HAMBLETON District’s biggest tourist attraction has been nominated for an accolade in the UK’s biggest tourism awards, 15 months after it was on the brink of closing.

The World Of James Herriot, in Thirsk, is a finalist in Welcome to Yorkshire’s White Rose Awards’ small visitor attraction, as its new leadership has overseen a dramatic reversal of fortunes at the Kirkgate museum.

Before the Herriot Country Tourism Group took over the centre’s management from Hambleton District Council last year, visitor numbers had fallen by about 8,000 in three years and the authority kept the attraction afloat with an annual £60,000 subsidy.

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Ian Ashton, the tourism group’s chairman, said: “A year last April there was very strong talk among councillors of the museum closing due to the horrendous losses they were incurring.

“This was a concern as the attraction serves as an anchor to many businesses in the areas, but I had no doubts whatsoever about its potential as Herriot is an iconic name and the museum has everything going for it.”

After rebranding the museum, launching a mobile phone app and a marketing drive visitor targets for this year have risen by 30 per cent.

Other additions to the attraction, including a Second World War air raid shelter, the largest collection of memorabilia relating to the fictional vet, tours by Herriot author Alf Wight’s children, have seen a rise in overseas visitors.

Mr Ashton said: “It is a massive honour to have been shortlisted in the largest tourism awards in the country.”

Other finalists vying for titles at the awards ceremony in Leeds on November 11 will include both Aysgarth and Reeth tourist information centres.

Thief Hole Cottages, at Thornton-le-Moor, near Northallerton will face competition in the self-catering category from Brompton Lakes, at Easby, near Richmond, and Natural Retreats, in Hurgill Road, Richmond.

Yorebridge House, in Bainbridge, near Hawes, is the only finalist to be contending for both the restaurant and restaurant with rooms awards, while The Wensleydale Heifer, in West Witton and The Crown Inn, in Roecliffe, near Boroughbridge, will battle for the latter award.

Leeming Bar-based soup-maker Yorkshire Provender will challenge for the Taste of Yorkshire title, and Bivouac at Druid’s Temple, Masham, has been named a finalist in the caravan holiday park and holiday village section.

Swinton Park, near Masham, which is planning to expand with a spa, health club and brasserie, will face competition from the Feversham Arms Hotel and Verbena Spa, Helmsley in the small hotel catergory.