Several onion rings short of a tower, Kearton proves batter later...

SOME boys, those Keartons. Sons of an impoverished Swaledale gamekeeper, Richard and Cherry grew up to love nature, became pioneering wildlife photographers and authors, are said to have inspired David Attenborough.

Punch magazine once said of Cherry, primarily the photographer, that no one had seen more animals since Noah. Attenborough spoke of Cherry’s passion. “Certainly in terms of affecting his audience, including small boys like me, he was out there on his own. He coloured my life in many ways. He was ahead of almost everybody.”

They grew up in the late 19th Century in Thwaite, top end of the dale, Richard ten years the elder and said to be a dab hand at trout tickling in Muker beck.

Breeches’ backside usually bared as nature intended, both attended school – twopence a week – in Muker, told of the recalcitrant being tied with wire to a table leg while the teacher delivered her admonishment.

Soon, it was said, keeper Kearton’s boys knew more than the headmaster.

It hardly seems surprising.

Richard had been out with a shoot, essaying his famed hen grouse impressions in order to attract the cock birds, when spotted – overheard may be a better word – by a senior man from a London publishing house and persuaded to seek his fortune in the capital.

Published in 1890, his first book – Birds’ Nests, Eggs and Egg Collecting – earned him three guineas. He was also a noted lecturer, so greatly in demand that he was able to waive the dress code – a man who would never wear a suit in which he would feel uncomfortable climbing a tree.

Cherry published the world’s first photographically illustrated bird book, flew in the first airship over London – purely in pursuit of aerial photography – became a pioneer of big game photography in Africa, developed ingenious photographic hides from dead animal skin, produced several films.

Both became friends of former US president Teddy Roosevelt and his son. The son was called Kermit.

Richard died in 1928, Cherry in 1940 shortly after recording a Children’s Hour broadcast for the BBC.

The prolific Bill Mitchell wrote their biography in 2001. Rather neatly, it was called Watch the Birdie.

THWAITE is small, stone-built and stoical. The notice board offers not just details of the twice-daily bus service but of the evening menu at the Kearton Country Hotel, directly across the road.

Slow roasted Swaledale lamb shank cooked in rosemary, garlic and red wine gravy on a bed of mash is just £10.25; roasted pork loin wrapped in smoky bacon, stuffed with apricots, toasted nuts and mixed herbs served with “crispiest”

crackling and port sauce is £9.95.

Beyond the little village, Kisdon Hill rises steeply to the Corpse Way, the lachrymose old route along which the dead were carried the 12.5 miles from Keld to Grinton for burial.

I’d walked it on Good Friday, 2004, with Swaledale’s church folk, noted that Kisdon Hill was probably the sort of steep and rugged pathway which Mrs Willis had in mind when she wrote Father Hear the Prayer We Offer. They were a good bunch. The headline, neat as Bill’s biography, was Esprit de Corpse.

The hotel, run for 20-odd years by the Danton family, is Thwaite’s principal building, beer garden at the foot of the hill. We took Sunday lunch there.

It’s pleasant, welcoming, rather reminiscent of some of the very many Scottish hotels in which we have stayed, save that it doesn’t smell of kippers or, in the case of the wondrous port of Mallaig, of diesel oil to boot.

There’s also a tea room and a gift shop with what The Boss considered some rather posh handbags.

What was to prove an excellent, good value lunch got off to a curious beginning. Listed starters included black pudding “towered” with onion rings, served on “sticky oyster noodles”.

There were no onion rings, no tower.

Rather it was a folly, calling to mind that one of Ms Elizabeth Taylor’s many husbands was nicknamed Bungalow Bill because (allegedly) he had nothing upstairs.

The waitress courteously insisted that onion rings were never intended.

Ian Danton, himself Scottish, confirmed it. Both were mistaken; they’d been working from the evening menu.

The onion rings, finally full circle, were piping fresh and terrific. Onion rings, in truth, may be the next great danger to the national health.

The lady had started with a mushroom and mozzarella tart – “so good, you can almost tell it was made this morning” – with salad. After that, it got better still.

She followed with mussels and tagliatelle in a white wine sauce – “a lovely lunch” – I with a ham salad.

Most dishes were £8.95; thus would it have been easy to charge £8.95 for the ham salad.

For £1 less, admirable testament to their honesty, it comprised several thick slices of ham, a chunk of fresh pineapple the size of a boomerang, masses of orange-dressed greenery, tomatoes, bowls of mayonnaise and splendidly spicy chutney plus – wholly unable to find room on the plate – separate dishes of chips and vegetables. Extraordinary.

A huge wedge of sumptuous Yorkshire curd tart with ice cream offered our sole pudding, half of it swiftly pillaged. Thus encouraged, the woman on the next table ordered one for her husband and with similarly larcenous intent. It may have been Thwaite’s biggest crimewave since Richard Kearton tickled one trout too many.

With a couple of drinks and coffee, the bill reached £39. We thought it first rate. Identities established, Ian suggested that we should have come at night, and maybe we should – but as the Kearton boys might have supposed, you get the picture, anyway.

■ Kearton Country Hotel, Thwaite, Swaledale, North Yorkshire, Tel. 01748-886277.

Best to book in the evening.

Website with virtual tour at DOWN dale, we looked into the Kings Arms at Gunnerside, recently reprieved from closure by the combined efforts of villagers and of Roger Tuckett, who has a guesthouse nearby.

It was wholly and immediately welcoming, something which couldn’t always have been said of the Kings. Happily, it also remains homely.

Walking boots welcome. The rain fell, the fire blazed, the hand pumps glistened.

Committed to local real ale, they offered Great Shunner from the Yorkshire Dales Brewery at Askrigg, Aviator and Dr Ewe from the Dent Brewery and something from Nick Stafford at Hambleton. Most are £2.80, but kept in pristine nick.

The pub also plans a beer festival from June 5 to 7, last weekend of the Swaledale Festival, at which local cheese and pork pies will also strongly feature.

ACOUPLE of hours to kill before the match, a perfectly decent ribeye steak (£9.95) and a couple of pints of Coke – honest, there was a 1,200-word Backtrack column to write – at the Church Mouse in Chester Moor.

Chester Moor’s on the A167 between Durham and Chester-le- Street, a small community which may have more licensed premises per capita than anywhere else in Britain (or, possibly, the known world).

It was Wednesday evening, early doors, grill night. By 6pm, midweek and mid-recession, there must have been 50 or 60 in, almost all dining.

Church Mouse they may be, poor they’re not.

…and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what goes: “Dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, squeak.”

Mouse code, of course.