The Tour de France flashed through Middleham and although the TV footage showed its magnificent castle, the town’s moment in the global spotlight was over in a flash.
Fortunately, Gorgeous Yorkshire can provide a deeper insight into this Wensleydale town that provides visitors with a great day out. It may be small but it offers a huge amount, including history, horses, wonderful walks and some great little shops and pubs.
I usually park in the market place and wander slowly up the road towards the castle, hoping to see some racehorses and riders… I usually do.
The ruined castle, now kept by English Heritage, forms the backdrop to the parade of thoroughbreds as they clip-clop up to the moor. In the Middle Ages, when it was known as “the Windsor of the North”, the castle was the biggest employer. It was the home of “Kingmaker” Richard Neville and his cousin Richard III spent some of his happiest childhood years here before he became bogged down by royal responsibility and accusations of infanticide.
Now the main industry is horse racing. Middleham is the north’s premier racehorse training centre and is home to around 500 horses and around 15 training yards, including top trainer Mark Johnston who looks after many of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum’s horses.
I love racing and the sight of some of best horses and jockeys in the land heading up the street towards the gallops for a workout is a great spectacle.
For those who want to see more, there are tours taking in some of the stables and the gallops. They offer a fascinating insight into the lives of those involved in the sport of kings. Try www.middlehamracingtours.co.uk and www.middlehamracingbreaks.co.uk.
Next on my day out to-do list is a walk. If I’m feeling lazy, it’s a short one, which takes me up the side of the castle, up William’s Hill, close to where, in 1985, a metal detectorist found a 15th century gold and sapphire pendant. Then it’s onward and down with fabulous views of Witton Moor to the River Cover.
From there I cross the stone Hulo bridge, turn left and walk through the meadows to turn up Westfield Lane into the exceedingly pretty village of East Witton. This is the home of The Blue Lion, a gastro pub well worth visiting. As I’m usually in my scruffs and caked in mud, I opt to head back to Middleham and my favourite pub there, the Richard III. The walk back is lovely. Go down Westfield Lane and turn right, following the footpath signs. This takes you along the river and across stepping stones before you head back up hill and down again past King Richard’s old place. The walk, there and back, is just over four miles.
I am lured by the prospect of a cold drink: they pour a very good Guinness. The decor also has something to do with my choice of hostelry. It is largely racehorse themed, creative and comfy. The staff are friendly and cook good pub food. I’m also in love with the pub’s two very cute dogs, who regularly sneak in to say “hello” to the customers. I’ve also stayed and eaten at the White Swan and the food there was good, although the service was questionable on my last visit.
After a lunch break, I usually wander round the antique/collectables shops. There are two, one in Kirkgate and another on Market Place. Then it’s a visit to Central Stores to stock up on snacks for the drive home. This a great shop that sells everything from postcards and papers to groceries and wine. You can also buy tickets for The Forbidden Corner, www.theforbiddencorner.co.uk. This is just outside the town at Tupgill Park and is a fascinating four-acre garden full of hidden tunnels, chambers, follies and surprises. A real one-off and lots of fun.
If you do head up there, you’ll pass a crude, commemorative stone on the left across from the gallops, bearing the inscription “Dante 1945”. It bids you to remember the last Yorkshire-trained horse to win the Derby.
Useful website: www.middlehamonline.com