Leyburn - a market town that's full of surprises
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 September 2018
There's much more to Leyburn than you might expect, as Martin Pilkington discovered when he joined the growing throng of visitors.
Leyburn has everything you’d expect of a small market town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park: some lovely old stone buildings, decidedly pleasant pubs, and of course fabulous countryside in every direction. But it’s a place with plenty of unexpected elements that add to its attraction for locals and visitors alike.
In a town of fewer than 2,500 souls, for example, you’d perhaps not expect to find a food and drink shop quite as distinguished as Campbell’s, on Commercial Square. This Dales institution is marking its 150th anniversary this year.
‘We just launched our own gin as part of the celebrations,’ said Tony Taylor, who handles the store’s marketing. ‘Though we have about 130 other gins already, 150 single malts, and over 1,000 different wines – we’ve probably got the widest selection in the region, including quite a few from Yorkshire vineyards.’ The 100 or more cheeses they stock feature the best that Wensleydale has to offer, and plenty more from the wider county too.
Leyburn offers another rather unexpected foodie treat in the form of Inspired Chocolate, where chocoholics can not only buy fine examples of the chocolatier’s art, but have a go at making their own.
Richard Warne, who took over the business with his wife Yvonne last year, said: ‘Our workshop accommodates 24 people, and it can hold more if we’re hosting events like hen parties. We run chocolate pizza and lolly making classes, particularly popular in the school holidays; and for the more advanced who can use a piping bag we now do chocolate pigs and sheep.’
Still more surprising is that this market town is home to one of the biggest auction houses in Britain, Tennants. ‘It’s a fourth generation family business founded over 100 years ago,’ explained curator Harriet Hunter-Smart. ‘We now hold 80 or more auctions a year including fine arts, country house, and specialist collectors’ events like the car and automobilia sale on October 7th.’
In 2014 they added The Garden Rooms, used for auctions, events from balls to weddings to lectures, and with permanent gallery spaces that are about to host a touring exhibition of winning entries in The British Life Photography Awards.
Tennants has become a visitor destination in its own right and Harriet added: ‘Plenty come for the exhibitions, but also people enjoy the auction atmosphere, maybe bidding on some of the lots in the £50 to £100 range.’ They’re less likely to bid on spec on objects like the £2.6million Chinese vase sold here in 2012.
Another of Leyburn’s surprises is that the tiny town has two notable arts venues: The Garden Rooms frequently host theatre and music events, and so does The Old Schoolhouse Arts Centre, whose autumn programme includes the play Blackthorn, set in North Yorkshire; a one-man-show based on Robinson Crusoe; and a reading by Yorkshire poet Judith Willson.
The Old Schoolhouse is also the town’s cinema and Jeannie Bishop, a director and trustee of the group that runs the building, said: ‘We have films every Friday, and on the first Tuesday of the month we show “exploring” films – things like documentaries and foreign language films.
‘It’s something of a social centre too, hosting craft and dance classes, and the local U3A. And on Wednesdays there’s a walking group, for people who want to do three to five miles at a brisk pace, then return for a coffee and chat.’
Two books of walks that the group has done have been published to help fundraising, a subject currently close to the heart of the Wensleydale Railway that runs from Northallerton to Redmire, with Leyburn an intermediate stop.
Volunteer Phil Smith said: ‘We intend double-tracking at Leyburn, so trains can pass there, and to add a second platform linked to the existing one with a footbridge. We already own a suitable footbridge elsewhere, but need to raise funds to refurbish it, and for the other work.’
The new work will mean more steam services and there’s another reason: Leyburn is becoming more and more popular as a destination for visitors. That at least is no surprise.