ENGLAND: Mark it in Your Calendar – Visit Skipton, YorkshireBesides being the setting for part of the movie ‘Calendar Girls,’ this country market town was the winner of the best high street in the UK in 2009 but Skipton offers more than just a good place to go shopping. Situated on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park, Skipton has long been known as the ‘Gateway to the Dales’ a region that begs to be explored further.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2011
On a glorious October day I overheard a man sitting outside the Black Bull clasping a pint of best bitter turn and say to the woman sitting next to him, “What a smashing day love.” He wasn’t wrong.
With its street market, medieval castle, wooded walks, canal and thriving shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes, Skipton provides one of the best settings in Yorkshire, and on such a day, with something for all the family to enjoy. It’s also an ideal town to wander cobbled-stoned streets and meander down alleyways (known locally as ginnels), on canal paths or inside the castle walls where you can saviour some unique history and character that many other northern towns can’t match.
Besides being the setting for part of the movie ‘Calendar Girls,’ this country market town was the winner of the best high street in the UK in 2009 but Skipton offers more than just a good place to go shopping. Situated on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park, Skipton has long been known as the ‘Gateway to the Dales’ a region that begs to be explored further.
So what can be seen and achieved in this thriving market town? If you’ve arrived by car finding a parking spot will be your first priority as this is a very popular place. Picking the right day to visit is therefore important as market days on High Street are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Stalls sell an array of items from handmade crafts and plants to fresh and foreign foods and clothing. Once a year near Christmas, the market is the focus of Skipton’s medieval festival which features medieval entertainment, merriment and carol singing.
Besides the medieval festival every December, the town hosts a number of events starting in May with brightly coloured heritage canal boats during the ‘Waterway Festival.’ Skipton also hosts the annual ‘Sheep Day’ in July, as Skipton itself was founded by sheep farmers in the 7th century; the word ‘Skipton’ literally means ‘Sheep Town.’ July also sees the annual ‘Clogfest’ that toe-taps down in the canal basin and High Street - a glorious tradition of English step-dance. Every August there is also the ‘Moor Music Festival,’ named last year as one of the top 30 UK festivals to visit.
Yet the number one attraction in town is still Skipton Castle. Today the formidable stone fortress, originally built to defend the town from Scottish raiding parties is over 900 years-old and one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England. Visitors can explore every corner of this impressive history-rich castle, which withstood a three-year siege (1643-45) during the Civil War. View the Banqueting Hall, the Kitchen, the Bedchamber and Privy or climb from the depths of the Dungeon to the top storey of the Watch Tower.
The castle was once home to the Cliffords – powerful warlords influential at the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. King Henry decreed that the son of his life-long friend Henry, the 11th Lord Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, should marry the King’s niece. She was Lady Eleanor Brandon. Her mother was Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VII, sister of Henry VIII and widow of the French king Louis XII. In 1535 Lord Clifford converted Skipton Castle into Royal Apartments for his son's bride. Eleanor lived with her husband, the second earl, at Skipton Castle, when at the age of 26, she died in his arms. Had there been a son, he would have become the next monarch after Elizabeth 1st.
Walking is also a popular pastime in and around town. The easiest trail is along the Springs Branch Canal behind the castle, offering a leafy walk through Skipton Woods, which was once a Victorian promenade. It takes you through some beautiful scenery on a circular trail under the spectacular cliff on which sits Skipton castle. In 2000 Skipton opened its Millennium Walk which takes in the history of the main sites in town as well as some off-the-beaten-track nooks and crannies that are worth discovering – this self-guided walk takes about two hours.
To discover different aspects of the region you might want to view Skipton from a canal boat, or otherwise choose a more leisurely way to explore the surrounding countryside by hiring bicycles from one of two cycle shops in the town.
Many people also use Skipton as a base to drive short distances into some of the most stunning scenery in the UK – not for nothing does Skipton call itself ‘Gateway to the Dales.’
Nearby Malham Cove and its 260ft high limestone cliffs and caverns and Gordale Scar are also close to Skipton and a good starting point for many walks. In Wharfedale, Kilnsey Crag is a well-known landmark - this towering limestone cliff face is a mecca for climbers. Kilnsey is also the venue for an annual classic fell running race. Grassington is the largest village in the Dales, largely unspoilt from the Victorian era with picturesque cottages and cobblestone streets. Bolton Abbey, only eight miles from Skipton is another favourite location for hikers as well as being a good picnic destination. Here the atmospheric ruins of the Priory nestle in a curve on the River Wharfe.
Whether you venture into this picturesque region to fill shopping bags, to have a leisurely lunch, enjoy a hike in the woods, learn some medieval history on a castle tour, cruise the canal or simply to experience an authentic bustling market day – Skipton should be on everybody’s calendar as it won’t fail to win you over!
How to reach Skipton:
By road: Conveniently situated at the cross roads of the A65 and A59 giving direct access from the M6 to the west and the M1-A1M to the east.
By rail: Frequent rail services direct from Leeds and Carlisle
By bus: Regular services available including National Express
By Air: Leeds/Bradford Airport is only 23 miles from Skipton
A full range of places to stay include Bed & Breakfast accommodation, self-catering holiday cottages, guest houses, coaching inns to quality hotels
For a full list of upcoming events in the Skipton region log onto www.skiptononline.co.uk
To take a canal trip go to: www.canaltrips.co.uk
For walks a book and leaflet can be obtained from main tourist office in town located in Coach Street. T: 01756 792809
Other useful websites include:
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