Skipton, in the Craven district of North Yorkshire, has a plexus of small valleys but is almost ringed by heather moors. The town was established when a Norman lord built a motte and bailey castle on a rock above a beck to keep an eye on traffic in the Aire Gap, a natural route through the Pennines. Skipton (literally 'sheep town') was given a regional character through the influence of Robert de Romille. The Cliffords, lords of Skipton from 1311 until the death of Lady Anne in 1675, subsequently enhanced the town's importance, but its further growth was afterwards inhibited by the Castle Estate refusing to make land available on long leases.
In the early 1840s, as steam engines began to replace waterpower in local textile mills, a mob of disenchanted handloom weavers, known as 'plug-drawers', visited the town to stop industrial production. But in 1870, the new Dewhurst mill alone had work for 800 people. Less than a century later, outpriced by imports, Skipton's textile trade began a rapid decline until it was virtually non-existent.
To the south of Skipton, the landscape is now blighted by industry (mineral exploitation, especially of lead, besmirched the moors of Grassington and Greenhow), but northwards are the unspoilt Craven Dales - notably Wharfedale and Ribblesdale - where you might travel for miles and not see a mill chimney. This book relates Skipton to the Craven district, an area of outstanding natural beauty, which has the largest outcrop of limestone in the country. The area's farming story is told, beginning in prehistory, when breeds of sheep and cattle were first kept as stock, to the current climate of uncertainty in the agricultural world. With the Romantic Age came the first tourists, who flocked to admire the breathtaking cliffs, gorges and caves of Craven. Craven's cultural heritage, which survives in poetry, painting, prose and music, is also explored.