If the Pennines are the backbone of England, then surely the A65 is one of its arteries. From the heart of the great city of Leeds to Kendal on the verge of the Lake District, it passes through a fascinating mix of Northern urban landscapes and some of the loveliest countryside.
Yet the folk who live around this vital – and frankly sometimes dangerous – old road tend to use it as a kind of escape route to hurry out of the area and go somewhere else for their recreational pursuits. They’re making a big mistake, for this road connects some wonderful Northern attractions that are well worth slowing down and stopping for, or making a detour off the main road.
The journey from Leeds leads us up the Aire Valley – keeping a careful lookout for all the speed-trap cameras – to Skipton, hailed as ‘Gateway to the Dales” and now bypassed by the heavy traffic on the A65. It’s still very busy in town, and that’s no surprise.
People travel the length and breadth of the country to visit this charming Yorkshire market town, with its 11th century Castle, ancient parish church, bustling street market and wealth of individual shops and special visitor events throughout the year.
Named from its origins as ‘sheep town’, Skipton has a thriving variety of shops, ranging from the little boutiques and food shops in the side streets and alleys, to the new development off High Street an the award-winning Craven Court, a Victorian-style indoor shopping centre created from an area of old alleys, shops, workshops and a ‘haunted’ former theatre. There are nearly 30 stores ranging from national names such as Laura Ashley and H Samuel to small independent retailers.
Skipton’s shops are complemented by the market, held four days a week on the high street’s stone setts, attracting coachloads of visitors.
If shopping isn’t your thing, you can follow the town’s Millennium Walk round historical sites, a enjoy a stroll from the Canal Basin, where Leeds and Liverpool canalside buildings have a new life as shops and eateries, and along the Springs Branch of the canal which runs beneath the castle ramparts into Skipton Woods. You can take a ride on a canal board or hire one for yourself.
Heading just four miles northwards, you come to Gargrave, where both the A65 and the Aire go right through the heart of one of the largest villages in the Craven District. With its pubs, shops, cafes, tourist accommodation, picturesque byways and a touch of history, the village is well worth a visit at any time of year and is an excellent centre for touring the Yorkshire Dales.
Heading north again, the road takes you through Hellifield, which was a mere hamlet until the 19th century, when the textile industry grew up and the new railway lines northwards from Leeds and Blackburn turned Hellifield into a sizeable railway village. The distinctive canopied railway station, with the Midland Railway’s symbolic wyvern in the ironwork, has been rescued and renovated after years of decline, is now an attraction in its own right.
Heading through Long Preston, the modern A65 bypasses Settle, but a detour takes you into this historic Yorkshire Dales town. The first of many fine buildings you’ll notice is the Falcon Manor, built in 1641 for a local clergyman and later adapted as a hotel. Taken over last year by the James’ Places hotel group, the hotel was closed last winter for a complete reburbishment that blends the building’s traditional features with the best of the modern.
With its brasserie restaurant, 14 bedrooms and an attractive setting for functions and weddings, the Falcon Manor is once again a major part of Settle’s offering to visitors and locals.
Another landmark building that has undergone major refurbishment is The Lion at Settle, an old coaching inn with its original Inglenook fireplace, grand staircase, lovingly restored parquet floors and a host of other beautiful period features. The pub’s food philosophy is for simple but well-executed dishes, based on using fresh, local in-season produce from trusted local suppliers in the area, washed down with a choice of finest beers.
Settle’s market charter dates from 1249, and the historic town has some fascinating old buildings such as The Folly, the Town Hall and the Shambles.
One place that’s guaranteed to turn heads is Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe. The date stone is 1663, but the figure of a man carved on it certainly isn’t naked, for he’s wearing a buttoned coat and breeches.
According to one local tale, a man was buried naked underneath the building, and it’s believed that an undertaker once operated there.
Karen and Paul Strickland have run the cafe, a favourite haunt of walkers, cyclists and trippers, for 26 years, but the name is still something of a mystery to them. Karen said: “It was a coaching inn for many years before it became a cafe. We still aren’t sure where the name came from, but it’s an interesting talking point.”
Settle claims to be possibly the best place in the world for the quality of the fell walking, cycling, mountain biking and sightseeing, added to which are the numerous independent shops, cafes, inns and restaurants.
Settle is also famous as the starting point of one of the world’s great railway journeys, the 72- mile Settle-Carlisle line, brainchild of ‘Railway King’ George Hudson and built in the 1870s with breathtaking feats of engineering – viaducts, cuttings and tunnels – through the rugged forbidding countryside. The impressive Ribblehead Viaduct, with 24 arches spanning the floor, almost brought about the line’s demise when it badly needed repair in the 1980s, but train enthusiast Michael Portillo, who was Minister of State for Transport at the time, refused British Rail’s application for closure. Campaigners worked tirelessly with train operators, local authorities and other agencies to revive the line for passenger traffic and as a working freight line, and now the Settle-Carlisle Railway Development Company Ltd ensures that the line continues to thrive.
The ‘old road’ north out of Settle takes you over the steep Buckhaw Brow, where many a car would boil over in the early days of motoring, before rejoining the A65 bypass, then it becomes a winding road again towards Ingleton.
Surrounded by magnificent limestone scenery with caves, waterfalls, and mountains, Ingleton is a magnet for potholers, climbers and walkers.
You don’t need a wetsuit, helmet and lamp to enjoy the underground world of Ingleton, for Ingleborough Cave is easily accessible for all. Claimed to be the premier show cave in the Yorkshire Dales, it has been entrancing visitors with an awe- inspiring range of stunning cave formations for nearly 180 years. An expert guide leads regular tours and helps interpret the many features, dating back millions of years.
You can wander around the town, enjoy he pubs, shops and little cafes and marvel at the towering railway viaduct, another reminder of Yorkshire’s railway past. This abandoned railway line shadows the A65’s further progress north towards Kirkby Lonsdale, another market town with a history that includes Romans, Saxons, Normans and Danes, while its cheerful mix of 17th and 18th century buildings create a charm of their own.
Just a few miles up the road, again a mixture of twist and turns and straight bypass, the A65 crosses that constant roar of the M65, and you’re on your way to Kendal and the Lakes.