Richmond is a town unlike others, a place unique, rich in relics of the past. It is too good to be passed by. Alfred Wainwright.
Richmond is a small market town in North Yorkshire, on the edge of the Dales, and if you believe what you read in Lonely Planet guides, then it is one of the great undiscovered towns of England as far as visitors are concerned. This might be a little odd when you consider the popularity of the Dales and that the proximity of the town to the A1 (just 4 miles away) makes it easily accessible as a day trip location from a large part of the North East and Yorkshire. Indeed, I travelled down from Newcastle for the day (lured by the promise of a living history event) and it took me little more than an hour to find the town, although it unfortunately felt like it took me the same amount of time to find a parking space once actually there! Richmond was certainly busy, but not as heaving with visitors as I would have expected given the location and the fine July Saturday that I was there.
Founded in 1071, the town grew up around the castle that was built on the riche-mont or strong hill that is today at the centre of the place; this rock gave its name to first the castle, then the Norman Lord who constructed it (the Earl of Richmond) and finally to the town itself. The extensive triangular promontory dominates the town and surrounding landscape of gently rolling hills and valleys, making it an ideal position for the Earl to control the area and reflect the Kings power in the north (apparently those northern peasants could get terribly rebellious). Unusually for the period, Richmond castle was built entirely out of stone and did not use the more common method of earth ramparts, as the stone hill could support such a massive structure and offered sufficient defensive capabilities to make earth banks unnecessary. It is because of this that the castle is one of the most complete and impressive Norman castles in England and perhaps also why legend has it as one of the places where King Arthur is supposedly buried.
The castle was the major reason that drew me to visiting Richmond; apart from getting my moneys worth out of my English Heritage membership, it gave me the opportunity to explore a castle that I had never been to before (there cant be many more now!) and attending a Norman themed living history event while there. Finding the castle (once you have succeeded in parking your car) is very easy as the hill is the most obvious landmark in Richmond, but there are also some friendly pedestrian street signs to help you along the way. English Heritage members get in for free, but otherwise it costs £3.60 for adults, £2.70 concessions and £1.80 for children (events may entail further costs, but these are usually in the region of £1.50 to £3 and in my experience are worth the extra money as they can really enhance your visit). Details about forthcoming events can be found on the English Heritage website, for which I give the link at the end of this review. It is open all year round, except for Christmas, from 10am.
Once inside, I would recommend your first port of call being the brand new exhibition Castle, Commerce and Conscience in the visitor centre to give you a bit of background to the building it is more interesting than it sounds, honest! This exhibition manages the difficult task of explaining how and why the castle was built, who lived there, the relationship between town and castle and the later history of the site (notably as a jail for the Richmond 16, absolutist conscientious objectors from the First World War) in a manner that manages to be interesting and informative without patronising the reader.
The dominant structure in the castle is the 100 feet high keep, well worth a climb if you are fit enough. From the top of the tower you can get breathtaking (literally after all those steps) views over the scenic Swaledale countryside and Richmond town. The tower itself is a functional square shape, nothing spectacular to look at admittedly, but it was built with military rather than residential needs in common the Earl and his family already had comfortable living quarters elsewhere in the castle by the time the keep was finished. Indeed, Richmond castle is unique in England in having two keeps, and it is in this second lower keep that the Earl was securely housed. Interpretation in the castle was pretty much what you might expect from a site such as this: coloured text panels plonked in the ground at important places to help you understand the ruins you are seeing. What you might not expect, however, is the Castle Cockpit Garden, a newly laid out contemporary garden below the lower keep, drawing its inspiration from the dramatic history of the site. The garden was commissioned by English Heritage in 2000 and forms a curious, if somewhat eclectic, addition to the site.
Overall, the castle is well worth a visit, but do be warned that visitor facilities are not brilliant: the toilets were ancient and not especially pleasant, there is no on-site parking (which means paying for one of the local Pay & Display car parks, not economical at £5 for the day) and the only on-site refreshments were soft drinks and ice creams. Oh dear, that will mean having to have lunch out in town
The town itself is very attractive; the Georgian era was very prosperous for this area, and as a result Richmond abounds in many fine buildings and a large cobbled marketplace that in many ways reminded me of Durham. (The Prince of Wales disagrees with me on this point: he thinks it is reminiscent of Sienna, apparently ). The local Tourist Information Centre does offer free guided walks to visitors to show the best the town has to offer, but unfortunately these only run on Sundays (2.15pm from outside the Centre), so I was left to my own devices in exploring the place. While some of the shops and tearooms are a little bit too quaint and touristy for my liking, there should be something to suit all tastes in the abundant restaurants, cafes and foody pubs in this area. Indeed, Saturdays also offer the market itself (there is also a local farmers market every third Saturday), so this offers more opportunity for shopping and eating!
