''We tramped through Swinnergill and over Melbecks Moor to Gunnerside Gill'': place names with this percussive northern sound could only be in one part of the world - Yorkshire. The sentence is, in fact, taken from a delightful book, by that most famous of country veterinarians, called ''James Herriot's Yorkshire.''Skip to next paragraph
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Not only have Herriot's books made him widely known and loved, but ''his Yorkshire'' - the North Yorkshire of Swaledale and Coverdale, Thirsk and Askrigg and Arkengarthdale, York and the Hambleton Hills, Sutton Bank Top (the ''finest view in England''), and as far east as the fishing town of Whitby - has become familiar for the first time through his books and the films and the television series made from them to thousands of people abroad.
Come to think of it, Herriot himself is ''from abroad'': he is a Scot, though he has spent all of his working life here. Ask a Yorkshireman about the Yorkshire countryside and you might, perhaps, receive a guarded answer actually disguising a secret pride of the fiercest and highest sort.
Ironically, it has taken a generous Scotsman to articulate this pride. He puts his abject admiration simply enough. Of his first encounter with the Yorkshire Pennines he writes: ''I suddenly found myself in a wonderland.'' Of gazing down at the River Swale, he recalls ''wildness and solitude breathing from the bare fells, yet a hint of softness where the river wound along the valley floor.'' And of the remote, open moorland: ''. . . it is up there on the empty moors with the curlew crying that I have been able to find peace and tranquillity of mind.''
This wonderland is now the subject of a tour specially designed for Americans eager to see ''Herriot country'' firsthand. In 1982 three 7-day programs are offered, starting and ending in London, in June, July, and August. Full details can be obtained from Susie Worthy at R and I Country Tours, 138a Piccadilly, London WIV 9FH. This is no ''tramping'' holiday (The Dales Centre, Grassington, North Yorkshire, is the place to contact if a walking tour is more in your line.)
It is a very exclusive affair (costing $1,100, everything included) with a maximum of 20 people for each week, every single minute packed with interest. You stay in good hotels. You travel in luxury coaches, mini-buses, and, on one occasion, on a steam train. This takes you on the North York Moors Railway built in 1830 by George Stephenson - an apt event because it was the railways in the 19th century that first opened up the beauties of the Dales to English tourists: the fact that it is a steam train is an additional bonus filled with nostagia.
But history extends backward in Northern Yorkshire much further than the 19th century. This is countryside settled centuries ago. There is still evidence of the waves of conquering Angles, Danes, and Norsemen who lived and farmed here, and not only in the rhythmic, evocative place-names. Some of the villages and small towns you will visit, Middleham and Helmsley, for example, are filled with history, and the great city of York with its ''incomparable Minster'' is a treasure house of the past. York is where you will spend the first three nights of the tour.
For the second half of the visit your base will be a comfortable hotel with an old-world atmosphere in Grassington, the Wilson Arms. It is from here that you will see the Dales proper. Some of the gray stone villages, huddling in folds and hollows as if they've grown naturally out of the landscape, seem to have remained unchanged since the 17th century. It is an area where the land is a continual rise and fall. Over the top of high moors you come suddenly on wide dales dotted with old stone barns, perfectly placed.
Drystone walls are everywhere: The Yorkshire landscape without these man-made lines of stone, sometimes climbing straight up the most inaccessible hillsides, would be unthinkable: They too stretch back deeply into the past. There are marvelous churches and abbey ruins to be seen. The tour picks up on Rievaulx Abbey in particular, sheltered by steep hills, founded by the Cistercian monks in 1132; again Herriot is at a loss for superlatives. He even rates it higher than Fountains Abbey, which is in a different part of the country.
Terry Parker, the tour's Dales expert, will be on hand as you explore the Dales. He points out the way the field patterns have developed, and gestures in the direction of one of the remotest houses in Yorkshire, high up by the source of the River Wharfe. He explains farming practices, ancient and modern. He tells you that the sheep you are watching wandering over the springy turf and heather on the high ground are called ''Swaledales'' but pronounced ''Swardles''by the local farmers.