Settle - a town that will get you on the move
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 October 2017 | UPDATED: 15:04 11 October 2018
Simon Vine Photography
There is almost too much to do in a North Yorkshire town that doesn’t believe in standing still, says Martin Pilkington
Mention the market town of Settle and most people will immediately think of the Settle-Carlisle train line, saved from closure after a heavyweight campaign. ‘Michael Portillo says not closing the Settle-Carlisle line during his political career is the thing he’s most proud of,’ says Steve Amphlett of Visit Settle. ‘It’s a huge attraction, and like so many other things in the town – the pool, library, the Folly our Grade I listed architectural treasure – it benefits from the willingness of local people to volunteer and to get involved generally. The station is beautifully kept.’
The line is enjoyable whatever the season although in the autumn swathes of purple heather are especially lovely. It offers a lazy way to see fabulously rugged countryside, to access remote spots like Dent and Garsdale, and to reflect on the engineering ambition of our Victorian forebears, including its world-famous Ribblehead Viaduct.
‘The rail line has been developed as an attraction,’ says the town mayor, David Taylor. ‘And lots of visitors come specifically to do the trip to Carlisle. When the special steam trains come through the town people stop to watch, it looks great. But Settle’s a nice little town anyway. It’s a lovely place to live.’
The town caters for another form of transport – the bicycle. The centre boasts two outdoor equipment shops, and behind the town hall the 3 Peaks Bike Shop and Cafe signals another significant tourist sector. ‘Cycling’s now a major thing,’ says the mayor. ‘People love the scenery and like to cycle in the tyre-tracks of the Tour de Yorkshire which really boosted cyclist numbers here.’
‘We’ve installed cycle-stands to make it cyclist-friendly,’ adds Rebecca Hill, town clerk. ‘They know they’ve got somewhere secure to lock their bikes – which are not cheap.’ Not cheap is an understatement. ‘The most expensive bike we’ve ever sold was £10,000, but for a mountain bike for someone serious about it you’re looking between £2,500 and £5, 000,’ says Mick Simpson of 3 Peaks. ‘You can get entry-level road bikes for about £600 but for something really decent it’s £2,000 upwards.’
Settle caters for two types of cyclists, says Yvonne Fortune at the tourist information centre. ‘Road-cyclists enjoy the challenge of doing the coast-to-coast Way of the Roses from Morecambe to Bridlington, with Settle usually the end of day one. We also have the Pennine Cycleway and the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway, and the Settle Loop which is great for mountain bikers.’
But Settle offers arty as well as athletic. ‘The arts and crafts side has increased, with a jeweller’s, goldsmith’s, a new glass studio, art studio, galleries, craft shop and other similar businesses,’ says Rebecca. Several of these enterprises offer experiences as well as shopping. ‘The number of people coming to the area to do workshops and discover traditional crafts and skills is growing rapidly,’ adds Yvonne. ‘Things like courses on enamelling, or making fused-glass coasters. The Courtyard Dairy runs courses on artisan cheese-making; there are forestry skills courses and garden-related ones. It’s a ‘doing’ place.’
What lies beyond the town brings walkers too. ‘Settle is very much a walking area,’ says Yvonne, ‘from easy strolls like the Riverside Walk to strenuous stuff like the Three Peaks.’
One less daunting challenge is just a 10-minute walk from the centre, through Upper Settle, at the edge of which looms Castleberg. This crag’s sheer rock-faces are beloved of climbers, though the zig-zag paths of the Tot Lord Trail allow even the moderately fit to reach its summit. It’s a resource the council plans to develop. ‘We’re looking to widen and improve the paths,’ says Rebecca, ‘and add a sculpture trail and hopefully use it as an outdoor education centre.’ As it stands it’s worth the effort to enjoy spectacular views over the town’s rooftops and beyond.
There is little doubt tourism is important to Settle but there is more to the bustling centre that welcomes people from around the world. ‘We’re still a very agricultural area and a working town with a quarry that ships out the same stone you’ll see in our many old buildings,’ says Rebecca, ‘and with the Tuesday market and our solicitors and accountants and banks we’re a centre for nearby villages too.’
Gallery on the Green
A quirky Settle gem is possibly the world’s smallest art gallery – a former BT telephone box. ‘BT were getting rid of it as a phone box,’ says Marion Armstrong, one of the managing group. ‘We felt it was part of the community, our heritage and our view and wanted to keep it, so Alison Marshall came up with the brilliant idea of making it an art gallery. We had the idea of a Sistine Chapel ceiling – we’re still working on that, but Marion did do a mosaic floor,’ adds Alison. Since it opened in 2009 they’ve never had an empty time slot, are currently booked up a year ahead, and have shown works by notable names including Brian May of Queen, who has exhibited photographs there twice.
Bits and pieces
The Folly in Victoria Street is a Grade I listed building, run by a trust and an army of volunteers. Built in 1679 by a local lawyer who died soon afterwards, it is being developed for its architectural and historic significance. The frontage is magnificent – as are the cakes in its coffee house.
Settle Station’s Water Tower, converted into a spectacular home, featured on TV show Restoration Man. The preserved signal box nearby is must-see for heritage railway fanatics.
Family butchers Drake and Masefield in Market Place, Settle have been in business since 1898. Their pork pies are sublime.
Nelson’s Footwear in Duke Street, Settle have made shoes by hand for four generations, since the 1840s.
Victoria Hall in Kirkgate is Britain’s oldest continually running music hall, opened in 1853.
Settle Hydro, generating electricity from the River Ribble with an Archimedes screw, was one of the first such community schemes in Britain.
This year Settle Cricket Club is celebrates its 175th anniversary.