A mighty castle,a huge cobbled market place,an original Georgian theatre where you can appear onstage,walks beside the tumbling brown River Swale- fine ingredients for a special break,don't you think?
Richmond is a charming old Yorkshire Dales market town, rich in architecture and history, and surrounded by the beautiful countryside of Swaledale in North Yorkshire.
Founded by the Normans in 1071, the town grew up around the sturdy castle built on the riche mont or strong hill from which it takes its name. The castle keep towers 100 feet above the town, its walls 11 feet thick. Built to keep out the marauding Scots, these days they can come in, for a small fee! The clash of swords can still be heard on a regular basis at battle reenactments and medieval weaponry displays organized by English Heritage. Normal adult entry is £4.50, more when events take place, and it's worth noting that opening is 10-4pm but not Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Winter. www.english-heritage.org.uk/richmond
A path hugs the castle walls, with fine views down to the River Swale. You will be magnetised by the Falls, with their churning chocolate coloured water, especially spellbinding after heavy rain. It’s always a bit of a haul back up, unless you follow the riverside across The Batts (strangely, no sign of a cricket pitch). Return to town via Frenchgate, named for foreign workers who once occupied this part of town, probably whilst helping to build the castle.
Across the Market Place, Friars Wynd leads you through one of two remaining medieval gateways. Wynds are numerous in Richmond and are narrow lanes usually linking two wider streets. The name means to spiral in Old English and is fairly common in The Dales.
On your left stands one of Richmond's architectural triumphs, The Georgian Theatre Royal, built in 1788. It’s a fully operational Georgian playhouse, but also a modern theatre museum. Book a museum tour to experience that moment of magic when you step out onto the stage via the back wall of the theatre. A Thunderbox hanging from the ceiling recreates with a pull of the rope the sound effects of a rowdy Georgian audience. Not always complimentary!
The tiny theatre is a delight and showcases every conceivable form of entertainment, from comedy with Ruby Wax, the Jazz Festival, a production by Richmonds Operatic Society and, of course, panto. (This year The Adventures of Sinbad from 8th Dec) Tours are hourly from 10am till 4pm, box office and programme of events on www.georgiantheatre.com, tel 01748 825252.
Opposite the theatre the very friendly Tourist Information office is situated on the edge of colourful Friary Gardens with its 15th Century Franciscan bell tower. It’s a great town for strolling in, finds on every corner- unmissable lilac Fudgemakers on Frenchgate, or Christmas House, with its pretty doorway, and a plaque saying John Wesley preached nearby.
For chilly days The Green Howards Museum in the former Trinity Church on Market Place supplies a wealth of surprisingly interesting Regimental history. Open year round except for December, January and Sundays, admission is a modest £3.50 www.greenhowards.org.uk Just across the road, the Market Hall usually rewards a bit of a snoop- mostly crafts, anything from dolls house furniture to antique jewellery.
Make time for the Drummer Boy Walk if you can. In the 18th Century some soldiers discovered a small opening to a tunnel beneath the Castle Keep. It was just big enough for the poor regimental Drummer Boy to be lowered down. He was told to follow the tunnel, beating his drum as he went. The sound could be clearly heard by the soldiers above, who followed his steps across the Market Place and off in the direction of Easby Abbey. Inexplicably the drumming stopped about half a mile before the Abbey. He was never seen or heard from again. Today a Stone marks the spot where he disappeared, but you can continue on to the ruins of Easby Abbey, dating from 1155. The walk returns along the opposite bank of the River Swale, especially lovely in Autumn, following the former railway bed back to The Station.
Time to eat
The Station is another of those renovations at which Richmond excels. From the outside just an old-fashioned railway station, the inside reveals a huge glass roofed space with the Seasons Restaurant at its heart. The chocolate fudge brownie was possibly the best I have ever eaten. Normally a "sensible" eater, I dived straight past the array of paninis, salads and burgers to indulge in pure sin. The Seasons describes itself as having an ever changing feast and judging by the Christmas menu I really couldn't argue. Snacks start at £4 ( The Station, Station Yard, Station Rd., Richmond tel 01748 825340 www.restaurant-seasons.co.uk )
Superb Thomas the Tank Engine original signed illustrations rather aptly occupied the elevated exhibition space when we were there. Exhibitions change frequently. There’s a wonderfully evocative Heritage Room, telling numerous stories of Richmond Station before it was closed 40 years ago; also a 2-screen cinema. Specialist shops demonstrate cheese-making, brewing, icecream and patisserie and lead to an outside patio. It really is the perfect place to dally at the end of your walk.
Impossible to miss in the Market Place, The Kings Head Hotel does a good range of sandwiches, quesadillas and wraps from £4-5 as well as providing a great lookout on this hub of activity. Ample space inside this Georgian property too.( www.kingsheadrichmond.co.uk 01748 850220)
A simple tearoom with a bit of a pig-theme going on, Trotters do good paninis and mains very reasonably. (Also on the Market Place though the official address is 4 Trinity Church Square tel 01748 826707)
La Piazza 2 looks very grand- newly opened it describes itself as cosmopolitan, comfortable and carefree. La Piazza 1 in the Market Place was a success but I'll reserve judgement till I've tried this- anyone been already? (Dundas St., tel 01748 825008)
The “Ivory Tower”
A confession to make- it’s real title is the Culloden Tower, but the Ivory Tower is so much more romantic. Built in 1746 and named in honour of the defeat of the Jacobites in that year, it's sited on an old pele tower. The views to Richmond Castle are superb and it's an extraordinary building comprised of two tall octagonal rooms and a roof terrace. There are 66 steps to the bedroom via a steep spiral staircase- not for the faint-hearted. Compared in the logbook to “staying in a large Wedgwood vase”, the property is owned and rented out by Landmark Trust, from £400 for 4 nights in Winter. Not cheap, but what price romance? Access is via a gate off Tower Green and a steep climb, so don't bring too much luggage. Restoration is currently ongoing to open up a country walk to the rear of the property, for completion in December. (The Landmark Trust)
Millgate House is a well loved and certainly less challenging option for the legs. In season the beautiful award-winning walled garden is opened to the public (1st April-21st October, daily 10-5), the house itself lovingly furnished in period style. Guests have full access to the garden, and the house looks down upon the river and falls. Bed with an excellent breakfast comes in at £110 per night for 2. (Millgate House, Millgate, Richmond)
Getting there and handy bits
Most people would arrive by car and the approach to Richmond is signed off the A1 between Scotch Corner and Catterick. The nearest mainline station is Darlington, 12 miles away and a bus runs every 15 minutes (X26, X27) taking just half an hour. www.arrivabus.co.uk
You can get about in the Dales by bus with planning and the help of www.dalesbus.org.uk. Services are more frequent in the Summer, when Wensleydale Vintage Tour Bus can be your mode of transport. There's also has a link to the charismatic Wensleydale Railway. The T.I in Richmond and the website www.richmond.org.uk have plentiful information including the Drummer Boy Walk.
With more time to spare I could heartily recommend the villages of Reeth and Middleham, where there's another fine castle and Wynds to explore.Then there's lovely Thorpe Perrow Arboretum and the Forbidden Corner garden. Kiplin Hall, the other side of the A1, is a great place for afternoon tea in a grand setting. www.kiplinhall.co.uk Short break? I think maybe you need a week.