Exploring Yorkshire: Skipton

Skipton is a quaint, picturesque market town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. The bustling town centre is filled with independent tea rooms, boutique shops and is surrounded by beautiful moorland. Almost a fortnight ago, my sister and I spent a lovely (albeit stereotypically drizzly) day wandering around this beautiful town and exploring the remarkably intact Skipton Castle.

I’ve visited Skipton a few times from Leeds; it’s approximately forty minutes away by train, and with a 16-25 railcard a day return costs only £6.35. Arriving in Skipton, we made our way towards the town centre, resisting the temptation to go and explore Aireville Park (which is ideal for a picnic on a sunny day, but avoidable in the rain).

Sheep Street, which runs parallel to the High Street, is filled with the usual high street chains on one side, and a plethora of independent cafés on the other. The Three Sheep Tea Rooms claims to do an incredible carrot cake – and since I didn’t have room on this occasion, that’s reason enough for me to go back! At the end of Sheep Street, we rejoined High Street and Skipton’s bustling Saturday market, with vendors selling everything from fresh fruit to household knick-knacks. If you’re a fan of pork pies, head to Farmhouse Fare at the top end of High Street; we bought one for my dad and were told it didn’t disappoint!

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Skipton’s Holy Trinity Church sits at the top of High Street; from here we followed Mill Bridge until it crossed the Springs Branch Canal. After crossing the canal, a small footpath on the right leads unsuspecting visitors to a water wheel, hiding behind a homeware shop. The path continues into the nearby woods – another attraction we decided to give a miss on this occasion, as the ground was rather wet underfoot. Instead, we decided to go and get lunch, ending up at Walker’s – a chocolate shop, bakery and café spread across three floors.

After lunch, we ventured towards the Leeds and Liverpool Canal – in summer, large numbers of beautifully decorated narrowboats congregate here. There are also two points of interest for foodies: Bizzie Lizzie’s (Skipton’s best fish and chip shop) and the amusingly-named Fat Boys Ice Cream Parlour.

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Next, we decided to walk back up High Street towards Skipton Castle. The admission prices were very reasonable (only £6.80 for a student ticket), especially given that this medieval fortress, which dates from 1090, is in near-perfect condition. Under 18s get a Castle Explorer badge . . . and as I was with my sister, they gave me one too! Armed with the illustrated tour sheet, we set off into the grounds to explore the castle.

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Following our illustrated guide, we passed under the archway and towards Lady Anne’s steps to enter the castle. This was where the drawbridge would have been many centuries ago and, with it, the portcullis. Turning the corner (and ascending a few more steps!), we arrived in Conduit Court. The large yew tree in the court was planted by Lady Anne Clifford, after all the repairs to the castle following the Civil War had been completed.

Continuing our tour, we made our way up the steps to the banqueting hall, a spacious room with a beamed ceiling. Our tour then took us through the medieval kitchen, with its huge roasting ovens and adjoining long drop, and the withdrawing room, with its view of the canal towards Skipton Castle Woods.

The illustrated guide then led us through the Lord’s quarters, comprising of the muniment room, with its four-metre thick walls (now that’s insulation for you . . !), the Lord’s day chamber (with more views of the woods to the north) and his bedchamber. From the top floor of the watch tower, there were great views across the castle grounds and surrounding area.

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Leaving the watch tower, we made our way to the Norman north fighting chamber, for a trip down into the (remarkably compact) dungeon. Skipton Castle’s dungeon was, apparently, not used for torture; instead prisoners were simply kept down there for safe-keeping. We then visited the wine and beer cellars, which date from the 17th century, the new kitchen and the curing room, alongside other floors of rooms we had previously seen. The fact that Skipton Castle survived a three year siege during the Civil War is testament to the strength of this majestic fortress.

Before leaving Skipton Castle, we briefly explored the Chapel of St John the Evangelist; it’s empty inside, like the rest of Skipton Castle, but it’s easy to imagine how beautiful it could have looked all those years ago.

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We then left the castle, and wandered down Otley Street – which was home to Fanticy, an incredible-looking haven of all things cake – before ambling through the Craven Court Shopping Centre. It’s an architectural beauty which oozes Victorian elegance with its beautiful wrought iron décor and walls made from the local stone. Inside are dozens of independent shops – the soaps at Emma’s Apothecary & Homestore smelt gorgeous and there’s even an old-fashioned sweet shop – alongside well-known high street shops, and a tea room.

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