Skipton A town of shear quality

Skipton celebrates its heritage this month but there's more to the historic market town than meets the eye, as a new campaign reveals. Amanda Griffiths reports

A bucking sheep is among the entertainment provided at Sheep Day in Skipton this year. The annual event celebrates the town’s history as a prosperous market town trading sheep and woollen goods.

‘Sheep Day is one of the main events in the calendar,’ says Brett Butler, Skipton’s town centre manager who helps organise the event. ‘It deals with all aspects of our Dales heritage, with drystone walling demonstrations, rug making and spinning and weaving demos and chainsaw carving. There’s music and games, food and drink stalls with lots of local produce and this year we have Daisy Duke the milking cow – it’s a model which you fill the udders with milk and let the children have a go at milking.’

And although live sheep have been a rarity at Sheep Day in the last few years, since Defra restrictions after diseases like foot and mouth and blue tongue devastated farming communities all over the country, a new community art project will see 25 sheep displayed on the town’s streets on Sunday July 4th.

‘Flock to Skipton is a large scale public art event,’ says Brett. ‘It’s similar to previous projects in Liverpool and Norwich. From mid-August to mid-November there will be 25, four foot six, decorated sheep statues in various locations in the town. Each sheep will feature on a ‘sheep trail’ that will also help re-launch our Millennium Walk and guide people around the town.’

The idea is to place the sheep, which have been decorated by local and national artists as well as a number of community groups, in some key locations in the town and guide visitors to areas they would perhaps miss out on under normal circumstances.

At the end of the Flock to Skipton campaign the sheep will be auctioned off at Skipton Auction Mart, just like their real-life counterparts.Skipton – the name translates to ‘sheep town’ – is still a bustling market town, the streets are rammed on market days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) as colourful market stalls sell everything from local produce to clothes; but shoppers aren’t just following the crowd, sheep-like.

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Skipton high street was recently named the UK’s Best High Street and the diversity of shops here is a real draw for shoppers. There are lots of small independent businesses; a Victorian style arcade shopping centre and lots of little ginnells and alleyways that lead to shopping gems; one side of the high street contains many of the high street chains and Sheep Street retains its market town feel with its cobbles. Add to that its market and its no surprise that although the recession did have an effect on the town, it didn’t suffer as baa-dly as some others (sorry).

‘We did have some shops close, but they were mostly the national chains.’ Brett said. It’s usually the case in Skipton that empty premises are filled quite quickly. The site of our old Woolworths was filled within a week of its closing and a number of other local businesses have moved into some of the larger premises that were empty.’

And it’s not just the shops that make Skipton such a popular place to visit. Skipton Castle, at 900-years-old, is one of the best preserved medieval castles in Britain and is fascinating to explore.

The watch tower, built to give the incumbents the earliest warning of attack, now gives visitors great views across the town and the impressive surrounding countryside.

And behind the castle, Skipton woods make a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the town centre as does the Leeds and Liverpool canal which runs along one side of the town.

The canal was used to transport woollen goods from Skipton – less a ship canal, more a sheep canal – and is now the perfect place for quiet contemplation of the woolly thinking which is bringing the crowds flocking into the town.

Skipton factfile

The Skipton Building Society, now thought to be the fourth largest in Britain, was founded in the town.

The new bus station, which opened last year, will be transformed this year with colourful floral displays thanks to Skipton in Bloom.

A town ambassadors scheme in Skipton has gone down well with volunteers pounding the streets, keeping them clear of litter and reporting problems to the council.

An area known as ‘the wilderness’ is five minutes walk from the centre. It is a woodland area with stepping stones across the stream and lots of native plants. It has been created behind the old school building and features an example of a ‘shell cave’ made by pupils at the school.

For more information visit Skipton Tourist Information Centre on Coach Street, call them on 01756 792809 or visit

True tributeThe newest addition to the canal basin at Skipton is a bronze statue commemorating cricketer Fred Trueman. Known as ‘Fiery Fred’, he is known as one of the greatest fast bowlers in history and was the first man to take 300 Test wickets. Born in Stainton, Fred was buried at nearby Bolton Abbey.

The statue, unveiled earlier this year by Fred’s widow and Dickie Bird, shows the Yorkshire and England cricketing legend in action. It was created by sculptor Graham Ibbeson, who has also produced the bronze statue of Dickie Bird and the Leeds Millennium Sculpture.

It is accompanied by a commemorative book, A Tribute to Freddie Trueman, packed with photographs and memorabilia tracking Fred’s illustrious career, which costs �6.19 (including postage and packing) and is available from Skipton Town Council, 01756 794357.

Where it is: Skipton can be found off of the A59 between Harrogate and Gisburn. There are a number of long and short stay pay and display car parks in the town, although on a busy day these fill up quickly.

What to do: Visit Skipton Castle (01756 792442); take a look inside Holy Trinity Church which boasts some great architecture; take a trip on the canal with Pennine Cruisers (01756 795478) or Pennine Boat Trips (01756 790829); go for a walk in the Skipton Woods or go on the Skipton Millennium Walk, marked by stone waymarkers in the town’s pavements.

Where to eat and drink: There are plenty of little cafes, pubs and restaurants that do great food. If it’s a nice day enjoy the sunshine by the canal while indulging in Bizzie Lizzies fish and chips, which regularly wins awards. The town is also famous for its pies so head up to Mill Bridge and J Stanforth’s celebrated pork pie establishment.

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