Candidate: Skipton High Street
Location: Skipton, UK
Category: The Great Street Award
Skipton is a busy country market town in the Pennines situated on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, which derives its distinct character to a large extent from its dramatic topography at a junction of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, overlooking the Aire Gap. This very strong sense of place is encapsulated in the town’s High Street, an attractive historic street or ‘broad’ that is also highly legible, with the road clearly leading up towards the unusually well preserved medieval Skipton Castle.
Originally a sheep market – from which Skipton derives its name – the market, held four days a week, continues to thrive to this day. Indeed the very quality of Skipton High Street derives from the persistence of its historic urban form.
The success of Skipton High Street does not lie in radical revisions, rather it is an innately good place that has avoided unfortunate development, and which has been well cared for by a community with a clear commitment to and respect for the historic fabric. The community is also strongly engaged in the decision-making process, and additions and adaptations to buildings have been sensitively undertaken in good quality local materials, whilst private investment has provided for discreet improvements to the public realm.
Yet Skipton’s quality also lies in the uses to which the urban fabric has been put, with a strong retail offer, tourist and leisure attractions, and a high level of social and economic engagement all contributing to a sense of vibrancy. The needs of tourists are here combined with a strong sense of local heritage, with events like the annual Sheep Day and the Waterways Festival celebrating various aspects of local culture.
Skipton needs little improvement, however like many places it might benefit further from adjustments to the transport system, with better crossing facilities, traffic calming measures and a move towards a greater pedestrian priority, all offering the potential to improve the nature of this already great place.
Whilst Skipton High Street is undoubtedly picturesque, with its wealth of fine historic buildings and its small ginnels and alleys leading to the canal, its ability to remain so lies in the community’s strong commitment to and relationship with its historic fabric, which is perceived as a major asset. This reliance on and recognition of the historic urban place has generated a high quality environment with a truly distinct character.