Why Skipton?

Townhouse Bed & Breakfast

Why do so many visitors "flock" to Skipton?

Skipton Castle

In 1090, Robert de Romille who was a wealthy landowner in the area, owning many of the Bolton Abbey Estates nearby, built a motte and bailey castle in Skipton. Just after the beginning of the twelfth century, Heny 1 gave Romille more lands which included all of Upper Wharfedale and Upper Airedale.

The castle construction of wood and earth was replaced when it was rebuilt in stone. This was done to keep out the marauders from Scotland to the north. It now became a substantial fortress, which would make it well renowned during the English Civil War. The sheer cliff to the rear of the castle, and the Eller Beck that formed a natural moat to the rear, helped to make it a perfect defensive structure.

In 1310, the last of the Romille line died and due to this, Edward 11 gifted the castle to Robert Clifford, who became Lord Clifford of Skipton and Guardian of Craven. Under his stewardship, many improvements were made to the castle fortifications. Clifford was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, by which time the improvements had barely been completed. The Scots forayed south in the Great Raid of 1322, but were no match for the newly strengthened castle, and could not breach its defences.

During the English Civil War, the castle, which was a staunchly Royalist stronghold, held off Cromwell’s invasion for 3 years! The occupants were finally forced into an “Honourable surrender” on 20th December 1645, after their food supply was exhausted and they were literally starved out!

Cromwell had his troops remove the rooves from the castle to prevent it being used again, following their surrender. It is rumoured that during the bombardment it received, sheep pelts were hung from castle walls to help deaden the impact of the canon fire on the structure. Which it is said, is why sheep fleeces are featured on the town’s coat of arms.

The Clifford family resided in Skipton as its principal seat until 1676, when Lady Anne Clifford was the last of her line to own it. After the war, she ordered that a yew tree be planted in the centre of the courtyard, in recognition of the castle’s repair. Her daughter, Lady Margaret Sackville married John Tufton, who was the 2nd Earl of Thanet. The castle was then passed down through his lineage and became the seat of Lord Hothfield in 1871.

The castle is a huge tourist attraction these days and hosts many events and celebrations. It is privately owned by the Fattorini family, who are wealthy jewellers from Bradford and bought it in 1956. It remains very well preserved and popular with old and young alike, with thousands visiting it every year. It also plays host to battle re-enactments, as well as popular local events and even a wedding or two!

During the mid to late 18th century, Yorkshire was a wealthy area built on the success of its mills. Bradford became the wealthiest city in Europe, but also places like Wakefield, and Leeds enjoyed similar success. The canal was built as a trade route for the purpose of transporting cloth. It was originally intended to go from Liverpool right through to Hull, but by the time the stage to Leeds was completed, steam locomotion was taking over, and it was no longer viable to complete the project.

Where does the name Skipton come from?

The name Skipton is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words “sceap” meaning sheep, and “tun” meaning town. It is listed in the Domesday Book as “Scepeton” and ever since that time, has formed the economic centre for the area known as Craven, and the Southern Yorkshire Dales.

It is now known as the “Gateway to the Dales”, as the Yorkshire Dales National Park starts from here. Because it has a strategic significance both economic, and as a stronghold with its impressive castle, in 1204 it was granted a Charter allowing weekly street markets where livestock, primarily sheep, and woollen goods could be sold.

To this day, the market still thrives and provides another attraction for residents and tourists alike. Nowadays, Skipton Market takes place on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Other markets are often granted for special occasions such as Bank Holidays and festivals. The type of goods has diversified over the years, but it is still just as important now as it has always been.

Skipton is now renowned for its wealth of small independent shops as well as the castle, markets and canal. There are lively bars and restaurants offering delicious homecooked fare, as well as live music venues and entertainment. It really is a great place to visit and a perfect base for exploring all that the Yorkshire Dales have to offer.

Skipton Castle Woods

Behind the amazingly popular Skipton castle, you can find Skipton Castle Woods, which is owned and maintained by the National Trust. It’s a gem of ancient woodland that has been lovingly preserved and enhanced by the trust and is easily accessible from the Skipton High Street.

It offers a beautiful walk taking you back through history, almost a thousand years! There is some amazing wildlife and various sculptures and works of rustic art. It really is worth a visit, but if it has been raining, take your boots!

The Birtwhistles of Craven and Galloway.

The Birtwhistle family are referenced on a large plaque on the southern wall of the aisle in Skipton Holy Trinity Parish Church at the top of Skipton High Street. It was installed by the grandson of John Birtwhistle 1725-1787 by one of his grandsons 60 years later in 1827. This can be seen detailed in the book about the family by the author Tony Stephens, entitled “The Birtwhistles of Craven and Galloway.” It spoke of them being Drovers, Industrialists, poets and spies!

Droving cattle, the art of getting them safely from one location to another, was a very lucrative profession towards the late 18th century and so much so, it influenced the landscape of the Craven district. The building of many of the dry-stone walls throughout the area was to accommodate the moving of cattle south from Scotland.

John Birtwhistle who was resident in Skipton around the mid 1880’s was one such drover and arranged for 20,000 cattle a year to be brought down from the Hibernian Highland hills to fairs on Malham Close nearby. The drovers were charged for grass their cattle consumed whilst at the fair. So, they would have timed the drive to arrive just prior to its start and get them there as speedily and efficiently as possible.

