Thirsk is a small market town in North Yorkshire, 23 miles north of York. It's best known for its racecourse and as the home of the vet "James Herriot". It's also a good base for touring the North York Moors, which rise steeply a few miles east of town.
The TIC Visit Thirsk is central in Market Place, open M-Sa 10:00-15:00.
The fertile Vale of Mowbray has long been settled: in the Domesday Book this place was Tresche, and in Old Norse it was þresk meaning a fen. In an era when wealth was based on agriculture, Thirsk grew into a comfortable little market town, with only occasional disruptions by passing armies. Heavy industry also passed it by, as did the railway and A1, so its pleasant centre has been preserved. Agriculture remains the mainstay of life in Thirsk, plus light industry (often farm-related) and commuter housing for York. Its population in 2011 was 4998.
Thirsk is on the main London Kings Cross - York - Edinburgh line, but most trains thunder through. From the south you generally change at York onto the hourly train from Manchester Airport and Piccadilly to Leeds, York, Thirsk, Northallerton, Yarm, Thornaby, Middlesbrough and Redcar. York to Thirsk is 15 min: look east to spot the Kilburn White Horse on the hillside as the train approaches Thirsk.
1 Thirsk railway station is a mile and a half west of town on A61. No facilities at the station itself, but the Old Red House adjacent is your pub refuge.
Bus 30 / 30X takes just over an hour from York via Easingwold to Thirsk. It runs hourly M-Sa and every two hours Sunday.
Bus 70 runs every couple of hours M-Sa between Northallerton, Thirsk and Ripon (which has frequent buses to Harrogate and Leeds). No Sunday service.
The main 2 bus stand is in Market Place.
By road from the south follow A1(M) onto A168. Avoid coming via York, the ring road is always congested.
From the east, A170 is a scenic road over the moors from Scarborough via Pickering and Helmsley, but caravans and heavy vehicles must not attempt Sutton Bank, the scarp edge five miles east of Thirsk.
"World of James Herriot" and Thirsk Museum are near town centre, but you need a car to get into the moors.
- The Market Place is a pleasant broad cobbled expanse lined by 18th / 19th century buildings, pity about the traffic.
- 1 World of James Herriot, 23 Kirkgate YO7 1PL, ☏ . Daily Apr-Oct 10:00-18:00, Nov-Mar 11:00-16:00. Alf Wight (1916-1995) was a vet in Thirsk for almost 50 years and wrote an acclaimed series of stories under his pen-name James Herriot. "Darrowby" was his fictional Thirsk, with a bit of Richmond, Leyburn and Middleham mixed in. The stories were adapted for film and TV in the 1970s as All Creatures Great and Small and It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet. That first title was especially apt because his work covered farm and pet animals in a way that's nowadays uncommon. This unassuming terraced house was his practice premises, now a museum of his works and their fictional counterparts. Adult £8.50, child £5.
- Thirsk Museum, 14 Kirkgate YO7 1PQ (opposite World of James Herriot), ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-16:00. Small volunteer-run museum of local history. The house was the birthplace of the cricketer Thomas Lord (1755-1832): he bowled for Middlesex but is best known for establishing Lord's MCC cricket ground. Free.
- St Mary's Church on Kirkgate is Anglican. It dates from the 15th century but is mostly 19th C Perpendicular Gothic.
- Don't see the castle. It probably stood at the north end of Castlegate (perhaps a clue?) but in the eyes of Henry II was "adulterine" - rebelliously raised against him - so it was demolished in 1176. A manor house was then built on the site. In 1322 the Scots, emboldened by their victory at Bannockburn, raided Yorkshire and almost captured Edward II with his trousers down; they utterly demolished the manor house.
- 2 Thirsk Birds of Prey Centre, Sion Hill Hall YO7 4EU, ☏ . Mar-Oct daily 10:30-17:00. Eagles, falcons, hawks and other raptors, with three flying displays daily. It's in the grounds of Sion Hill Hall, a splendid Edwardian pile, but which can only be visited by private group tour. Adult £8.
- 3 Monk Park Farm, Green Lane, Bagby YO7 2AG (off A170 to Moor Lane), ☏ . Daily 10:00-17:00. Petting farm. Adult £7.50, child 2-15 £6.50.
- 4 Sutton Bank is the scarp of the North York Moors rising five miles east of town on A170, the road to Helmsley. Caravans and heavy vehicles are not permitted on this steep road: everyone else, engage low gear. There's a visitor centre at the top, views west over Vale of York, and walks along the scarp edge. Gliders whoosh out from the airstrip next to the main road.
