County: North Yorkshire
I thought I might start highlighting some of the towns I recommend when I’m telling folks about travel in England. You may already know that I lived in N. Yorkshire ages ago, so that’s why I feel such an affinity with the county. It’s also just a beautiful place to visit!
If you google Kilburn, make sure you look for the one in North Yorkshire. England may be the size of Mississippi, but they may have several villages with the same name in different counties! There is a story I could tell here… should I, Rob Kane? ;)
Several friends had met up in Thackthwaite to start a hike up Low Fell. But, where was Rob? He said he was coming. Our cell phones were iffy at best on reception. But, when we finally got hold of him, he was actually in Thackthwaite. North Yorkshire (not Cumbria)! He drove like fury for an hour to get to OUR Thackthwaite for the hike. He will never forget (because we always remind him)!
Anyway, the hike was a success, but back to Kilburn.
When I lived in Harrogate, North Yorkshire in the 80s, my first trip to Kilburn was to pick up a puppy. I remember thinking it was a nice little town, but I didn’t know any more about it than that. I’m not sure when I made my first trip simply to visit Kilburn. Perhaps it was due to my history instructor, Sid Brown. Or maybe one of my friends on a day off thought we could do some shopping at the Mouseman shop. But, from the first time I spent more than a few minutes there, I fell in love with the place.
Kilburn lies just east of Thirsk (which I’ll feature in another article soon). It’s a tiny town. No market to speak of. It does have a lovely pub (the Forresters Arms) and a small café inside the Mouseman Vistor Centre. Make sure you plan your meals based on the hours of the pub and café as there are times during the day that they might be closed.
The first thing you’ll notice as you drive toward the town is a white chalk horse figure cut into the face of a hill. Unlike the prehistoric horse at Uffington, the Kilburn horse was carved in 1857 with some argument as to who originated it. It was either a school teacher named John Hodgson or Thomas Taylor, a Kilburn native. At any rate, the site has been maintained since that time by volunteers who refresh the figure by applying white chalk chips from the Yorkshire Wolds. Continued maintenance is funded by public support and the efforts of the Kilburn White Horse Association.
Visitors can take the relatively easy path to the top of the White Horse cliff for a panoramic view of the countryside. There is a parking lot at the base of the hill for easy access.
Also nearby is the gateway to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Visitors can find information at the Sutton Bank National Park Centre (free entry) which is located about 26 minutes east of Thirsk. Spend a day of hiking or biking the trails with fantastic local views. You can rent bikes from Sutton Bank Bikes who also offer classes.
The North Yorkshire Moors National Park covers 554 square miles of North East Yorkshire. It includes a range of hills (including the scenic Cleveland Hills). With large swaths of heather-laden fields, the panorama may sometimes appear purple! It’s well-worth a visit for the outdoor-minded.
This brings me to the highlight of Kilburn, Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen shop. Now, I’m someone who can appreciate a well-turned wooden bowl or carved bookends, but this takes history and craft to an altogether different level. Robert Thompson (1876-1955) was a furniture maker reknowned for carving small mice into his pieces. Supposedly, the idea for the mouse came after a conversation about “being as poor as a church mouse”. It caught on, and to this day, you can see evidence of his work in local churches and pubs.
The workshop is still run by Robert Thompson’s descendents, and you can watch the artists at work carving pieces that will eventually go on sale in the shop and Visitor Centre (where you can also get a bite to eat). Note that you must have a pretty fat wallet to purchase most of the items on sale, however, those items are also works of art that seem to appreciate over time. I currently have a bowl, a set of book ends, and a pin dish from Robert Thompson. I wish I still had the three-legged stool I purchased back in the 80s!
I hope you avail yourself of a trip to Kilburn if you happen to be in North Yorkshire. It’s one of those “off the beaten path” kind of places that bring a secret smile to my face whenever I think of visiting there!