops. They just flipped them over and made them into a table. The bar lady found it very comical that we thought it was used for secret sex parties! 

Back to the coach!

We had some time to walk around the small town of Alcala De Jucar after the cave museum and see some of the houses still being used today. There was a lovely Roman bridge to cross the river and as we were leaving it looked as though they were setting up for a fiesta.

Little shops selling gifts for the tourist trade adorned the streets near where the coach would collect us. Around 2500 people can visit here each day in the height of the season. Something you would never expect on entering the picturesque location clinging to the side of the mountain and carved out of the rocks.

If you are interested in the other trips we have done in Spain.

Click here to find out where you can swim in a stunning waterfall used in the Timotie adverts.

Click here to find out about Guadalest – the most beautiful town in Spain

And here to find out about our journey to Torrievieja

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