First of all, I need to add one of those “disambiguation” notices like they have at the top of a Wikipedia page. The only Welford I am referring to here is the fictional Yorkshire version from Animal Ark / Hope Meadows. Any resemblance to any actual Welford (I see there are several) is purely coincidental.
I was amused however, to find that at least two Welfords host a church that is remarkably similar to the one I describe in Summer at Hope Meadows. I suppose that relates to the fact that Welford is, in many ways, an archetypal English village.
The geography of Welford has been a challenge. As I mentioned before, the very first chapter contained the direction, “Mandy’s childhood flashes before her, with memories sparked by every location of lovely Welford”. I didn’t just want to evoke Mandy’s memories of past events. I also wanted to know that the geographical locations were consistent.
Of course, with so many Animal Ark books, there have been a lot of locations mentioned. Although the writers had tried to portray an accurate picture of welfare issues and animal facts, one of the things my adult brain marvelled at, was just how many things there were to do and see in this tiny Yorkshire village.
As well as the church and the veterinary practice, there was a village green, a post-office, the Fox and Goose public house, a village hall and lots of cottages belonging to different characters. When I read further, I discovered tennis courts, stables and a camp-site. There had even been a western-style ranch at one point.
I had two quite memorable conversations with Victoria on this subject. The first was a request for a Welford Map. I asked whether there had been one at any time. Victoria replied that she had, at some point, tried to create such a document, but that she had no idea where it had gone. Instead, a very short time afterwards, she set the Working Partners intern to producing one.
I’m not sure how many books were referred to. There is a very detailed list of past characters, which has obviously been added to over time, but the geography list is less detailed. Still, armed with my new map, I was satisfied that for all the Hope Meadows books, we now had a consistent plan.
Our other conversation related to the surprisingly profitable and business-rich nature of the place. What was described as a village, seemed closer to being a bustling market town.
Victoria and I settled on the idea that there had been a lot of peripheral housing development since the 1980s, beyond the centre. So the quaint heart remains the same as ever and still has a village feel. But when Mandy looks down at Welford from the top of Sowerby Fell later, she can see a string of housing estates scattered along the road to neighbouring Walton.
Finally, I was also interested in which area of Yorkshire Welford was set. It was described as being about an hour’s drive from York and two hours from Leeds. There were times Mandy had to drive between Leeds and Welford. I think it is situated to the northwest of York.
In fact, I strongly suspect that if Animal Ark was a real practice, it would be in competition with the practice in Thirsk, where James Herriot worked. Like Mr Herriot, my descriptions of Welford and its surroundings have more in common with the villages and towns higher up in the Yorkshire Dales than in Thirsk itself.
I don’t know what the great man would have thought of Animal Ark. It seems to me, there are more than a few nods towards the Herriot vision of Yorkshire. But my overwhelming wish is to produce work that reflects my respect. I hope he would have approved.
This weeks image is of St Chad’s church in Middlesmoor, at the top of Nidderdale.