With lunch out of the way, I felt the need to walk off all I had eaten, and decided to visit the other local English Heritage site at Easby Abbey. Easby is about a mile and a half away from central Richmond, on the South East edge of the town, making it a comfortable walk that is much preferable to driving to the site along narrow country roads. The route takes you along footpaths that follow the River Swale, first through a very well maintained park, and then the fields and woods that surround the town honestly, within a short while you find it hard to believe that you are so close to urban settlement, as it becomes so peaceful and quiet. The walk would be much improved with some better maintenance of the footpaths, however. I get the impression that some are not used very often, and this seems to have been an excuse to let them get overgrown with brambles and nettles. Please bear this in mind if you are planning on using them: good footwear was essential for some of the rougher stretches.
Historically speaking, there is not a huge amount to see at the abbey. It was the site of an order of Pre-monstratensian monks dating from the mid-12th century and must once have been of substantial size and importance, but little remains of the buildings now and unfortunately English Heritage offers nothing in the way of interpretation of the site to guide the inexpert visitor. However, on the plus side, it is completely free entry for everyone and it is in the most wonderfully tranquil site as few other people seem to want to brave the footpaths and visit! I would recommend it as an excellent place to relax or take a picnic, however. It is open from 10am daily to 4pm (Winter) or 6pm (Summer).
Of course, there was plenty else to see and do in Richmond, but on a day trip this was what I managed to cram in. If you have longer to visit, you may want to go to Richmondshire Museum I hear they have the original surgery set from All Creatures Great and Small, the popular James Herriot TV series, on display there! I enjoyed my visit on the whole; it was not the cheapest day out, but I managed to fit it two of my favourite activities (country walking and visiting historic sites) into one day out, and got a good lunch into the bargain, so I am not complaining. Yes, the transport/parking situation could do with some improvement, but I suspect that is the case in a lot of small market towns that simply were not built to cope with modern volumes of traffic. Incidentally, if you are car-less, the nearest train station is 12 miles away in Darlington, from where you can catch the bus into Richmond. Well worth a day trip if you are in the area.
Recommended. Especially for history or walking enthusiasts!
- Further Information:
Richmond Tourist Information: www.richmond.org.uk
Richmond Castle: www.english-heritage.org.uk/server.php?show=conProperty.376
Easby Abbey: www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/conProperty.364
Ah, the area of my birth and upbringing. And when I was asked where I came from and replied 'Richmond' I was always greeted with 'You don't sound like you're from Surrey'. Well that's because I'm not - I'm from the original. There is a famous song in the area 'Lass of Richmond Hill' - not about me though! How do I get to Richmond? --------------------------------- Richmond is situated in North Yorkshire just off the A1 approx': 49 miles North-West of York 52 miles South of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The nearest train station is Darlington (approx 13 miles away) from which there are regular buses to Richmond Town Centre. The nearest airport is Teesside International Airport (approx 17 miles away) Car parking in Richmond can get very busy, especially in the height of summer. The town is based around a large Market Square where there is limited car parking on a time limit. There is a pay and display car park called 'Nun's Close' which is signposted and this is a five minute walk from the Market Square. Closer to Market Square is the cobbled avenue 'Newbiggin' which has car parking but this soon fills up with residents of Newbiggin and people working in the town. Cobbles - there's lots of them in Richmond, lovely to look at, awful to walk on - be sure to wear comfy shoes and if you are pushing a pram or a wheelchair be aware the market place is not only cobbled but on a hill so you may want a third shredded wheat that morning. On foot - hikers will often pass through Richmond and the surrounding area as it is on the popular coast-to-coast walking route. There a many well signposted walks in the area - arm yourself with an OS map and contact the Richmond Tourist Office for further information. As I said in the opening it was the place of my upbringing. Admittedly as a stroppy teenage I didn't
