“Knaresborough is full of surprises” exclaims the local tourism board. Well, they have to say something to get visitors in, don’t they? This small town which is set in a large gorge is forever overshadowed by it’s more famous neighbour, Harrogate.
On the face of it, Knaresborough sounds like another generically naff Yorkshire town where everybody roams around with a whippet and flatcap. The latter is true, but there is far more to this tranquil confine than stereotypes. An impressive viaduct, caves and a historic castle make this market town well worth a visit.
At the end of last season, Matt and I made the trip to Chester to have one last non-league outing before the campaign drew to an end. With a free Saturday, we both decided that we’d venture into Yorkshire, making this trip one of the easiest I have done this season.
The NWCFL season was now over for Atherton Collieries. We had lost on Thursday night against FA Vase finalists Glossop North End. Admittedly, I was still feeling quite down and my bruised toes – achieved through kicking the advertising boards when we had a man sent off – hardly put me in the mood for a lot of walking. However, it was going to be a manic day in York, so I got up early and escaped while I could.
As I hobbled down the cobbled street at the rear of my student abode, I heard something strange. York was completely quiet. All roads had been shut. It was the second stage of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire. The yellow bikes which had decorated the city just under a year ago for the Tour de France had re-emerged and a party atmosphere was building. This was aided by the street festivals which were taking place on Fossgate and Bishopthorpe Road.
A few detours and I arrived at York station for the 10:11 train to Knaresborough. It was relatively quiet until a pissed hen do boarded at Poppleton. I suspected that there would be a few scenes on the streets of Harrogate later on that day. That wasn’t my concern anyway, as a large tunnel guided the train into Knaresborough, where a handful of passengers disembarked.
Browsing the map of the local area became a bit confusing, so I headed up the hill assuming that the castle would be up that way. I went on to moan slightly about the walk, but Matt later pointed out to me that it was nothing compared to being brought up in the Valleys. I would also add that this walk was nothing like reaching Mossley’s ground from the train station.
I reached the ancient and crumbling castle a few minutes later. The view from the top, to put it simply was incredible. The lower part of the town could be seen, with the River Nidd running through the centre of it. A spectacular viaduct which became infrequently littered by the purple livery of Northern Rail spanned the gorge while the cliffs of the town filled in the remaining gaps.
Knaresborough’s most famous inhabitant was John Metcalf, commonly known as Blind Jack. There is a statue of this remarkable character, perched on a bench in the centre of the town at Market Place. Blind from the age of six due to smallpox, Jack went on to become the first professional road builder to emerge during the industrial revolution. 180 miles of road were constructed by Blind Jack with notable routes between Knaresborough and Wetherby & Bury and Blackburn established.
Jack’s statue was, indeed, on a bench in the middle of the town. A local informed me that “Jack likes to eat chips” before walking off. I was sat next to Jack, in amongst a local market which had more volunteers and stewards than shoppers. Admittedly, the majority of these fluorescently clad volunteers were pensioners who were obviously being local busy bodies. Behind the market was a stage, where a bloke playing to a crowd of around three was singing songs about caves and how “Gunpowder is the solution” in reference to Guy Fawkes who lived locally.
I had a short list of pubs that I wanted to visit during the day, and my adventure began with an obligatory trip to Wetherspoons for a traditional breakfast. Matt and Tom had arrived in the town, and had arranged to meet me in the Crown Inn. Rather ironically, as I sat drinking my cup of tea, news began to filter through that the country had a new Royal Baby and it was a princess (name as yet unknown) not that I care. I did find it quite fitting that I was in the Crown Inn when the princess’ birth was announced though.
Our next pub stop was the Borough Bailiff, also known as the Commercial Hotel, which is apparently the oldest pub in the town. It was a Samuel Smith’s pub, so of course, we downed some Taddy Lager. There were too many rooms for my liking, and the locals in each kept looking at us in a manner to suggest they didn’t like our odd accents.
We decided to head back to the Market Place to see which pub to go to next. “This looks particularly shit! Let’s go in here!” shouted Matt as we walked down the main street. In fairness, the Hart of Sport was fine and we stayed in there for a while watching Derby County throw away their promotion aspirations as they lost at home to Reading.
