Desormais… henceforth… that is the motto over the gatehouse at Skipton Castle. It was probably the first word of French that I learned as a child and almost certainly the first I remember seeing written… even though it is written in stone. I had been there any number of times with my grandparents and, even though it is a castle and much younger than my normal preference, it does hold a fairly special place in my heart.
I had been looking forward to Skipton for a while, at least in some respects… it held the hotel where we would spend the last night of our journey. Not that I was in any hurry for the day to end. We had left the motorway in Cumbria and driven cross-country through the Yorkshire Dales, my home county. This was familiar territory and, although less majestic perhaps than Scotland, it is equally beautiful.
We had accidentally timed our journey to perfection… seeing a golden sunset over the Dales, but having just enough of the fading light to see us to our destination. From Pitlochry, through Aberfeldy to Fortingall and Glen Lyon, then on to Lochs Tay and Freuchie… it had been a very long and eventful day.
The hotel was an unexpected delight. We travel as economically as we can, but the old Georgian hotel with its chandeliers and gracious, curving staircase had been carefully modernised and I could barely wait to soak muscles stiffened by the long drive in the huge jacuzzi bath.
First, though, we needed to stretch our legs and Skipton is a market town, full of old and beautiful buildings and right on the doorstep of the moors. Because of that, it was once voted the best place to live in England. I like it too for its mix of ancient and modern, and the solidity and security of the architecture… much of it local stone.
We wandered up to the castle gate… long since closed for the night. It is about all you can see from the town, though beyond it I remembered the remains of the moat and the bridge across it. The rear of the castle stands on a precipice above Eller Beck and the stream and rock guard it well. Once again, I rather wished for more time… there would be none for us to visit the next day, as we were to meet a friend at Ilkley a few miles down the road. Even so, I remembered the great tree in the conduit court, the deserted chapel and the solar… the room with high windows that let in the light by which the ladies of the castle could sew and spin. Conduit court is so named because there is a cistern beneath it for collecting rainwater. Wooden pipes brought fresh, running water into the castle from beyond the gates, but in times of siege, the only water supply was the rainwater from the cistern.
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