The people of Skipton have something to smile about. After all, the bustling market town – often described as the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales – is consistently recognized in polls and surveys as one of the most liveable places in Britain.
And it’s easy to see why. There’s an imposing 900-year-old castle that gracefully watches over the historic cobbled High Street, while the town itself – around 18 miles northwest of Bradford and home to around 14,500 people – is surrounded by a beautiful countryside and limestone hills.
No wonder the choice of where to stay tends to divide visitors. Some opt for a classic downtown B&B, like the Unicorn, an iconic Skipton building that has operated as a hotel for over 100 years.
The bustling market town of Skipton (above) is often described as the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales
Skipton is consistently recognized in polls and surveys as one of the happiest places to live in Britain. Pictured is the Cenotaph at the top of the town’s main street
Others choose to settle in the countryside. The Coniston Country Estate and Spa is just 15 minutes drive away.
For many, the commercial therapy on offer is as much an attraction to Skipton as remnants of its ancient past.
Independent businesses run by people who have lived and worked in the city for decades are the lifeline of downtown.
These include Drake & Macefield, the Yorkshire borough of Craven’s oldest independent family-run butchers.
Skipton Market, which dates back to medieval times and operates four days a week, is packed with stalls selling everything from arts and crafts to Yorkshire-made blankets.
Skipton derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘sceap’ (sheep) and ‘tun’ (town), and was therefore recorded in the Domesday Book as Scepeton. Founded in the 7th century, it was granted to the Romille family in 1066.
Date with history: Enjoy a relaxing canal boat trip through Skipton
Independent businesses run by people who have lived and worked in the city for decades are the lifeline of downtown
The Norman Baron Robert de Romille built the first fortress castle in 1090 to repel the expansions of Malcolm III of Scotland. And it is towards the castle that visitors are inevitably drawn.
Enter through the round towers of the castle gate, where the word Desormais – French for now – is carved above. This was the proud motto of the influential Clifford family who lived here from 1310 to 1676, having taken over after the disappearance of the de Romilles.
One of the most intriguing parts is in the east tower of the guard house. Here a ‘shell cave’, one of only two such caves in England (the other is at Woburn Abbey) is made of volcanic rock, Jamaican coral and shells from Guernsey, to represent fire, air, water and earth.
The castle withstood a three-year siege during the Civil War and was the last stronghold of the Royalist cause in the North, not yielding to Cromwell until 1645. (According to legend, during the siege fleeces from sheep were hung on the walls to cushion the impact of cannon fire.)
Certainly it’s a mind-focusing nugget of history as visitors ascend from the depths of the keep – where prisoners were once held awaiting trial at York Assizes – to the top floor of the watchtower. .
The Norman Baron Robert de Romille built the first fortress castle at Skipton in 1090 to fend off the expansions of Malcolm III of Scotland. And it is towards the castle that visitors are inevitably drawn
The round towers of the castle gate house have the word Desormais – French for henceforth – carved above
Skipton Castle Woods is set in a valley and the covered paths make it an easy place to walk
Seven nights’ B&B at The Unicorn in Skipton costs from £89 per night (unicornhotelskipton.co.uk). For more information, visit welcometoskipton.com.
Neatly sized, it doesn’t take long to cover the interior, which includes a medieval banquet hall and kitchen, plus the bedroom (and toilet!). After which you emerge into the Tudor courtyard, with a yew planted in its center.
Near the castle are 36 hectares of old woods. Known as Skipton Castle Woods and set in a river valley, the covered paths make it an easy place to walk. And they’re a haven for wildlife: between the Springs Canal and the babbling Eller Beck, we’re told you’re likely to see resident herons or the blue flash of kingfishers (unfortunately, we don’t see either nor the other).
A trained ear will hear, even if the eyes cannot see, the woodpeckers. Meanwhile, at least 17 species of trees flourish here, including oak, chestnut, mountain ash and sloe.
Skipton must be a great place to live – and it also imbues those who visit with a strong sense of happiness.