across the verdant homeland of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’
Port Washington veterinarians Sue and Tom Kruske recently completed a 192-mile coast-to-coast hike through the Yorkshire countryside that English veterinarian James Herriot depicted in his “All Creatures Great and Small” books and public television series.
“I think James Herriot was required reading in vet school,” Sue said.
Tom added, “You could just picture him going into one of these stone barns that still look like they did in the 1940s.”
The 12-day hike started Aug. 3 at the Irish Sea where, as tradition dictates, the couple dipped their feet in the ocean and picked out stones they carried in their packs until throwing them into the North Sea at the end of their journey.
The hiking adventure was their 25th anniversary gift to each other. On their honeymoon, they hiked through France, Switzerland and Italy.
This year, the couple spent several days in London before the hike and visited friends in Scotland afterward.
The Kruskes met as classmates at the University of Minnesota veterinary school.
Sue is a veterinarian at Little Animal Hospital in Port Washington.
Tom is a traveling vet who carries what he needs in his car, similar to Herriot (actually James Alfred “Alf” Wight, who used the pen name Herriot). Tom uses a tackle box rather than a black leather bag and treats dogs, cats and other pets in their homes. Herriot treated large cows in dark, dank barns with suspicious farmers looking on. But the romance and gentry lifestyle of Herriot and his partners appealed to Tom.
“I read all the books and that seemed like a nice, more relaxed way to practice, rather than seeing someone every 15 minutes,” Tom said. “You get to see the pet in its home setting, get to know the family. It’s not rush, rush. There’s time to chat.”
When the couple decided to take a hiking trip for their anniversary, Sue said she expected something less strenuous.
“I envisioned walking through Italy and drinking wine, but Tom came up with this instead,” Sue said.
In a book that describes hiking paths in Europe, Tom was drawn to the northern Yorkshire trail that showed a lush, rolling countryside dotted with sheep and stone fences.
Sue trained for six months prior to the hike to build her endurance.
Tom, who runs two to three times a week, prefers backpacking trips and would have stayed in a tent, but Sue didn’t want to carry gear and preferred a comfortable bed each night.
They chose a tour that stopped every night at bed-and-breakfast inns along the route. The tour company picked up their luggage in the morning and delivered it to the next stop, so they only carried water, snacks, rain gear and other necessities in their packs.
Some of the inns were so remote that hikers were likely their only customers, Tom said. One inn was a former monastery built in the 1500s.
The innkeepers were mostly farm wives who had chores to do. The food they served came from their farms.
A typical breakfast was baked beans, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, thick bacon, sausage and poached eggs.
“The hospitality was outstanding,” Sue said. “Innkeepers wouldn’t go to bed until our boots were dried and ready for the next day.”
Most inns had hot rooms next to the furnace where boots and clothing were put to dry.
The Kruskes were with a group of 10 hikers that included another American, an Irishman, three Australians and three English women, including one who operates an inn along the route and heard so many stories from hikers she wanted to experience the trip herself.
The group stopped at her inn for afternoon tea and biscuits with thick cream, berries and jam. She helped her daughter serve them.
The Kruskes were the only veterinarians in the group, but all had read Herriot’s books. The Herriot theme was found repeatedly along the trail, and the group quaffed All Creatures beer, a pale ale brewed by Black Sheep Brewery in Yorkshire.
They hiked an average 14 miles per day with two 20-mile days. One day they trudged through the muddy moors, where a hiker sank to her hips and had to be pulled out.
The trek was more strenuous than Sue expected. The trail went straight up and down at times, once going above the tree line in the Alpine Mountains. They walked along rocky cliffs, through bucolic farm pastures with sheep and cows warily watching them and climbed over numerous gates and stone fences.
“You would come into the B&B about 5:30 to 6 p.m., go down and have some local ale at the pub, eat dinner, and life was good again,” Tom said.
After hiking 20 miles one day, Sue wanted to skip the next day’s 20-mile journey. The tour guide convinced her to start the trek, saying a van would pick her up any time and take her to the next inn.
“So I started out. It was really hard, but I made it — and that’s the day I got the best picture,” she said. “The tub was very welcome that day.”
The group ate in pubs where everything came with thick potato chips, including lasagna. Fish fries were served with mushy peas that were surprisingly good, Tom said.
The most unexpected thing for Sue was the camaraderie among the hikers.
“I knew we would be seeing wonderful scenery, but I didn’t expect to be with such a fun group,” she said. “I feel like we have friends in three countries who we communicate with through Facebook.
“Even though it was strenuous, it was surprisingly relaxing. There were no phone calls to answer, no decisions to make except what to eat.”
Stepping out of the fast-paced American lifestyle to a simpler world appealed to Tom. Most of the people they met had never been to London.
“It was a completely different culture,” Tom said. “Everything moved slowly. It was so un-urban. You got away from everything, and it rejuvenated you.”