Skipton – castles, cafes & canals

The other week, as the year slid towards the middle of August, with no Sunday plans, and a dismal weather forecast, I still couldn’t face staying indoors and needed some adventure to temper my wanderlust.

A West Yorkshire town called Skipton had been a place I’d wanted to visit for a few years, always half arranged with someone or for some unspecified time and never quite making it happen. At around a 1hr 10 minute drive away, it was pretty much one decent podcast and maybe a couple of my favourite Parquet Courts songs, and before I knew it, I was pulling up to the long stay carpark round the back of the medieval castle, known as Bailey Carpark.

I arrived just as the clock was striking 10am, which conveniently enough is the time Skipton Castle opens it’s doors. There was a quite fumble of mobile phones, as the castle still requires an online booking prior to entry, and so myself and a group of women ahead of me, had to quickly log onto the castles website and book ourself in. It only took a few minutes and then with our barcodes ready, we were good to go. It’s paid entry only and there isn’t really a garden or grounds you can explore for free, so if you want to pass through the big stone gateway and imposing watch towers, you need to pay just under £10 to get in. The stone sign at the top reads ‘Desormais’ meaning Henceforth! A reminder of its French Norman history.

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Once I was in, with my free map, I avoided the main entrance of the castle where the other early arrivals seemed headed, and veered left to peer inside the 700 year old St Johns Chapel. This stone building with large arched windows was pretty atmospheric as the morning sun streamed through, casting shadows on the cold floor, I was glad I had it all to myself.

I then headed back towards the castle, via the toilets (I have a weak bladder, what can I say) and climbed the Lady Anne’s steps to enter. It took maybe around 45 minutes to fully explore each room of the castle that is spread over 2 floors, with the exception of the east wing that’s still a private residence.

The castle is said to be one of the best preserved and most complete mediaeval castles in England, and at over 900 years old, there’s lots to explore. All the rooms are clearly labelled, and with the free illustrated map you get on arrival, you could probably spend longer if you really wanted to absorb yourself in its history.

There is a dungeon, the pretty cobbled Conduit Courtyard and lots of small stone staircases leading into interesting rooms. Highlights included the Lord’s bedchamber, the north fighting chamber, the beer and wine cellar, the curing room with large kitchen & the mediaeval long drop toilets, which gave me flashback to many a festival nightmare.

The withdrawing room, where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner for a while, was another highlight, this particular room has a large north facing window, out of which Mary could look towards her homeland of Scotland. And look out for the purpose built crossbow slit window located in one of the fighting chambers, I can only imagine the gory chaos that it must have caused.

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So for even someone like myself, who’s not that well versed in this particular period in history, its still super interesting and due to its well preserved state, you really get a sense of what it must have been like when it was a busy, noisy fully functioning castle.

It was just after 11am once I was ready to leave and head down the main high street, after a quick look in the gift shop of course. There are loads of little independant shops selling local crafts, chocolate and walking gear. A few places that stood out were Ellie Warburton Cakes, Steep and Filter (a coffee shop with a zero waste refill centre), and Lighthouse Lane on the main street, full of quirky, local, Yorkshire themed gifts, of which the main photo of this post was taken from.

But for coffee and cake, I had my eye on Kibble Bakery, a dog friendly bakery and coffee house, with both indoor and outdoor seating, selling both human and dog friendly bakes, as well as dog accessories and tote bags (yes, I bought one). Of course I travelled alone, so had to make do with talking to the many dogs who turned up with their families, whilst I ordered their delicious plant based chocolate cookie with an oat milk cappuccino complete with adorable chocolate pawprint on the top.

My final stop was a walk along the Springs Canal, which you can easily access if you head left past the Holy Trinity Church. There is definately a lot more to explore here, and you could probably carve out a day just for walks in the area, but my main visit this time was for the castle and town centre, and as the rain started to come down just as I was leaving the coffee shop, I didnt venture too long up the towpath.

Luckily I wasnt too drenched by the time I got back to my car, and so I headed back west, into Lancashire. With the weather improving, there were some gorgeous views of the countryside, so I popped on another podcast and gradually made my way home.

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Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Once lockdown restrictions began to loosen up over the summer in the UK, I started to make plans to meet up with friends. Living in the North West, we still had limitations on who we could see and where we could go, so after a bit of research, a friend and I decided the massive outdoor grounds that house the Sculpture Park would be ideal.

Situated close to Wakefield, the open air gallery is situated within the 500-acre, 18th-century Bretton Hall estate, currently showcasing sculptures from artists even I had heard of, such as Damien Hirst and Ai WeiWei. In particular I wanted to see Damien’s ‘Virgin Mother’ statue and a gigantic Portugese cockeral by Joana Vassconcelos, which greets you as you arrive at the park.

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Covid has meant the park is run a little differently than before, you can only buy your ticket online, and a lot of the indoor spaces are closed, but with over 80 outdoor sculptures and installations to see, you can easily spend your day visiting just those. But, there are still indoor toilets and a gift shop that you can visit (masks mandatory) and they have converted their cafe to an outdoor take away space.

Tonnes of Covid friendly measures are in place, with one way arrows, hand sanitiser on gates dotted all over the place and the one indoor exhibition space, limits the number of visitors inside at a time.

We had a glorious day, I think my friend and I were just excited to be able to socialise again after lockdown, but there was some truely amazing, unique sculptures that really made you stop and think. My favourites were indeed the Virgin Mother, but I also really liked the Buddha by Saint Phalle, the Rabbit Madonna by Usagi Kannon II and Network by Thomas J Price.

We were super lucky with the weather too, and although it rained later in our visit, we were still able to enjoy a sunny picnic with some sheep in a field, overlooking the lake and it was almost like the virus had just been a bad dream.

I hadn’t paid too much to the indoor exhibit on offer, as I initially presumed it would be closed, but I’m glad we ventured over, as it was truely inspiring. It was curated by the Portugese Artist Joana Vassconcelos, who designed the giant cockeral at the entrance, but other works on display indoors, included the iconic oversized silver stilettos of Marilyn, made out of saucepans, which represented the division between women’s traditional domestic and contemporary public roles and I also loved the ‘Red Independant Heart #3’ made entirely of red plastic cutlery.

 

As far as my first post lockdown adventure went, it was a total success!