Sandwiched between the gorgeous Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors, Ripon has long been known as a jewel in the crown of Yorkshire. Bethan Andrews finds out why
The writer, Daniel Defoe, once famously said: “Ripon is a very neat, pleasant, well built town, and has not only an agreeable situation on a rising ground between two rivers, but the market place is the finest and most beautiful that is to be seen of its kind in England.” It might be the smallest city in Yorkshire and the third smallest in the country but, as Visit Harrogate so rightly puts it, “it’s a little city that packs a big punch”.
It’s often said that small places, particularly those surrounded by rural life, are brilliant for neighbours supporting neighbours, and the same can be said for Ripon – community spirit is central. The city has got it all, from picturesque and stunning streets, a famous racecourse, historic architecture and heritage sites on every turn of the corner, and community charm and character in droves. You’ll find Michelin starred eateries, stately homes and gorgeous greenery, as well as wonderful waterways and ample opportunity for family fun. It’s no surprise that it’s got a buoyant property market, is popular with Yorkshire locals and also brings in tourists in their thousands each year.
Steeped in history
At just over 1,300-years-old, the cathedral city is historically part of the old West Riding of Yorkshire, but now falls within the popular and affluent Borough of Harrogate. Despite its fairly young age as a city, though, the cathedral means that people have been coming to pilgrimage and pray in Ripon for many, many years. With some of the oldest stone churches in the country, you can witness thousands of years of historic impressive craftsmanship of faith beliefs in wood and stone.
Moving on from enjoying years of prosperity while it was known as a place of significant religious importance in Great Britain, the city went on to see huge success in the wool and cloth industry – third in size to its nearby York and Halifax neighbours. Naturally, Ripon became more well known as an affluent and popular city, and its impressive production of spurs throughout the 16th and 17th centuries meant that it was largely unaffected by the downfalls of the Industrial Revolution. Essentially, Ripon has always managed to come out somewhat on top.
Speaking of coming out on top, Ripon Racecourse has also added a sense of pomp and circumstance to the affluent and successful city, with royalty considering it one of the finest racecourses in the country. Often referred to as Yorkshire’s garden racecourse, this beautiful flat racecourse, with a right leaning oval, is a premium location for racing in the North of England. In 1773, the famous racecourse even hosted the first ever horse race for female jockeys.
One of the things that really sets Ripon apart from the rest is that it is steeped in, not only beautifully visible history and awe, but also in wonderful longstanding traditions, too. You’ll find that Ripon still has an ancient Hornblower, who you can find blowing his horn at the four corners of the Market Square, every single night at 9pm. In fact, it’s an unbroken ceremony that has been happening daily for 1,128 years. Doing this at the four corners of the obelisk is said to “set the watch”, and the horn has since become a symbol of the city, a unique talisman representing good governance and of course tradition. The Wakeman of Ripon dresses in a uniform with a tricorn hat and blows three blasts of his famous horn – the current horn is said to be the fourth to have been used.
Heritage and hospitality
For tourists visiting the city, there’s an abundance of heritage sites to visit and a brilliant community of hospitality providers to accompany the fruitful history, too. What’s great with it being a small city is that it is, of course, very walkable. The cathedral, consecrated by St Wilfrid in 672AD, is well worth a visit. Attracting thousands of visitors a year, you could be lucky on the day that you are visiting and find that one of the many organised events are happening. This is because the cathedral is also a community hub hosting events and celebrations of art, culture and even a beer festival throughout its programme of annual events. A truly awe-inspiring place full of peace and beauty, the cathedral is open every day and all year round for both Ripon residents and visitors alike. Lewis Carroll was a canon at the Cathedral in the mid-19th century and rumour has it that some of the carvings inspired him to create the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Once you’ve discovered the beauty to behold in Ripon centre, take the short drive out to find the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Park. Here, you can discover the ancient ruins of Fountains Abbey which sit alongside the spectacular water gardens of Studley Royal (which is often regarded as the finest surviving example of a Georgian water garden in England). Another stately home well worth a visit is Newby Hall and Gardens, a Grade I listed manor house which boasts a superb collection of fine furniture, paintings and extensive gardens.
To fuel up after such a whirlwind of history sites, head to Wilfred’s Cafe or the quirky Oliver’s Pantry for coffee and cake in the centre. For something elaborate and truly special, pay a visit to Grantley Hall for some Michelin star fare from Shaun Rankin. With five stunning bars to choose from and four restaurants, you won’t be disappointed and will certainly be spoiled for choice.
Plenty to see and do
Given Ripon has so much tradition and history, it’s unsurprising that there are three museums to visit, known collectively as the Yorkshire Law and Order museums. All are centrally located and full of historical treasures and information which help weave the story of our city and its days gone by. If you’re planning on visiting all three of the museums in your trip to Ripon, Visit Ripon recommend starting with the Workhouse Museum on Allhallowgate, which is a monument to Victorian times. Head next to the Prison and Police Museum on Marygate, a place that brings to life the history of policing in the county. The elegant Ripon Courthouse Museum makes up the last of the educational sites and can be found on Minster Road.
The marketplace is a lovely place to wander and soak up the historic architecture of the city and, on a Thursday, the place is buzzing with stallholders and life. You’ll find all sorts of traders and it’s a wonderful place to soak up the community atmosphere in Ripon. Ripon Spa Baths was built in 1904 and is a Grade II listed building that still shines away in all its old glory.
From art galleries to antique shops, gift shops and plenty of independents, there’s lots of options for meandering slowly around the city. With vintage shops, artisan bakeries, high street and independent fashion retailers, there’s also an award-winning independent bookshop that’s worth a visit.
With its impressive location sitting between the Dales and the Moors, there is no shortage of vast green spaces and connection to nature to be experienced close to Ripon. Ripon Spa Gardens are a beautiful example of Victorian gardens, complete with a bandstand that comes alive on a Sunday in the summer months. The Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park is a perfect place to start when it comes to soaking up all the nature Ripon has to offer. Winner of the Yorkshire in Bloom Tourist Attraction Award 2018 and 2019, and the Best Business Award 2019, the park is home to over 85 contemporary sculptures and is set within 45 acres of breathtaking garden, all inspired by the Himalayas. Ripon Walled Garden is also a lovely place to sit and take in the nursery, orchard and woodland.
Essentially, whether its heritage, history, hospitality or holistic healing through nature, Ripon is a city that can deliver in droves. What are you waiting for?
What’s On in November
Autumn Floral Masterclass 9 November
Grantley Hall is hosting a wonderful floral masterclass with Jonathan Moseley.
Community Christmas Craft Fair 12 November
Ripon Community House is the place to go to get into the Christmas period spirit.
Star Glam Weekend 25-27 November
Little Seed Field Glamping site in Ripon is hosting an expert astronomer from Go Stargazing to show everyone the wonder of the Yorkshire winter skies.
Ripon Cathedral Christmas Gift and Food Fair 25-26 November
Head to Ripon cathedral to get into the festive atmosphere where over 100 traders will be showing their wares of artisan gifts, crafts and bakes.