much relish living in Richmond. A few years older and now living in the Midlands I hope I'm objective enough to give to you a review that will help you visit the area so will be basing the opinion from a tourist viewpoint as opposed to a (former) resident. Even though it's not the Surrey one, I think I've heard of it? ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Well you may have, especially in the run up to the election as Richmond is the parliament constituency of one William Hague. But Richmond has more claims to fame. It is often referred to as the gateway to the Dales - the rural area of the North Yorks famed for sheep farming but even more famous under the title of 'Herriot Country'. This is the area where the James Herriot books were based and was used to film the popular BBC series. Indeed my claim to fame is an episode was filmed on my grandparents fame - very exciting especially when you're four years old! As such you will see many references to James Herriot and merchandise on sale though the James Herriot Museum is based in Thirsk 26 miles south of Richmond. And James Herriot wasn't the only production to use Richmond and the area as a base. The television adaptation of 'A Woman of Substance' was also filmed here starring an up and coming young actor by the name of Liam Neeson? So, does it have anything to do with Surrey? ----------------------------------------------------- This Richmond has been settled since the pre-historic times but took the name Richmond when the Normans invaded in 1066 when they named it "Riche-Mont" which means 'Strong Hill'. William the Conqueror gave a large extent of land here to Alan Rufus of Brittany who began building the Castle in 1071 (wow I did listen in school history lessons?) Well down the history timeline one of Henry VII's titles was 'Earl of Richmon
d' and he re-named his palace in Surrey after here hence the Richmond in Surrey. Now there's 57 Richmonds worldwide but this was the first. Oh, there's a Castle? --------------------------- Indeed one of the towns most famous landmarks is the Norman castle. The castle is on the edge of the market place and there is a charge to look round it but it is well worth the price. The Castle is made from local stone and forms a large, triangular shape with an extensive now grassed centre the correct term for which I cannot remember (I take it back, I didn't listen in school history lessons). The outer buildings are semi-ruined but a number of rooms remain intact including the chapel but without doubt the most impressive part of the Castle is its complete 100ft square keep. It is immense to the point once inside you rather feel like Alice in Wonderland after she took the shrinking potion. The spacious rooms give you the true feeling of what a grand castle this one was. Do be aware all the stairs are stone and worn so take care when going up them and watch young children carefully. If you are unfazed by heights do climb to the top of the keep for breath taking views of Richmond and the surrounding area. Due to its large layout and many rooms it is a wonderful place to take children who will be mesmerized by the area. Richmond Castle also has an interesting modern history. In the first World War it was used as a camp to hold conscientious objectors many of whom were local Methodists. Their 'graffiti' can still be seen on the walls. Today Richmond Castle often holds Medieval pageants and re-enactment's as well as the popular Bonfire Night fireworks display. Contact the tourist office or see the Richmond website (www.richmond.org.uk) for further details. There is a small shop at the castle entrance selling heritage memorabilia and books. An excellent view of th
e castle is obtained by walking down by the Swale, the river that runs by the castle and head up the hill on the opposite bank - keen photographers be sure to have your camera with you. So what else is there in the market place? --------------------------------------------------- Well the market place is the hub of Richmond and apart from those cobbles is marked by the large, Georgian obelisk, market cross which incidentally is also where the buses drop off and pick up though this is constantly being debated and is subject to be moved. The centre of the square is dominated by Trinity church and Green Howard's museum which commemorates the local Green Howard's regiment and is worth visiting if you have an interest in military affairs. Richmond is close to Catterick Garrison which held 5000 German prisoners of war during the first world war and is now one of the army's leading training centres. The market place is surrounding by many buildings from the Georgian period which replaced the earlier Medieval buildings. I have always found the symmetries of Georgian architecture very bold and attractive and despite their grand size the market place has retained a spacious feel. Just off the market place is the Richmondshire Museum which will give you a good background to the town's history and development. The majority of buildings in the market place as you would expect are business buildings and this area comprises of the main shopping area. Ok, where can I spend my money? ------------------------------------------ As a former resident I must echo the often held argument that Richmond's shopping leaves a lot to be desired. It is true to say that local business initiatives are in place but as of the moment there is a glut of estate agents, second hand shops and bakeries. There are the usual town centre shops - a newsagents, small supermarkets, a Woolworths, A Boots, a hardware-style stor
