Inside Knaresborough, the pretty Yorkshire town that’s home to an iconic viaduct, quaint tea rooms, a ruined castle and the oldest chemist’s shop in England
- Andrew Martin gets nostalgic in Knaresborough, a town he used to visit as a boy
- He admires views of the River Nidd and tucks into tea and toasted tea-bread
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The railway station is a pretty, Victorian affair, occupying a niche in the hill rising from the River Nidd.
When I used to arrive there as a boy (a frequent occurrence, since I grew up in nearby York), there was always a family debate whether to walk first down to the riverside with its ice creams and rowing boats, or up towards the quaint shops and tea rooms of the town centre: a festive prospect in either direction, hence the dilemma.
Today, the station itself is an attraction, the buildings on Platform 2 having been adapted to accommodate a pub called the Track & Sleeper, an antique shop and the Old Ticket Office cafe, in which I started my most recent visit with an early lunch. After Earl Grey tea and a delicious toasted cheese sandwich, I told the proprietress, Doreen, that I was in Knaresborough for the first time in ten years. ‘Oh, people always come back,’ she said. ‘And it’s often the little things — to see the paddling pool in Bebra Gardens or the black-and-white houses.’
I passed two of those houses as I descended sleepy Water Bag Bank towards the Nidd; a further couple were visible as I reached Waterside.
Nobody quite knows why certain old houses in Knaresborough resemble 3-D chess boards. It’s speculated that some used to be cafes, the colour scheme a form of advertising.
Charming: Andrew Martin explores Knaresborough, which is home to a turreted limestone railway viaduct that ‘makes even the humble multiple units of Northern Trains look dignified as they traverse the river’
‘The railway station is a pretty, Victorian affair, occupying a niche in the hill rising from the River Nidd,’ writes Andrew
Many Knaresborough highlights are visible from Waterside. Rearing up from the river is the great limestone crag on which the ruined castle stands, and the locals are proud to be known as ‘crag rats’.
Most of the castle — apart from the keep which is open to the public — was demolished by Cromwell, the town having been a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War.
But it has had an afterlife, since many of the best Knaresborough houses are made of castle limestone.
The modern counterpart, so to speak, of the castle is the turreted limestone railway viaduct, star of many vintage railway posters, which makes even the humble multiple units of Northern Trains look dignified as they traverse the river.
Andrew reveals he had often gone rowing in Knaresborough in the mid-1970s
A little way beyond the viaduct await the red-and-green rowing boats for hire, operated by Blenkhorn’s Boats
A little way beyond the viaduct await the red-and-green rowing boats for hire, operated by Blenkhorn’s Boats. I told the attendant, Jacob, that I had often gone rowing in Knaresborough in the mid-1970s.
‘Then you’ll have been in one of these,’ he said, indicating the moored fleet. ‘They were built in 1971,’ which is the recent past for Blenkhorn’s, since they’ve been offering red-and-green boats on the Nidd since 1881.
I crossed to the opposite side of the river, where the park is dedicated Mother Shipton, (1488-1561), a soothsayer who made a variety of predictions, such as the Great Fire of London.
‘Nobody quite knows why certain old houses in Knaresborough resemble 3-D chess boards,’ Andrew says of the town’s black-and-white buildings
A doorway to Knaresborough Castle
The park accommodates the spooky cave where Mother Shipton was reputedly born and the waterfall where, for a couple of hundred years, tourists have been suspending objects to be petrified by the minerals in the water; one stony lump was originally a Victorian bonnet.
After re-crossing the river, I ascended, through the exotic planting of Bebra Gardens, towards the elegant Market Place, where stands the oldest chemist’s shop in England.
Since 1997, it has actually been a sweet shop, with a cafe on the endearingly buckled first floor, where I ordered a very Yorkshire combo — tea and toasted tea-bread. Then back to the station for a pint in the surprisingly posh Track & Sleeper.
As my train puttered over the viaduct to Leeds, I resolved not to leave it another ten years before revisiting this town.
Doubles B&B at The Teardrop Cottage from £110 per night (teardropcottage.com).
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