Cream Of The Country: Knaresborough

This Yorkshire market town has scenic views and a laid-back ambience, says Nick Lloyd Jones
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The North Yorkshire market town of Knaresborough, about five miles east of Harrogate, perches precariously above a deep gorge through which runs the river Nidd.

The North Yorkshire market town of Knaresborough, about five miles east of Harrogate, perches precariously above a deep gorge through which runs the river Nidd.

The town's historical core is to be found around the ruins of its Norman castle where Richard II was briefly imprisoned before being executed at Pontefract in 1400.

Just around the corner from the castle is Knaresborough's central square that has hosted a weekly market since the 13th century, and is home to the oldest chemist shop in England. Markets are still held in Market Place every Wednesday, where a regular assortment of food and bric-a-brac stalls has recently been supplemented by a mini farmers' market selling good quality organic produce.

In fact, the whole tone of Knaresborough has recently been raised thanks to an extensive regeneration scheme that has succeeded in significantly sprucing up the town centre. It has become a lot livelier and more upmarket as a result, with its range of amenities now rivalling those of the neighbouring spa town of Harrogate.

A whole string of trendy new boutiques and clothes stores have opened up along its High Street, and gastronomically, too, the place has improved immeasurably over the last few years. First-class Italian food can be found at the Bella Rosa restaurant next to the castle, while the Australian-run Carriages, close to the town's imposing Victorian railway viaduct, cooks up an eclectically delicious selection of Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.

There are plenty of decent pubs around as well, such as Mother Shipton's on the river, named after a 15th-century witch, and Blind Jack's on Market Place - a traditional spit-and-sawdust establishment specialising in real ales sourced from local breweries.

The town also boasts more than half-a-dozen local schools. Particularly worthy of note are the centrally positioned Aspin Park primary and King James's mixed secondary which are both very highly regarded and perform well in the league tables.

Another definite plus about Knaresborough is its close proximity to some truly stunning countryside. The ruggedly beautiful North Yorkshire moors are on its doorstep and can be accessed within minutes. There are scores of pretty little outlying villages to visit, too, such as Copgrove, Staveley and Goldsborough. Meanwhile, for climbers there are plenty of spectacular and challenging rocky outcrops in the vicinity such as the vast and dramatic Almsford Crag just outside Harrogate about five miles away.

The river Nidd is another asset, particularly in the summer when flotillas of boats regularly glide upstream from the café next to the viaduct towards Highbridge and beyond into stretches of glorious open countryside.

The east coast is little more than a half-hour's drive away, where there are a number of lovely seaside resorts such as Whitby, Scarborough and Robin's Hood Bay to escape to for weekends. However, by far the biggest appeal of Knaresborough is its intimacy of scale. It is a tidily compact town and everything is within easy walking distance.

In terms of looking for somewhere to buy, there are a smattering of pretty houses around the centre, particularly along Gracious Street, but most of the bigger and better properties are to be found in Abbey Road and Waterside, which both run along the northern bank of the river Nidd. These enjoy some stunning riverside views and are just a five-minute climb away from the centre of town up the Gallon Steps. They don't come cheap, though, with family houses along this stretch of the river often topping the £500,000 mark.

"Many people think that property in the north is dirt cheap. It may have been once but it certainly isn't any more," remarks Nick Hudson of the Harrogate estate agent Beadnall & Copley.

Nevertheless, prices in Knaresborough are still significantly lower than in neighbouring Harrogate, where one can expect to pay seven to eight per cent more.

These relatively low prices combined with the town's other advantages - its good rail links and services, friendly people, unhurried ambience and beautiful countryside - have recently been luring buyers.

"Knaresborough and the network of picturesque little villages surrounding it are becoming an increasingly attractive option to people, especially those commuting to York and Leeds," says Nick Hudson.

"People are waking up to the fact that the standard of living is so much better here. Knaresborough has got virtually everything that Harrogate has got but at the same time is only about a fifth of its size.

"It's also a lot friendlier and less hectic. It has a slower, gentler pace of life and, with the open countryside all around, you don't feel as if you're hemmed in."


Price: £575,000

Agent: Carter Jonas

Tel: 01423 523423

The lowdown: A detached Edwardian former mill in a picturesque spot on the waterside within a short walk of the town centre. It has a large garden and a veranda.


Price: £850,000

Agent: Beadnall & Copley

Tel: 01423 503 500

The lowdown: Swadforth House is a substantial Grade II-listed Queen Anne house dating back to around 1700. It is set within more than half an acre of its own land while being centrally located in Gracious Street.


Price: £235,000

Agent: Carter Jonas

Tel: 01423 523423

The lowdown: Grade II-listed 17th-century former boat-building workshop located on Waterside at the base of the Gallon Steps. Close to the shops and railway station.

Fact box

Cost of living: One-bedroom flat from £90,000; two-bedroom from £125,000; three-bed semi-detached house from £160,000; four-bed detached house from £250,000; five-bed house in Waterside/Abbey Road from £500,000.

Attractions: Wednesday market; good selection of pubs including Blind Jack's and Mother Shipton's; recently implemented regeneration programme; wide selection of high-street shops; tourist attractions including the castle, and Mother Shipton's Cave and Petrifying Well; easy access to North Yorkshire moors and east coast; summer boating on the river Nidd; swimming pool; cricket and rugby union clubs; good choice of schools including Aspin Park primary and King James's secondary.

Downside: Short but steep climb up Gallon Steps from riverside to town centre.

How to get there: Trains to Harrogate (10-minute journey time); Leeds (45 minutes); and York (20 minutes), with connections from York to London King's Cross (2 hours 20 minutes).

Knaresborough's USP: You can get lovely riverside views and experience a friendly ambience.