Why you should visit Settle in autumn
PUBLISHED: 13:34 22 October 2018
Credit: John Bentley / Alamy Stock Photo
The Yorkshire Dales market town of Settle has much to offer at the turn of the season, as Tony Greenway discovers
I’m not a huge fan of autumn. You can keep all of that ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ stuff (thanks anyway, John Keats) because, in reality, it gets darker earlier, it rains more often and the temperature goes south. Plus, with the sun behind a cloud and a chill in the air, holidays seem ages away. So give me summer any day of the week.
Still, admittedly, some places do suit the autumn. They have their own special pre-Christmas atmosphere, as well as lots of things for visitors and residents to do. The Yorkshire Dales market town of Settle is one such place.
Even people who’ve never been to Settle know it – or know of it, at any rate – because of the famous 72-mile Settle-Carlisle Railway, which runs through the Dales and over the spectacular 24-arch Ribblehead Viaduct. Settle is also prime walking territory and a great jumping off point (if you excuse the expression) for anyone interested in climbing the Three Peaks of nearby Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside.
And while mountain biking, cycling and walking are popular in summer, these pursuits don’t stop when autumn rolls around. It’s also the best time of year to see salmon leaping at Stainforth Force, a few miles north of Settle. Plus, this being the Dales, the town looks terrific with its historic marketplace, beautiful buildings (I’m looking at you in particular, Folly Museum, located in a house built in the late 1670s by a wealthy local lawyer), Victoria Hall and mix of independent shops. It’s elegant and picturesque but not twee.
So far, so unsurprising and very North Yorkshire. But Settle has a few surprises up its sleeve. For instance, local arts charity Settle Stories has a fascinating programme of events running through autumn and winter, including artists’ films, online courses, family storytelling and a film-making workshop. The Gallery on the Green – in a phone box in Upper Settle, a 10-minute walk from the marketplace – is thought to be the smallest art gallery in the world and, until November 9th, features a collage installation by Canadian artist Carol Howard Donati. And you wouldn’t think Settle would be the sort of place to have a Death Cafe, where people ‘gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death’ but it does.
Where Settle really scores in the autumn, though, is with its shops, boutiques and restaurants – tempting targets for those well-organised souls who are in town to start their Christmas shopping early. For example there’s the intriguingly named Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe (don’t worry: old, naked men are not involved in any way) and the stylish The Boxer & Hound. New cafes are springing up all the time, including one in The Folly (I can recommend the lemon and ginger cake) and another in the Three Peaks Cycles shop.
Settle is an arty, creative place, too. In the renovated town hall there’s the Studio Vault run by Glasgow School of Art graduate and jewellery designer Emily Knight; the Gavagan Contemporary Art Gallery; the Settle Glass Studio and Gallery plus, in a unit in The Shambles, you’ll find Leon K Dewhurst, a working gold and silversmith.
Just out of town on the A65, a cluster of converted barns form The Courtyard, a retail and dining location with a brasserie, handmade furniture store and farm shop. And cheese-lovers must stop by the award-winning The Courtyard Dairy at the former Falconry Centre on the A65 heading towards Kendal, which runs cheese-making courses and has a specialist cheese cafe and a museum (as well as selling amazing cheese, of course).
‘People who are looking for something a bit different come for a day out in Settle,’ says Yvonne Fortune, tourist information centre manager for Craven District Council, who’s lived in the area for 35 years but (gasp!) is originally from Lancashire. ‘They do their Christmas shopping and enjoy lunch here because we’ve got really good eateries and pubs serving real ale. We tend to get people coming in on the train from Leeds or Carlisle – so a good 30 or 40-mile radius. We’re only an hour from Manchester, too.’
Autumn is a popular time for mid-week short breaks, and there’s plenty of holiday cottage accommodation to choose from. Settle is also easier to get to than some Dales locations, particularly when the weather is problematic, because it’s just off the A65.
The town does have a lights-switch on at the beginning of November, but doesn’t go in for glitzy Christmas markets like some bigger locations. There is a weekly market, though (on a Tuesday), with a greengrocer, cheesemonger and fishmonger. ‘It’s a good, traditional market,’ says Yvonne. ‘Local people use it because as much as we’re a visitor attraction we’re also a living, breathing place with a butcher and a baker. And because we’re quite small, we’re welcoming. Residents tend to appreciate visitors coming into the town because they’re spending money and keeping their services going. It’s a win-win situation for them.’
Entertainment-wise, there’s a full programme to enjoy at Victoria Hall, which celebrates its 165th birthday this year and is described as ‘the world’s oldest music hall’. In the diary this month and next are various live gigs (including Sarah Savoy Band, The Best of Keith James and Jon Palmer Acoustic Band), National Theatre and West End screenings and, on October 11th, a 165th all-day birthday celebration. It’s also worth keeping an eye on what’s on at the nearby Richard Whiteley Theatre at Giggleswick School.
But best of all, whatever the season, there’s a real sense of community in Settle. Henry Barker is a former teacher and now volunteers at the tourist information centre who put down roots in the town over 30 years ago. ‘People said to me: “Why on earth you want to bury yourself in the countryside?”’ says Henry. ‘But I tell you, you get more involved here. You’d be amazed at how many choirs there are in this area, for example and how many orchestral groups there are, and how many people paint and play musical instruments. It’s amazing. And it’s vibrant, too. It’s a town that seems to be alive all the time, not just on market day.’