A Dickens of a time in Grassington

By Johanna Bradley, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Grassington.

Overall rating:5.0 out of 5 (based on 5 votes)
Recommended for:
Family, Romance, Short Break, Budget, Mid-range

I've lost my heart to Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales! This small town with a village atmosphere celebrates Christmas unashamedly, appealing to the child in me as I join in the torch-lit procession

I’d previously only known Grassington as a base for walking in summer, but this year I had a treat in store. I had timed my arrival to perfection, just after the first spell of severe winter weather. The organ grinder on the corner of Main Street heralded the joys to come - the 29th Grassington Dickensian Festival was under way.

Charcoal braziers filled the air with the scent of roasting chestnuts, almonds and cashews sweetened with honey too. I drifted through the crowds, sniffing appreciatively and trying to decide where to spend my money.  A mental note was made of the mulled wine stalls, and the coffee and hot chocolates variously spiked with brandy or Baileys to ward off the chill after sunset.  A particularly luscious-looking chocolate tart, with raspberries, I just knew would call me back.

A breath of fresh air

It was a glorious day and knowing I had time in hand I opted for a short walk first. The heart of the village is only two streets wide and is best seen on a less crowded day, with the help of a booklet titled “One hundred things to see on a walk through Grassington”. At £1.50 this great little book is available throughout the village, in the pubs, and wherever a poster appears in a shop window.  It benefits local charities.

I retraced my steps to the bridge and took the grassy path alongside the River Wharfe in the direction of Hebden. The thaw in progress, the river was swollen and tumultuous with melt water. Sun glinting and sparkling, it drew people to just stand and stare.  This is former corn mill territory, the power of the water harnessed to good use.  Crossing over Tin Bridge, pause in the viewing area for a close up of Linton Falls. You can continue on to Linton Church and Mill, but in December the days are short and the Fair was calling me back. Steadily uphill on The Flags will bring you back to the village - stop to catch your breath and some beautiful views.

Time now to amble round the stalls, nibbling, slurping and enjoying the street theatre. Mummers improvise brilliantly, drawing the crowd in, their banter and dodgy jokes so very British. Though small, Grassington punches above its weight in shops and cafes. Many of the shops are former cottages and brimming with character. My favourites are Gemini, for crafts and jewellery, and Rustic Rabbit, for every sparkly Christmas thing you can think of.  Both are on Main Street.  Cobblestone Café on the main square, and part of a corn mill 400 years ago, was extremely popular, and I have to say that I never saw longer queues for a Fish Shop in my life than at 6 Garrs Lane.  Festival aside, I don't think this would be a place to go hungry.

The event is largely about raising money for charity and as I stand on the steps of the Black Horse Hotel I am gently accosted by a group of young men in the guise of kings and shepherds - “20p to kiss a shepherd?  Or a wise man?  A beard has to be worth more?” They’ve been manning the stalls all day and have come for a quick pint before joining in the procession.

The atmosphere builds as the sun drops below the hills, flooding the sky with crimson. At 4 o'clock sharp, the torches are lit and we all move off, following Mary and Joseph. We call at each of the town's three hostelries, only to be told “no room at the inn”. The crowd gives a collective sigh at each announcement, and a wry smile at each other.  Then it’s back to the manger in the Square for carols. 

Suddenly it’s all over and the traders are packing away their stalls.  During the day there are queues to enter many of the shops, so now is a good time to have a closer look, as people drift away. I headed into the Foresters Arms, where an impromptu concert had started - fine and practised village voices singing all the old Christmas favourites.  Never had I felt more welcome in a village.

No room at the inn?

I have a dilemma here - I didn’t actually stay the night, though I wished in retrospect that I had.  All three public houses offer accommodation.

The Devonshire Hotel on Main Street offers seven newly refurbished double en-suite rooms, including one with a four poster bed, from £70 per night, 3 nights for the price of 2 till March 2011.  You can also get a cracking 2 course meal here for £7.50 on a dinnertime or £8.50 in the evening. The corned beef hash, pickled beetroot and red cabbage with crusty bread was right up my street.

The Black Horse Hotel on Garrs Lane has 15 en suites, at 2 nights for £80, and £30 each night thereafter. The roaring fire, the friendliness of the staff and the fact that the “shepherds” used it as their local won me over and this would be a place I would like to try.  Dating from the 17th century it is also the oldest of the inns.

And then there is The Foresters Arms, 20 Main St., where I was serenaded in style. Seven en suites are also available here, £70 per night per double, £60 for 3 nights or more.

