Our day started in the best way possible with a delicious breakfast at the Wensleydale Hotel, Middleham and this set us up nicely for the day ahead. We’d planned to spend the day exploring the historic market town of Richmond, noted for its Norman castle, elegant Georgian architecture and riverside setting.
It took us just 30 minutes to reach Richmond but before parking in the centre for the day we opted to drive to Easby Abbey located by the River Swale on the outskirts of the town. The ruined abbey is managed by English Heritage but is unstaffed and free to visit with car parking available across the lane.
It was certainly worth the detour as it is one of the best preserved monasteries with large sections of its magnificent refectory, gatehouse and canon’s dormitory remaining. The abbey was founded in 1152 and flourished until 1536 when it was suppressed by the dissolution of the monasteries resulting in most of its buildings being stripped and demolished.
The monastery sits next to the medieval church of St. Agatha which is still in use today and open to visitors to view its rare 13th century wall paintings.
Leaving there, we followed a narrow lane with passing places back to the main road and into the centre. Our tour of the town began in its cobbled market place, no market was taking place at the time of our visit, but it was attractive nonetheless. A large stone obelisk caught my attention and on closer inspection I discovered it had been placed there to mark the location of the town’s water supply.
Surrounding the square are a range of shops, cafes and pubs many with outdoor terraces making us spoilt for choice of where to enjoy our mid-morning cups of coffee.
Re-fuelled with caffeine we popped into the old market hall to one side of the square for a look around. It’s not a market hall in its original sense as nowadays it’s filled with a range of arts and crafts stalls and is home to the local tourist information centre.
Upon leaving the market by its rear door we were just steps away from the entrance to Richmond Castle so decided to visit there next as we had admired it in its dramatic hilltop position as we drove into the town. This castle is also managed by English Heritage with standard admission £7.00.
There is a small museum next to the entrance with information boards and some interactive displays detailing the castle’s history. The ruins of Richmond Castle have dominated the town for more than 900 years and it is one of the finest and most complete Norman fortresses in Europe. All but one of the buildings date back to medieval times and these are clustered around a large grassed area. Much of the 11th century curtain wall surrounding the castle survives to this day.
After exploring the outer sections we climbed the steps to the top of The Keep which rises to a height of 30m (100ft) and is topped by four square turrets. Over the years this part of the castle has undergone many periods of building and repair with a modern staircase now leading to the first floor of the Keep which is thought to have served as a Great Hall. From the turret tops we enjoyed spectacular views of the surrounding beautiful countryside and of the rooftops and market place below. Children’s activities were taking place in the grounds from hobby horse rides and dressing up in Norman robes through to artwork.
Moving on from the castle our next point of interest was the Green Howard’s Museum located in the former Trinity church on one corner of the market square. Standard admission £5.00. It is the regimental museum of the Green Howard’s infantry regiment of the British Army.
This interesting museum charts the history of the Green Howard’s during the period 1688-2006 after which they became part of the Yorkshire regiment. Galleries display uniforms, medals and badges, an array of weaponry, artwork and regimental silver.
Cabinets display letters, diaries and personal effects donated to the museum by families many of which have been discovered in cupboards and lofts. As with other war related museums that I’ve visited, it’s these small personal items that I find the most interesting especially when they are accompanied with photos of the people themselves.
The gallery displaying silverware contains Mouse Man furniture by Robert Thompson who established a business in nearby Kilburn manufacturing solid oak furniture featuring a small carved mouse on each piece. An elderly neighbour had several pieces of Mouse Man furniture in her home and it wouldn’t have been cheap when she bought it but today even a pair of book ends will set you back £250 and a table in excess of £3,000.
On leaving this excellent museum our tour of the town continued onto Millgate where the road winds steeply down to the River Swale below. We followed the riverside path pausing to admire the waterfalls partly created partly by the weir just above it.
Our afternoon stroll then continued through a picnic area onto what is known as The Batts, a local beauty spot. This riverside park has large grassy areas, benches to take in the views or simply relax awhile. Mercury Bridge soon came into view, built in 1846 to connect Richmond to the railway station. It has more recently been reconstructed following flood damage causing a partial collapse.
From the bridge we climbed back uphill towards the centre calling into the Richmondshire Museum on our way. Standard admission £4.00. The museum, arranged over six galleries displays a wide range of items with an emphasis on the area’s local and social history.
We then went for a wander in the Friary Gardens which were looking resplendent with their neatly tended flower beds in full bloom. Standing at one end of the gardens is the Greyfriars church tower, the only remaining part of the former Franciscan friary that was located on this site.
After relaxing on a bench for a few minutes it was then approaching the time for our Georgian Theatre Experience. Standard tickets £5. I’d heard about this gem of a theatre before and couldn’t leave Richmond without joining one of their one hour theatre tours. We met Dorothy, our guide at 4.00 p.m. for the final tour of the day around Britain’s most complete Georgian playhouse.
Our tour started with a short talk outlining the theatre’s history going back to when it was built by actor-manager Samuel Butler and his first wife Tryphosa Butler in 1788 as one of his circuit of theatres, the others being located in Beverley, Harrogate, Kendal, Northallerton, Ripon, Ulverston and Whitby though none of these are still open. Regular performances continued until 1830 and in 1848 it was used as an auction house. The Georgian Theatre Royal re-opened in 1963 and since then has undergone major restoration works including the addition of a museum and new entrance foyer.
We were taken into the theatre and I think the only way to describe it is ‘wow’. I’ve been in many theatres but never one like this. We sat on the bench seats which nowadays have cushions but until fairly recently were uncomfortable hard benches to sit on. Not so bad though as in Georgian times when the audience was crammed in tightly like sardines.
Moving around the theatre we viewed its marvellous interior from all aspects, including the stage which was set for a performance of the comedy ‘Stepping Out’ by Richard Harris.
The theatre maintains a full programme of performances throughout the year attracting distinguished performers including in the past those of Dame Sybil Thorndike and Dame Judi Dench. The Daily Telegraph named it as the number one place in the country to see a pantomime and after taking our tour, I can’t wait to return to enjoy a performance there too.
This brought to an end our day exploring the delightful town of Richmond. If you are also inspired to visit and plan to explore a number of attractions in the town then I would suggest purchasing a Town Ticket which offers a minimum 25% saving on admission to the Georgian Theatre Experience, The Green Howard’s, Richmond Castle and Richmondshire Museum.
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