Ripon–you’ve heard the name on Downton Abbey. It’s a beautiful, small market city in North Yorkshire, England, and it was my home for four fabulous years.
I’ve found myself backing up old photos this week, and feeling nostalgic about life in Ripon. It was ideal. My children were young and came to believe that they were actually Brits, accent and all. They attended British school, we spent our days in beautiful environs and living with a decidedly British/European sensability. We walked to school, to swim lessons, to church, to the grocery store; through rain, through snow, through days of unending summer sun or unending winter dark. We walked a few blocks out our front door in one direction, and we were in the market square; another direction, and we were in sheep pastures; yet another direction, and we walked the river banks. We enjoyed Michaelmas and Bonfire Night in the autumn, Candelmas in February, and Shakespeare performances outdoors all summer.
As a home base, Ripon was lovely. I think she’s equally engaging for the passer-through too. The market square is the center of town–literally and figuratively–and Daniel Defoe called it “the finest and most beautiful square that is to be seen of its kind in England.” If you go on market day, the space is bustling. You might enjoy coffee and scones at one corner of the square, in the old Wakeman’s House (which, I hope, still houses a tearoom. . .and possibly a ghost). The cafe there is fabulous, and the house is a landmark dating back to the 14th century, and once belonging to the last “wakeman” of Ripon. The wakeman set the town watch at night, meaning that he was the watchman, entrusted to keep the town safe from villians and marauders.
Ripon still observes the Wakeman’s Ceremony (dating back to 866). Each night at 9 pm, the town Wakeman strides to the center of the market square (by the obelisk) and blows his horn to let the people know that the night watchman
is on duty to keep them safe. Of course, the town’s safety is in the hands of its police these days, but George Pickles, who performed Wakeman duties and set the watch while we lived there (and may still) did a fabulous job keeping the tradition alive and speaking with townspeople and tourists about the history of Ripon.
There is certainly history in abundance on show at the cathedral. The crypt dates back to the 7th century, and the cathedral to the 1100’s; the misericord carvings are said to have inspired Louis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland; and it’s one of the few places on earth that still celebrates Candlemas on February 2nd (thousands of candles, and candles only, light the cathedral to celebrate the purification of Mary, and also the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox–you know this day as Groundhog’s Day!).
If you ever find yourself in N. Yorkshire, near Harrogate, give Ripon a look. The walks are beautiful, the Workhouse Museum and Police Museums are interesting, and the people are fabulous. For pubs, I recommend The One Eyed Rat and The Water Rat. For dining, The Royal Oak, Lockwoods, and Balti House (right there on Kirkgate by the cathedral). I also recommend that you take me with you. Ahhh, I miss Ripon some days. . .