Shopping may not be the first thing that springs to mind when planning a visit to North Yorkshire and the Dales. But while the stunning scenery will take centre stage on any trip to the area, you will find there are numerous opportunities to pick up some delightful gifts for friends and family back home, or even something nice for yourself.
It is unlikely you will find too many shops selling big brand products, especially outside of the larger towns. Instead, North Yorkshire is the place to go for excellent independent shops, selling the unusual and quirky items, that have been made with skill and not a little love. The large number of artists, designers and craftspeople, as well as a growing army of artisan food and drink producers, who are based in the county, mean there is often the opportunity to buy something special from the very person who made it.
Lovers of hand-made furniture may wish to visit The Royal Oak Furniture Company in Moor Lane, Grassington, which has a delightful back story. The company was established in 1977 after Janet Kent bought a dresser made by a local joiner. Husband Paul thought he could do better and built one himself. Mrs Kent then tried to sell the dresser made by the local joiner but everyone who came to see it preferred her husband’s furniture, and commissioned him to make a piece for them. The idea for a new business was born.
In Main Street you will find Chocolace, which sells teddy bears and confectionery, as well as a wide range of gifts and cards. In the western Dales, you will find Sedbergh, which is one of the country’s small number of book towns, meaning it has a community of businesses involved in selling, writing, publishing and designing books and other publications. The Sedbergh book town project was started after the foot and mouth disease outbreak in order to encourage more visitors and to grow the local economy. The company, Sedbergh Book Town, was set up with an excellent base to build upon, with a book maker, writers and several book-selling businesses already based locally.
Westwood Books, in Long Lane, is the biggest book shop in the Dales, with a stock of more than 70,000 titles, including antiquarian, second-hand and new books. Its owners say that none of the stock in the shop is for sale on the internet, so it is a book browser’s paradise. Farfield Clothing in Sedbergh is well worth a visit if you are in the mood for some unique outdoor clothing for adults and children. The clothing uses fleece made in Yorkshire and now sells across Europe and Japan. And since the factory is upstairs, designs can be altered if needed.
Sleepy Elephant, in Main Street, gets its name from a comment made by the writer Alfred Wainwright who said that the neighbouring Howgill Fells were ‘often likened to a huddle of squatting elephants’. However, when the current business was opened, it was felt that ‘sleepy elephant’ might be more appealing. The shop is the place to go in Sedbergh for walking boots and other outdoor essentials.
North Yorkshire is the place to go for excellent independent shops, selling the unusual and quirky items
The traditional confectioners and sweet shop is located in the historic 17th-century 35 Main Street, which has been a shop for several hundred years and has been a sweet shop since the early 1900s and possibly earlier. In Hawes, award-winning grocers Elijah Allen and Son is worth a trip on its own.
The family business was started in 1860 by the current shopkeeper’s great, great grandfather, Thomas Allen. He had livery horses which he would hire out for carts, funerals and even weddings. He decided to diversify and had the good idea of filling a cart with food supplies to sell to the hundreds of navvies working on the railway line and viaduct a few miles away at Ribblehead. Every week he packed his cart with provisions such as tea, salt, sugar, eggs and tobacco. The local butcher came as well and off they went – with a shotgun under the seat in case of trouble.
Leyburn is a busy, little town with some great independent shops, including Serendipity Interiors in the Market Place, which has two floors packed with beautiful items for the home. Next door is the gallery of local jewellery artist Emma Sedman, who produces contemporary pieces made from enamel with gold and silver leaf. Outside the main market towns, you may stumble on unexpected shopping opportunities in the unlikeliest of places. An example is Swaledale Woollens in Muker. The shop sells beautiful knitted clothing produced by around 30 local people who knit in their own homes using wool from Swaledale and Wensleydale sheep. Also in the village is the Old School Art Gallery & Craft Shop, which specialises in work by local artists.
The upsurge in interest for local produce has seen a number of excellent farm shops spring up across the area. The owners of the Town End Farm Shop and Tea Room on the outskirts of Airton, Malhamdale, breed and rear their own grass-fed lamb, traditional breed cattle and rare breed pork, which is then served in the tea room and sold in the store.
Skipton’s award-winning market operates under a charter granted by King John over 800 years ago and it still thrives today and is open four days a week on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The town has a number of art galleries where you can pick up work by local artists, including AC Gallery, in Victoria Court, and Mill Bridge Gallery, on Mill Bridge.
The traditional confectioners and sweet shop is located in the historic 17th-century 35 Main Street, which has been a shop for several hundred years
Vintage and antiques
Just outside the National Park on the A66 near Ravensworth is the large Mainsgill Farmshop & Tearoom which has a huge selection of local produce, as well as clothing, gifts and a whole lot more, including an excellent children’s play area for the younger family members to enjoy while you shop. You can also meet the farm livestock which includes cows, sheep and camels.
On the Bolton Abbey estate you will find a rare book shop, gift shops and a shop called A Good Idea which sells unique hand-painted Art Deco-style furniture and a collection of reclamation and salvage pieces. Moving west from the Dales, Bedale is a small market town which is thriving on the back of new, independent shops, cafes and restaurants. These include Dovetail Interiors, in the Market Place, which features three floors of furniture, home accessories and gifts.
Elsewhere in the town, Red House Vintage sells a mix of vintage items and antiques, and is a great place for a browse. Richmond’s bustling Georgian Market Place overlooked by the castle keep offers a range of excellent independent shops, including Grey’s Interiors, in Finkle Street, where you can pick up home furnishings and accessories to beautify your home. If you’re looking for an usual gift, the Shop at the Station at the town’s former railway station sells ceramics, jewellery, glass, wool throws and more.
As befits North Yorkshire’s county town, Northallerton possesses some excellent independent retailers which have been a fixture on the high street for generations. Department store Barkers was founded by William Barker who was one of 14 brothers and sisters, growing up on his family’s farm in nearby East Cowton. The farm could not afford to support every child, so William became an apprentice at a drapers which he eventually took over and expanded to be the Barkers you will find today.
Lewis and Cooper is another Northallerton institution which can trace its history back to the 19th century. Described as purveyors of fine food and drink, the store ships its hampers packed with local delicacies and gastronomic delights across the country and overseas. In store, Russian caviar and quails eggs compete for shelf space with the finest York ham, hand-made plum puddings and North Yorkshire Moors honey on the comb.
On the Bolton Abbey estate you will find a rare book shop, gift shops and a shop called A Good Idea which sells unique hand-painted Art Deco-style furniture and a collection of reclamation and salvage pieces