John was so successful at his speciality that he was able to purchase a good-sized freehold property at the bottom end of Skipton High Street. The yard behind it is to this day known as Birtwhistles Yard. He also managed to buy estates in Craven and at other strategic points along the route in order that he could move his cattle through the district on into Lincolnshire, then through East Anglia and on to their destination at market in London.

The reason for purchasing the land also had something to do with the increased value of fattened cows. Doing so could increase the value of cattle on the hoof by as much as 300% so it made very good business sense to do so! According to Tony in his fascinating biography, John Birtwhistle and his three sons who were also involved in the business were possibly the most successful of all the British drovers at the time and sustained the business for nearly three quarters of a century!

Much of the profit they made from the business was reinvested into other ventures helping to secure their place in history as significant industrialists in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. By the 1760’s he had done so well for himself and his family that John Birtwhistle was reportedly wealthy and a gentleman. He invested heavily in the Leeds to Liverpool canal helping to finance its construction.

Shortly before his demise John had a huge cotton mill built at Gatehouse of Fleet and the workers there were housed in mill cottages on Birtwhistle Street. The mill looms long since fell silent and it is now a visitor centre attracting many people to the area.

His sons owned many properties between them in England and Scotland. Alexander resided at Gatehouse of Fleet, while Robert had his home at Crakemoor Farm, Long Preston and William lived in a newly built house at the top of Skipton High Street that was completed in 1792. It was on a 40-year lease from Skipton Castle estate.

John Vardill who became John Birtwhistles’ son-in-law after marrying his daughter Agnes in Skipton 1778 was rewarded by King George lll for his great prowess as a spy! He was a key contributor to the war efforts with both France and America. His daughter Anna Jane Vardill (1771-1852) inherited a good deal of the estate and went on to become a prolific author in London.

One of her works was published in the European Magazine and it was written in the house on Skipton High Street while she was visiting a terminally ill William Birtwhistle.

As mentioned, this book is not confined to cattle on the hoof. John Vardill, who married Agnes, daughter of John Birtwhistle in Skipton in 1778, was one of Britain’s most enterprising spies, being rewarded by George III for his successes during Britain’s wars with France and America. His daughter, Anna Jane Vardill (1771-1852), who inherited much of the Birtwhistle estate in Craven, was a prolific writer in Regency London.

Her work included a clever feminist piece, published in the European Magazine. It had been written at the house in Skipton High Street in 1819. Anna was visiting a dying William Birtwhistle.

Birtwhistles Yard is now home to Town House Bed & Breakfast and Central Bed & Breakfast offering respite and hospitality to weary travellers of the modern era!

Thomas Spencer

Thomas Spencer was born in Skipton on 7 November 1851. At the age of 21 he moved to Leeds to work for a wholesaler by the name of Isaac Jowitt Dewhirst, where he was employed as a bookkeeper. He met Michael Marks, an immigrant who had travelled to England shortly before and had a stall in Leeds Kirkgate market.

When he met Michael Marks, he was persuaded to invest £300.00 to buy a 50% stake in his business. This was at the time, a large sum of money, but it led to what was to become a very successful business venture for the pair. He went to his employer, Dewhirst, who agreed to lend him the money.

Their partnership went on to become Marks & Spencer, whose motto in the early days was, “Don’t ask the price, it’s all a penny!”

Spencer, with his skills as a bookkeeper and organiser ran the office and warehouse, while Marks continued to run the market stalls. Spencer had developed some important contacts while working for Isaac Dewhirst and these allowed him to get the best prices for goods by dealing directly with the manufacturers


The canal wends its way through the centre of Skipton as it meanders gently along its way and proves a huge tourist attraction. There are regular boat trips from the centre of town organised by Pennine Cruises and Skipton Boat Trips, you can also hire a narrow boat from Snaygill Boats, who are based in Bradley, just outside of Skipton.

It is the starting point of the Lady Anne’s Way, which is a 100-mile long-distance walk to Penrith in Cumbria. The route takes in the castles that she owned and did her best to restore.

There are many areas of natural beauty surrounding Skipton which includes the likes of Bolton Abbey, Appletreewick, Burnsall, Malham, Aysgarth and many more. If you enjoy walking, photography, or just communing with the natural world, there are an abundance of places to visit and enjoy.

Townhouse B&B

Townhouse B&B hotel is a self-certified 3-star guest house with a perfect location next to Skipton town centre. It has 11 ensuite bedrooms of various types, all at highly competitive prices. It has a car park which is free for guests to use and forms a perfect base for exploring Skipton, Craven and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

There is easy access to Skipton High Street via a short footpath from the car park, so it is quite literally a 30-second walk! It can be accessed by car from Keighley Road (A 6131) opposite the bus station entrance, where the new “Sound Bar” is also located.

All prices are inclusive of a continental style breakfast which is provided in the rooms, but guests also have the option to add a delicious cooked one for a small supplement, by ordering in advance, during their stay.

All the rooms are fully featured and comfortable but offered on a “No frills” basis. The desirable location means the compromise of no views from the property, but with so much beauty on the doorstep, most guests seem more than happy with this.

The B&B has been under the same family ownership for the last 12 years, and has expanded from 3 rooms initially, to 11 now. You will always get a warm welcome and can take advantage of the local knowledge of the owner and staff, to enhance your visit to Skipton.

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