Skipton is fast becoming the stage for many major events
PUBLISHED: 16:45 11 August 2011 | UPDATED: 20:11 31 August 2018
Yorkshire's Sheep Town is fast becoming the stage for many major events, as Paul Mackenzie reports Photographs by John Cocks
You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll find on the streets of Skipton. Visitors last month were greeted by hordes of sheep taking part in the annual Sheep Day celebrations and people coming to the town next month could come face to face with any number of weird and wonderful characters.
The third Skipton Puppet Festival has attracted performers from all over the UK and across Europe who will bring their marionettes, glove puppets and other creations to life around the town during the three day festival.
And there’s plenty on offer in this delightful town throughout the rest of the year too.
Whatever the weather there is plenty to discover, and in spite of the gently rolling Pennine hills around the town, Skipton itself is mercifully flat and compact enough to explore on foot.
Skipton Castle, which is open daily for tours throughout the year, stands among beautiful grounds at the top of the High Street and is one of the best preserved and complete castles in the country.
The cobbled High Street was voted the UK’s best in 2009 and there are commanding views to be had from the castle’s battlements from where visitors can also see the Leeds Liverpool Canal, Skipton Woods and some of the town’s other landmarks, such as the impressive town hall, the brewery and the theatres.
And while those theatres will host their share of events at next month’s puppet festival, all of Skipton will become a stage, with performances taking place on the streets and in marquees around the town.
he biennial event, to be held this year from September 23rd to 25th, is organised by Liz and Daniel Lempen who run the Lempen Puppet Theatre Company in Skipton.
Liz, who studied fine art at Sheffield in the 1980s and has been based in Yorkshire ever since, said: ‘Puppets still have the ability to capture people’s imaginations. Your brain knows it’s hand-made but it also tells you it’s alive. Puppets confuse the brain and that’s when you get into the magic world.
‘The magic of bringing something to life is wonderful and from the first moment I worked on a puppet show knew it was what wanted to do.’
After a stint with an amateur group in Sheffield, Liz attended an intensive two week puppetry course in Grassington where she met Daniel, a Swiss puppeteer who learned his trade at a tourist office in the Alps. ‘For about three years we struggled with the hoops and hurdles of being an item but living apart, which was made especially difficult by Switzerland not being a part of the EU,’ Liz added.
‘But we got through that and after we married we worked together touring theatres, schools and arts centres. Our first baby was a touring baby but since we had our second baby, who’s now 11, we have just done solo performances.
‘In 2005 we started organising, with help from other people, the puppet festival which has gone from strength to strength. It has been a roaring success.
‘With the second and third festivals we realised that people could pass indoor shows without knowing they were happening so we started to develop the street side of the festival which has become really successful.
‘We have some great shows this year, including performances from all over the UK and we have performers from Finland, France, Hungary and Germany, including plenty of children’s stuff. There will be about 40 ticketed shows and about the same number of free shows.’
The festival will start with school performances on the Wednesday and Thursday, and will really get going on the Friday afternoon, with scores of shows being held around town until the curtain comes down on Sunday night, including the Lempen company’s own show, Ugly Beauty.
Brett Butler, Skipton’s town centre manager is a big fan of the puppet festival, and all the other events the town hosts during the year. ‘We have one of the best and busiest events programmes in Yorkshire,’ he said.
‘Even the big towns and cities are struggling but Skipton is thriving. Events play a massive role in bringing people to Skipton but whenever they visit they’ll find something – there’s the four market days every week, the great shops, the amazing castle, beautiful church, the canal, the boat trips, loads of brilliant restaurants and pubs, the brewery… the list goes on and on.’
And Brett, a former winger for Featherstone Rovers, added: ‘It’s a town that really needs a few hours to explore properly, looking down every snicket and in every nook and cranny to find the terrific shops tucked away.
‘More than 80 per cent of the shops here are independents, rather than big chains and that helps create a fantastic atmosphere around the town. love being here. If ever talk about moving away, want someone to give me a knock on the head.
Skipton’s name comes from the Old English ‘sceap’ (sheep) and ‘tun’ (town) and locals celebrate their roots with a day of sheep related festivities each July.
Author and poet Rudyard Kipling visited Skipton in his school holidays. His family is buried in the cemetery on Raikes Road.
Sheep Street in Skipton is claimed to be the most haunted street in the region and is the subject of regular ghost tours.
Edwin Calvert was, in his day, the smallest man in the world at just 36 inches tall. He was buried in Skipton’s Christ Church at the age of 17 in 1859. In the churchyard at Holy Trinity Church is a gravestone with a large heart engraved on the stone. Anyone who stands on the heart is supposed to find their true love.
Author and poet Blake Morrison, philosopher Henry Sidgwick, Thomas Spencer, the co-founder of Marks & Spencer, and American mathematician Thomas William Edmondson are among the notable people to have been born in Skipton.
Skipton Town Hall is home to the Craven Museum and Gallery, which displays a rare copy of Shakespeare’s first folio, one of only five on public display in the world.
In 1736, two elephants escaped from a circus which was visiting Caroline Square, an area of land at the bottom of the high street, and rampaged up the road.
Skipton market runs along the length of the High Street every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. To book tickets, or for more information about Skipton Puppet Festival visit skiptonpuppetfestival.
The road to Skipton
Where it is: Skipton stands on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales close to the junction of the A59 and A629. If you have a sat nav, BD23 1RT should take you to the town centre. The town’s railway station is a short walk from the centre and has regular services to Leeds, Bradford and towns on the west of the Pennines.
Where to park: There are pay and display car parks around the town centre and some on-street parking is available.
What to do: Visit on a market day but be sure to explore the rest of the town too and take a tour of the Copper Dragon Brewery.
The print version of this article appeared in the August 2011 issue of Yorkshire Life
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