Straddling the River Nidd, the North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough is a historic market and spa town that has existed since before the Domesday book. Just a few miles east of Harrogate, the town is easily accessible from Leeds and York, making it a perfect location for a day out by train. I visited the town as part of my Yorkshire railday and so only spent an hour exploring before continuing on to York, but it is definitely worth a visit.
One of the most noticeable sights in Knaresborough is the Nidd Viaduct which carries the railway line from Harrogate across the river gorge to the station which sits at the northern end of the town, just after the viaduct. Initially the town was served by a temporary station on the south side of the river from when the railway opened in 1848 until the viaduct was completed in July 1851.
The viaduct was originally scheduled to open at the same time as the railway line from Harrogate, however the collapse of the initial structure not long before completion led to the delay and subsequent construction of the current viaduct. The viaduct was constructed with castellated walls and piers to blend in with the ruined walls of Knaresborough Castle and its four arches carry the railway 24meters above the gorge.
The best place to view the viaduct from is the grounds of the ruined Knaresborough Castle. Originally constructed in the 12th century, the substantial keep, or ‘King’s Tower’ was a 14th century addition. Since 1331 the castle has been owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, merging with the crown as a result of the Wars of the Roses and now being owned by Queen Elizabeth II in her role as the Duke of Lancaster.
The castle was taken by Parliamentarian troops in 1644 during the Civil War, and largely destroyed in 1648 as a result of an order to destroy all Royalist castles. However, upon request of the townsfolk, the keep was left intact to act as the town gaol and it is as a result of this the keep is the most intact part of the remains today. As for the rest of the castle, a lot of the stone from the destruction was used to build the town centre with many buildings still standing having been constructed with ‘castle stone’.
The other substantial remains of the castle are two towers that were part of the curtain wall defences of the castle. The imposing view that these and the walls presented to would be attackers can still be experienced from the bottom of the steps to the moat, which connect the castle with the Bebra Gardens.
The Bebra Gardens are one of Knaresborough’s hidden gems and are named in honour of the town’s twinning with the German town of Bebra. The gardens are located on the slope adjacent to the castle leading down to the River Nidd and the sloping pathways lead down to a paddling pool at the lowest point and the Waterside area of the town below.
From the main entrance to the gardens you can follow one of the town’s steep streets up to the town centre and reach the marketplace in which a weekly market has been held since 1310! Wednesday is market day and luckily my visit coincided with the first market following the reduction in Covid restrictions, meaning the market was back to its bustling ways with stalls ranging from the usual fruit and veg to watch repairs and clothing.
The market is open from 0730 to 1500 each week and in addition the town also features a farmer’s market once a month every third Saturday. If the food on offer from the numerous market stalls doesn’t take your fancy, on the corner of Market Place and Kirkgate is Appleton’s, a butchers that has been operating in Yorkshire since 1867, but has recently opened a pie shop in Knaresborough. I opted for a Breakfast Roll (Like a sausage roll but with additional bacon!) and a Pork and Black Pudding Pie, both of which were absolutely delicious and freshly made that day.
Having headed back to the station in time to catch the hourly service onwards to York, I had a few minutes to explore the and come to the conclusion that the word ‘quaint’ perfectly describes this station perfectly. With a tunnel at one end of the platforms, and the viaduct not far from the other, the station is away from the hustle and bustle of the town and oddly provides an oasis of calm. With beautiful flower displays provided by the ‘Friend’s of Knaresborough Station’ and a number of ‘bug hotels’ the station is a bright and colourful environment to wait for a train.
The station is also home to one of the most unique shops I’ve ever seen on a railway platform, a picture framers, which occupies part of the old station building along with a high-end gift shop and a tea rooms. Unfortunately, the latter only accepted cash and so I didn’t get chance to sample their wares, but I’ll definitely bear them in mind for my next visit as they seemed popular with the locals.
The station also has a couple of additional heritage features still in place, despite the general modernisation of the railways. At the north end of the York-bound platform there is still the original water tower from 1851 and between the platforms and viaduct, the original signal box still watches over movements at the end of a row of terrace houses. The tunnel that runs under part of the town used to separate the goods yard from the station, and whilst the latter has long since gone, the tunnel portals are now both listed structures.
My whirlwind hour exploring Knaresborough gave me a wonderful overview of the town and certainly makes me want to come back and spend a full day wandering around. If you want to pay Knaresborough a visit, it’s a few miles from the A1(M) or as a better alternative, take a train to the stunning station. There’s an hourly service from York and two an hour from Leeds via Harrogate, with both also providing stunning views out over the Yorkshire countryside.