If you're here for a special occasion Grassington can also offer 5-star luxury.  Grassington House Hotel is truly beautiful, with immaculate rooms and an award-winning chef.  The doubles are deluxe and are upwards of £90.  It's often possible to get a really decent price for an off-season midweek break.

The area is outstandingly beautiful, and repays a visit at any time. Grassington lies on the Dales Way, which stretches 80 miles, from Ilkley to Bowness-on-Windermere, and also on the 130 mile long Dales Cycle Way (www.dalesway.org.uk and www.cyclethedales.org.uk). Bikes can be hired locally.  In addition to the Dickensian Fair, there is a Festival of Music and Arts in mid-June (www.grassington-festival.org.uk).

Transport is obviously an issue when the festival is taking place, though it is as highly organised as any I have seen. Park and ride operates from outside of town, and the large coach station makes it relatively easy for day trippers. That said, it would be wonderful to spend some time in this heady atmosphere, and maybe even combine it with a visit to nearby Skipton's Yuletide Festival. The festival takes place on three consecutive Saturdays each December, and at Skipton on the Sundays.

However, or whenever, you decide to come, do please purchase the booklet - it includes an extended version of my walk, and many fascinating details which will really enhance your visit and give a little bit back to the community at the same time.

P.S If you visit www.grassington.uk.com  there's a lovely little video which will give you a flavour of the Festival and other details besides.


Finally gave in to the urge to continue writing and set up a blog, despite being technically challenged in the extreme. You can follow my continuing exploits on http://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/a-day-out-on-the-wensleydale-...

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More information on A Dickens of a time in Grassington:

Johanna Bradley
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 5 (5 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
30 December 2010
Last updated:
3 years 24 weeks 1 day 1 hour 42 min 30 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Family, Romance, Short Break
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
walking, festivals, food and drink, Christmas, Fairs, nativity

Johanna recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. The Black Horse Hotel
2. Grassington House Hotel
3. The Devonshire Hotel
4. The Foresters Arms

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Community comments (9)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I could almost smell the chestnuts and mulled wine - great writing
BUT did you go back for the chocolate tart?!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I really enjoyed reading this! It sounds like the kind of place I would love to visit, not only for the festival but at any time of year. You lured me in right at the start with evocative description of the chestnuts and hot chocolate. mmmmm.
Thanks for the guide.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

What a lovely festive guide! I think you captured the atmosphere perfectly because once I watched the little video you attached I felt that your words went along with the pictures. Your guide is wonderfully descriptive, so this makes it very easy to imagine what it is like in Grassington.

All of the practical stuff is there to help plan a visit- great hotel write ups. Thank you also for the information about the Dales Cycle Way. I didn't know about this and I am always looking for new places to take my bike.

Just wondering how easy it is to get there with public transport. Where is the nearest train station?

This guide made me wonder if the site should also have a “Christmas” category in the “Inspiration” section. I think that travel at Christmas- German markets and such like- is popular enough to consider this.

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Thanks Colin- you know how sometimes when you've really enjoyed a place it kind of shines through in the guide- well, that's always the intent, isn't it? Glad you liked it.
Been doing some quick research for you- nearest station is at Skipton, a lovely market town, on the canals. I stayed here once many years ago so can't remember accom. details but it has a great castle.
There are links to Skipton or to Ilkley from Leeds and bikes travel free, no need to book. You can also link with the Leeds-Carlisle service if you want to do Settle, as I know you like trains too. You see, I'm setting up another guide for you already- all part of the service!
Seriously, it's well worth a bike tour- you just need to fit it in!
Good idea about the Christmas guides- have you suggested it in the forum?

Thanks Johanna! Plenty of info for me to be getting on with. I have put forward the Christmas category suggestion to the forum

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

A very good guide Johanna which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Lots of useful tips and recommendations and I especially liked some of the description i.e. 'tumultuous with melt water' and how you brought to life the festival atmosphere in your guide. Lovely!

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Thanks Suzanne- it's a lovely place.Yet another to add to your list of travels?

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Johanna

I love Grassington although I've never been there for the Christmas fun - sounds great and your photos certain speak a thousand words.

The Devonshire Hotel is certain good for food, and although it's been a while sice I've stayed there, the rooms are clean, large and certainly central.

Can you believe I even recognise one of the gentlemen in your photos (the town crier in the second one!)


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Thanks for the 5 Paul- it means a lot.
This world gets smaller and smaller doesn't it? I'll probably bump into you on Palace Green tonight.