- 5 Kilburn White Horse is cut into the scarp and best viewed from below along Low Town Bank Road. It was created in 1857 by stripping off the topsoil then covering the sandstone bedrock with limestone chips.
- 6 Byland Abbey, Byland, Coxwold YO61 4BD (9 miles east of Thirsk), ☏ . Daily Apr-Oct 10:00-17:00, Nov-Mar 10:00-16:00. This was founded in 1135 and joined the Cistercians in 1147, while falling out mightily with other religious foundations. In 1322 King Edward II was almost caught near here by a raiding army of Scots under Robert the Bruce; his defenders were routed but he managed to scarper. In the 15th century an unknown monk of Byland penned one of the earliest known collections of ghost stories, jotting them on blank pages of an older manuscript. The abbey was dissolved in 1538 and fell into ruin. The most impressive remains today are the west frontage, which contained a great rose window. Free.
- 7 Newburgh Priory, Coxwold YO61 4AS, ☏ . May-Sept W Su 14:30-17:30. The Priory here was founded in 1145 but what you see now is a 16th C mansion, embellished in modern times. It's often used as a wedding venue. Adult £8, child £2.
- 8 Shandy Hall, Thirsk Bank, Coxwold YO61 4AD, ☏ . Laurence Sterne (1713-68) rattled around Ireland and Europe, but his longest settled stay was his 20 years as vicar of nearby Sutton-in-the-Forest, where he wrote Tristram Shandy. This small museum celebrates his life and work. With a charming garden, and Sterne would perhaps have encouraged you later to have a drink at the adjacent Fauconberg, a 17th C pub with rooms named for his patron. Adult £3.
- See Helmsley for magnificent Rievaulx Abbey and for Ampleforth which remains an active Benedictine monastery.
- 1 Thirsk Racecourse, Station Rd YO7 1QL, ☏ . This has regular flat-racing events April-Oct. Free parking for all enclosures. On race days a shuttle bus plies from the railway station.
- 2 Thirsk & Sowerby Leisure Centre, Chapel St YO7 1LU, ☏ . M-F 07:00-21:30, Sa 08:00-17:00, Su 08:00-19:30. Gym, pool, drop-in fitness sessions.
- Ritz Cinema at 16 Westgate is volunteer-run. Adult £6.
- Lidl and Tesco (with fuel) are west edge of town centre and Aldi is south along B1448. They're all open daily.
- The hotels and pubs on Market Place are a sound choice, plus there's Thai, Chinese and fish & chips.
- 1 Buck Inn, South View, Maunby YO7 4HD (off A167 via Kirby Wiske), ☏ . W Th 17:00-22:00, F 12:00-14:30, 17:00-23:00, Sa 12:00-23:00, Su 12:00-19:00. Splendid gastropub out in the country by the River Swale.
- Three Tuns ("Spoons") scores best on price and comfort.
- Golden Fleece Hotel, Market Place YO7 1LL, ☏ . Comfy place, very central, with bar and food. B&B double £75.
- The Three Tuns, 54 Market Place YO7 1LH, ☏ . Reliable mid-price choice in an 18th C coaching inn. The poet Wordsworth had his honeymoon here, perhaps for the sake of a rhyme with "JD Wetherspoon". B&B double £80.
- 1 Premier Inn, Gateway, Sowerby YO7 3HF (On B1448 a mile southwest of town), ☏ . Good budget choice. B&B double £80.
- 2 Black Swan at Oldstead, Oldstead YO61 4BL (7 miles east of Thirsk), ☏ . Small upscale hotel with excellent dining. No children or dogs. Half board double from £400.
- 3 Carpenters Arms, 1 Church View, Felixkirk, Thirsk YO7 2DP, ☏ . Excellent village pub with very comfy rooms, good dining. The Garden Rooms are dog-friendly. B&B double £120.
Thirsk and the main roads around it have a good mobile and 4G signal from all carriers. As of June 2020, 5G has not reached this area.
- York to the south is a must-see. The Yorkshire Farming Museum on the west edge of the city has more about vet practice in Herriot's time.
- Ripon is a charming old market town, but the big draw is Fountains Abbey.
- Harrogate is a genteel spa town with attractive gardens. The taste of its spa waters is not easily forgotten.
- The North York Moors rise sharply to the east of Thirsk.
|Routes through Thirsk|
|Middlesbrough ← Northallerton ←||N S||→ York|