e but nothing to make you desperate to part with your money I'm afraid. There are a number of independent shops but the general consensus is Richmond is not a great shopping centre. If you are going to part with your money local specialties include woolen garments, superb cheeses and other locally produced foods. In recent years a large Co-op supermarket has been built next to the Friary Gardens which is a stones throw from the market place and the argument prevails whether this is a good thing or not for the town - whichever way you decide, too late now, it's there. There are a number of major banks situated in the market place including Barclays, Natwest, Yorkshire and HSBC. In and around the market place there are a number of small tea rooms, Indian and Chinese restaurants and a number of take-away sandwich shops/bakeries. The tea rooms are particularly popular with tourists and can get very busy. There is one major hotel in the market place - the eighteenth century Kings Head. Where else could I stay? ----------------------------- The most popular choice for staying in the area is the abundance of guest houses and bed & breakfasts. For individual contacts see the Richmond Website. For the self-caterer there are many holiday cottages in and around Richmond for rent. Just outside of Richmond is Scotch Corner which houses a large hotel as well as two smaller motels just off the A1. And if I need to quench my thirst? ---------------------------------------------- Richmond has a huge array of pubs. As a rule the centre of Richmond is lets say, boisterous on an evening out and generally caters for the younger end of the market. There are no nightclubs as such though there are currently plans to develop one in the old post office building, the nightlife culture revolves around the pubs with people traveling to Catterick, Darlington, Northallerton or further afield for
clubs. If you are looking for a more relaxed evening out I would recommend you loom tot he out lying village pubs many of which specialise in bar meals for a more quaint evening. The nearest cinema is in Darlington. What if I feel like being a culture vulture? --------------------------------------------------- Richmond is home to the Georgian theatre, a tiny and complete, well um, Georgian theatre! It is one of the few left in the country and remains active, often visited by well-known actors and performers. Due to its small scale, it really is tiny, the productions tend to be more of the arthouse and single performer acts than your larger theatre, touring plays. The intimate interior is in dark, Georgian style, the stalls are somewhat uncomfortable and are surrounded by the rather plusher boxes - go on, be Royal for a night. So how long will the centre of Richmond take me to investigate? --------------------------------------------------------------------------- In honesty this is rather hard for me to answer having lived there but I doubt there is no more than two days worth within Richmond itself for the tourist however there are more attractions in the surrounding areas. Like? ------ Close to Richmond, a good 20 mins walk for the fit, hop in the car if your me ;-), is Easby Abbey which was laid to ruin by Henry VIII when he had his tiff with the Catholic church. The layout of the Abbey remains intact and it is an excellent place for hide and seek (I never claimed to be mature). Next to the Abbey is the Medieval Church which is worth looking in as it has retained its Medieval decorated walls. Unfortunately as with many churches in the land it is not always unlocked due to the threat of vandalism. As I mentioned before Richmond is known as the gateway to the Dales and the road out leads up the valleys of Swaledale. The road leading to Swaledale is fast
but deceiving so take care when driving and be aware that it is a working farming area so expect the unexpected! Swaledale is a sheep farming area and excuse me for being biased but Swaledale sheep are the best in the land - oh yes they are! Travelling up through Swaledale there is breath-taking scenery, the backdrop to the Herriot series. Villages include Reeth, Healaugh (pronounced Hee-law), Low Row, Gunnerside, Muker, Keld before going into next dale Wensleydale. Swaledale has an interesting Viking history with many of the place names being devised from Norse settlements. There are a number of pubs, tea rooms and small gift shops on the way and my advice is arm yourself with information from the tourist information office in Richmond beforehand to plan what you would like to see and to acquaint yourself with the public rights of way. As with any rural area and especially in light of the foot and mouth outbreak be on top of the countryside code. During summer there are a number of rural shows which are worth visiting. These shows comprise of the livestock showing where the best of breed are judged. Excuse the smug look but my family won a fair few of these in their time and you would not believe the work that went into them Oh yes farmers look all down to earth and tough but when it comes to their prize sheep they are as soft as muck and they won't thank me for saying that. The shows also showcase the best of local crafts and produce. Once again, check with the tourist office for details of dates and venues. Within easy reach of Richmond are a number of other towns and attractions listed on dooyoo such as Leyburn, Bolton Castle etc but is just as good to visit the south of Durham including areas such as Darlington -a must for those with an interest in the history of the railways. Durham City is little over half an hour away with its superb Cathedral, Castle and University buildings. Is Richmond a
good base for a holiday? -------------------------------------- Richmond is an excellent base for touring the Dales area which will be of particular interest to those who enjoy rural backdrops and early English history. There are a large number of walking and cycle opportunities, rural craft centres and lifestyle. It can get busy in high summer and is popular as a day visit with many people including coach tours. I would not suggest Richmond as a base for touring the coastal area of Yorkshire of the Vale of York unless you happy to do plenty of driving though if you are doing a 'Yorkshire multi-centre' tour it is well worth considering putting two or three days aside for this part of North Yorkshire.