Whether it’s the place you call home, a nearby town or just somewhere you’ve vaguely heard of at the other side of our gloriously large county, it’s time to take a fresh look at Skipton
There is so much more here than first meets the eye in the small market-town of Skipton near the (sssshhh) Lancashire border. It’s well worth looking beyond its traditionally acclaimed assets, namely the magnificently preserved mediaeval castle, picturesque canal basin and the vibrant market straddling the High Street four days a week. While those famous features alone provide abundantly the vital ingredients for a grand day out or a short-stay break, Skipton has significantly more to offer when you delve beyond their obvious appeal.
First off, its location ticks several boxes for both residents and visitors alike. Dubbed ‘Gateway to the Dales’, it sits conveniently as a springboard for Wharfedale, arguably the prettiest of the Yorkshire Dales, with its distinctive limestone features and patchwork of drystone walls. From Skipton you can enjoy the proximity of the stunning National Park without the downside of staying in a tourist honeypot. It is a natural base for exploring the area.
Skipton is serviced by key roads, the A59 which runs east/west and the A65 running north/south. By rail it’s connected from Leeds and Bradford on up to Scotland via the iconic Settle-Carlisle railway.
Sheepish about its heritage
The name Skipton derives from ‘Sheep-town’ and it remains a champion of its woolly ancestry. At the busy auction mart, a sheepdog recently sold for a record-breaking £16k with local breeders attracting buyers from across the world. Annual events such as Yarndale and Sheep Day celebrate the trade and a High Street hostelry is called The Woolly Sheep; it’s one of a few spots around the town that is allegedly haunted!
Following its recently completed £4.7m refurbishment, the Town Hall is a multi-media venue and hub of Skipton’s cultural heritage with an extensive events programme. It is home to Craven Museum, a vibrant and interactive family-friendly museum which holds more than 60,000 objects including the amazing First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, printed in 1623. Who needs Stratford-upon-Avon when you can visit Skipton?
Talking of plays, theatre lovers can enjoy regular drama, musicals and concerts at both the rustic Mart Theatre and the petite Skipton Little Theatre. There is also a vibrant live music and comedy scene in various bars throughout the town, which will be showcased in the all new Skipton Sounds Festival this August.
A taste for the best
The town is becoming a mecca for foodies with several excellent eateries ranging from fine dining restaurants like the award-winning Le Caveau – underground in a former 16th century prison cell to a wacky pancake house and a dog-doolally café. There is an award-winning farm shop and an amazing independent wine shop. If craft beers are more your tipple, then there are plenty of bars featuring artisan ales. It’s really no surprise that the UK’s biggest annual food event now takes place in Skipton – the Yorkshire Dales Food & Drink Festival is on 21-23 July this year, don’t miss it. You can pitch a tent for the duration and meet gastro gurus such as James Martin and the Hairy Bikers. Then, in August, the canal basin is the venue for the Skipton Foodie weekend on 12-13 August, a free event featuring local and specialty stallholders, including some of the best producers and artisan makers in Yorkshire.
Another annual event is a focus for art and craft lovers. Art in the Pen at the Auction Mart 19-20 August features more than 200 artists and craft. Throughout the year, you can enjoy art at Craven Arts on Otley Street, an artist-led centre for contemporary art. Two red telephone boxes outside the Town Hall have been transformed as art installations and Mill Bridge Gallery features a programme of exhibitions.
This year for the first time, the Skipton Now Festival will take place, a month-long programme of events throughout August to celebrate all things culture and heritage starting with a Yorkshire Day celebration. From mural painting to music, puppet-making to pop-up cinema, it promises something for everyone.
Shopping in Skipton is a refreshing experience. Interestingly Thomas Spencer from Marks & Spencer came from Skipton originally; today the town has an M&S Food Hall and a few other popular household names. However, there are many more interesting independents here that are an absolute joy to discover. Explore the town to find independent, imaginative shops packed with something that little bit different.
Among the gems is C & H Brown. Established in 1974 this wonderful world of leather and marvellous millinery is about to celebrate its half century. It smells like a traditional old-fashioned shoe shop and is absolutely the place to go for quality English and Italian footwear and bags.
Fit for purpose
There are a myriad of interesting and gentle walks around the town suitable for all ages and abilities, notably along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and its small tributary the Springs Canal, which winds its way past the towering castle walls and into the beautiful Skipton Woods. For those looking for a longer stroll, the 100 mile walk Lady Anne’s Way starts in Skipton and winds its way north to Penrith taking in many of the historic buildings of the Clifford family en-route.
A short distance from the town centre along the canal towpath you will find Aireville Park, a glorious rolling parkland flanked by a wild meadow. The park dates back to the 1830s when it was created by Henry Allcock as part of the Aireville Estate. Upon his death, wealthy Skipton mill owners, the Dewhurst family, purchased the estate. You can now enjoy everything from a gentle stroll to skateboarding or a BMX pumptrack.
It’s no small wonder that Skipton was deemed by the Sunday Times as ‘best place to live’ not so long ago, but really, don’t take our word for it – or theirs – but check it out for yourself.