There's never a dull moment in Thirsk
PUBLISHED: 09:29 14 January 2013 | UPDATED: 17:30 03 April 2016
They're not stay-at-home types in Thirsk, as Jo Haywood discovers. Photographs by Joan Russell
It’s a little known fact that the people of Thirsk don’t know the meaning of the word boredom. It’s not that dictionaries have been banned in this traditional North Yorkshire market town, it’s just that there’s never a dull moment.
If they’re not buying and selling at the twice-weekly market that takes over the south side of the cobbled central square, they’re enjoying a day at the races, running with Thirsk Harriers, knocking back buckets of popcorn at the Ritz Cinema, bullying off at the hockey club, boning up on local history at Thirsk Museum, humming the theme tune to All Creatures Great and Small at The World of James Herriot, chilling out at a Madhyamaka Kadampa meditation session or getting a healthy dose of culture at The Courthouse.
And that’s just the tip of the social iceberg. To be honest, it’s a wonder they ever get any work done in Thirsk at all. But they do, and some even find the time to do a bit of volunteering in whatever spare minutes they have to call their own.
The town’s Ritz Cinema, run by a small but dedicated band of volunteers for the last 16 years, has just finished a year of celebrations marking its landmark centenary.
People turn out seven days a week to staff the kiosk, sell ice-creams, project the films plus myriad backroom jobs from film selection to accountancy, planning, maintenance and publicity. Most cite the camaraderie and joy at providing such a fantastic local amenity as the main reasons for their involvement. And many friendships – even one or two marriages – have been forged along the way.
The cinema upgraded to digital in 2012, offering outstanding levels of picture and sound quality. But it’s the personal touch that makes the difference.
‘It’s down to the dedication of all the people involved that the cinema is still here in a small market town like ours when so many more have disappeared. We’re very proud of what we have achieved,’ said chairman John Potter.
‘Nothing pleases me more than seeing a good crowd of cinema-goers walking into the Market Place after a performance, all chatting away having obviously had a lovely evening’s entertainment.’
Another small but valuable town stalwart run by big-hearted volunteers is Thirsk Museum, which preserves and displays items of historical interest, traces family history and works closely with local schools. It’s run by Thirsk & District Museum Society, which has more than 90 members.
‘Museums are about people,’ said Cooper Harding, the museum’s honorary curator. ‘The objects we collect and display are held in trust for the community and offer a doorway into the past.
‘Memories are precious, and we give our visitors a glimpse of how things used to be. While the young ask ‘what, how and why’, the old reflect ‘ah yes, I remember’.’
The museum will be open for business again at Easter and, like many other institutions across the country, will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation in 1953 with a host of events.
And if that doesn’t keep you busy, there’s always The Courthouse which, despite its rather forbidding name, is actually a very welcoming venue with a cafe, shop, gallery and a packed programme of drama, music and film.
‘People often aren’t aware of just how much goes on within the building,’ said manager Janice McVay. ‘We host a diverse range of workshops run by specialist artists to give people the chance to experience new techniques or develop existing ones.’
The diverse spring programme includes taster workshops in hand-painted ceramics, felt flowers, silk screen printing and wire sculpture.
There are also lots of arts activities for young people, with a weekly Saturday morning arts club, children’s theatre shows and half-term events.
‘Our aim is to be a welcoming place to visit,’ said Janice. ‘It doesn’t matter if you want to sample the delights of our cafe, browse in our shop and gallery, be creative or enjoy an evening of entertainment – all are welcome.’
Spoiled for choice doesn’t quite cover it, does it? The only problem you might find on a visit to Thirsk is how to fit everything into your already packed schedule.
If in doubt, visit the tourist information centre, a one-stop source for both local residents and visitors manned entirely by unpaid volunteers. They’re in the middle of the market place, so you shouldn’t miss them.
And if you do, you can always ask a local. Unless, of course, they’re too busy to stop because they’re off to the cinema, market, racecourse, museum, running club, hockey club, concert or theatre show. In which case, just follow them.
Thirsk lies within easy reach of the A19 and the A1 in North Yorkshire. The town has good local bus services – for full timetables click on visitthirsk.org.uk – and its own railway station on the East Coast Mainline.
Where to park
Short stay parking is available in Market Place; long stay in Millgate; and disk zone parking (get your disks from the shops) in Kirkgate, Riverside Mews and Westgate. Savings can be made on parking by buying a discount card from the council on 0845 1211 555 or online at hambleton.gov.uk.
What to do
If you’re after a bargain, the market comes to town every Monday and Saturday. There’s also plenty of fun to be had at Thirsk Racecourse, Falconry UK at nearby Kirby Wiske and, of course, The World of James Herriot, which will keep the whole family entertained (especially when dad is forced to get up close and personal with a cow’s rear end).