Ten reasons to love Richmond
- Credit: Archant
There are many reasons to visit the ancient market town of Richmond in the Yorkshire Dales. Terry Fletcher lists just a few
1 Yorkshire’s most outstanding castle
Over the centuries most of Yorkshire’s castles have been thoroughly bashed about leaving them rather the worse for wear but Richmond’s magnificent square keep survives almost intact and is unmissable in every sense of the word. It was built on the riche-mont or ‘strong hill’, from which the town takes its name, dominating the surrounding countryside and visible from miles around.
The fortress was one of the first Norman strongholds in northern England, built just four years after the Battle of Hastings by one of William the Conqueror’s kinsmen, Alan Rufus, to keep the unruly Saxons under control. The great central tower was added a couple of centuries later but saw little fighting and remains one of the most stunning castles in the country. Today it is in the care of English Heritage
2 Wide open spaces
From the 100ft high battlements of the castle you can look straight down into the vast cobbled Market Place, said to be the biggest in England and still the setting for the popular Saturday market and the monthly farmers’ market.
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If the Normans put Richmond on the map its heyday was in Georgian times and many of the fine houses around the Market Place and in the streets that radiate from it, such as Frenchgate and Newbiggin, date from that period, when the town staged fashionable race meetings.
3 Historic theatre
One of the undoubted gems is the tiny Georgian Theatre Royal, the oldest surviving Georgian playhouse in the country. It was opened in 1788 by actor manager Samuel Butler and managed as part of a circuit that stretched from Whitby to Kendal and took in venues such as Harrogate, Northallerton and Beverley. It survived for sixty years before it was forced to close. However it was reopened in 1963 and restored to its former glory and extended in 2003.
Today it stages professional and amateur drama productions as well as comedy, concerts and festivals. An evening in this intimate little theatre is always an experience to savour.
4 Wot? No trains?
The last train may have departed in 1969 but that does not stop the Victorian Railway Station being a focus of life in Richmond. Well out of the town centre down by the banks of the Swale, it had a second incarnation as a garden centre before being given a new lease of life.
Today it houses a restaurant and café, art gallery, cinema, mini-museum, micro brewery and artisan food shops. It’s a pleasant stroll down from the town centre but fortunately there are buses going back uphill and plenty of parking too.
5 History galore
Although the castle dominates as it has for centuries, Richmond is steeped in less dramatic history. Easby Abbey stands on the outskirts of the town and Richard III’s Middleham Castle is just down the road. The town’s story is told in the eclectic Richmondshire Local History Museum which has exhibits ranging from Swaledale’s industrial lead mining past to a set from the James Herriot television series, much of which was filmed in the area.
A second museum in the former Trinity Church tells the story of the illustrious Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards, with artefacts from campaigns stretching back to the Crimean war.
6 A local beauty
Light-fingered southerners may have tried to claim her for Richmond in Surrey but the Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill is all Yorkshire. Frances I’Anson was born a few miles down the road in Leyburn in neighbouring Wensleydale in 1766 but she had connections with Hill House in Richmond, where her grandparents lived.
She married songwriter Leonard McNally who was inspired to compose his popular song about her
On Richmond hill there lives a lass
More bright than May-day morn
Whose charms all other maids’ surpass
A rose without a thorn.
7 A secret garden
Millgate House Garden is a hidden treasure that has delighted visitors from all over the world. Although only a stone’s throw from the Market Place it is often overlooked by visitors not in the know.
One garden writer gushed that Paradise might seem a little disappointing after a visit to Millgate House and there is no denying that its intensive planting is spectacular and enchanting. It beat off more than three thousand competitors to win a national prize from the Royal Horticultural Society whose own guide declares it a model for all town gardens.
It is open to the public from April to October (01748 823571).
8 Square sheep and big hearts
Mackenzie Thorpe was born in Middlesbrough but is now synonymous with Richmond thanks to his arthaus gallery in Finkle Street, one of the narrow lanes leading off the Market Place.
Best known for his square sheep, duffel-coated faceless boy and big hearts, the former shipyard worker was a latecomer to the world of art but now Thorpe’s works sell all over the world, not least in the United States where he has a large following, but new pieces are unveiled in Richmond.
9 Sent to the tower
Richmond has no shortage of hotels but if you want some really offbeat accommodation try the Culloden Tower. It dates from 1746 and was built by the local MP John Yorke to commemorate the defeat of the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The grand house it once belonged to is long gone but the tower has been restored by the Landmark Trust which rents it out as a holiday cottage. There are four rooms, piled one above the other and linked by a steep spiral staircase which leads to a roof terrace with astonishing views across the town.
10 Take a hike
Richmond is the gateway to Swaledale the Dales’ most dramatic valley and stands on Alfred Wainwright’s 186-mile Coast to Coast Walk but there’s no need to be too energetic to enjoy the scenery.
You can follow in the fashionably-shod footsteps of the 19th century gentry by taking the castle walk, a fairly level path where wealthy visitors would promenade and take in the views of the Swale far below or else wander down to Richmond Falls where the river cascades over a series of rocky shelves.