Making our way down to the ground, I received a message off Paul asking us where we were. Midway through texting him back, we bumped into him on the street corner. Our next pub decision was an easy one, as one came into view on the left hand side. The Marquis of Granby was yet another Samuel Smiths pub, meaning more Taddy Lager was supped before we made our way down to the ground.
Matt, Tom and I still didn’t know who Knaresborough were playing. I had purposefully avoided the opposition’s name all week, so I had a bit of a surprise when I arrived at the match. Matt on the other hand had checked, but had forgotten… and Paul (much to his credit) had known all week, and despite threatening to tell me had kept it to himself. There was a slight moment of concern when my Dad said it was Club Brugge, but this was a blatant lie – even though we have seen the Belgian side play at a more obscure venue.
Knaresborough Town play their football on the outskirts of an industrial estate at Manse Lane. I had been to this ground in the summer for an U19’s match against Selby Town as my mates Joe and Aaron were refereeing. Unfortunately, I got a bit bored and ended up sitting the clubhouse watching DIY SOS and Who Do You Think You Are? (Sheridan Smith traced her family back for those of you interested).
That evening, a couple of the women who volunteer at the club informed me that it was relatively easy to reach Knaresborough by train from York, and told me to come down for a first team match sometime. I told them I would, and I was back to keep my promise.
Manse Lane, as a ground, is basic but very tidy and modern. A small covered terrace behind one goal has room for 100 standing spectators (apparently), while a small stand has 73 seats. The clubhouse is the most impressive part of the ground, offering a large bar area with a kitchen in one corner.
Town are one of the NCEL’s more recent additions having only made the step up for the 2012/13 season when their ground was deemed fit enough by the ground graders. They finished 8th in their first campaign, before finishing in their highest ever league position of 6th last season.
The club was formed in 1900 as Knaresborough FC, starting off life in the York Football League. They won three consecutive titles between 1902 and 1905, and were invited to join the Northern League due to their impressive form. This saw them play competitively against the likes of York City and Scarborough.
A return to the York Football League came before the club resigned in 1930, reforming two years later under the name of Knaresborough Town FC. Their turbulent existence had another twist at the beginning of the Second World War, when the club folded due to financial problems. Life resumed in the West Yorkshire League and the club moved to Manse Lane in the 1950’s.
Going into this match, Knaresborough found themselves in 12th place, five points behind Selby Town with one match left, therefore unable to move up any positions. Hall Road Rangers – who I had seen at Selby earlier in the season – sat in 17th position, one point behind Worsbrough Bridge Athletic.
The home side had beaten their opponents 6-0 in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign, but Knaresborough boast one of the worst home forms in the division, winning just four at Manse Lane all season. With this in mind, it looked like a close match on paper.
Knaresborough in red, had an uphill battle to get anything from this match when their goalkeeper was rightly sent off after just three minutes. Hall Road striker Johnny Blakeston was played in behind the Town defence and goalkeeper Jack Rushworth clattered into him after he had flicked the ball towards goal.
Arguments ensued between the Knaresborough players. “Well somebody has to go in goal!” shouted one supporter. Eventually striker Colin Heath picked up the gloves and shirt which had been dumped in the penalty area. By this stage the goalkeeper was already lathering his hair like Joe Hart in the showers.
Paul Morrill dispatched the penalty and soon attentions turned to whether the right man was in goal. “We need you up front. Get out and give the gloves to somebody else!” encouraged a vocal fan from behind the goal.
Instructions were now being barked from the home dugout as to who should go in net. “Don’t listen to those lot, sort it out yourselves” advised a Knaresborough committee member.
It was certainly amusing to watch from a neutrals perspective, and we predicted that the floodgates would open, but they never did. Hall Road appeared to just sit back for the majority of the match when they could have easily put the game to bed inside the opening 15 minutes.
Knaresborough played some nice football when the match settled down, but they failed to test Marc Wain in the Rangers goal.
The second half was more entertaining, with the visitors close to further extending their lead through Sam O’Mally. He volleyed the ball into the goal from a pin point cross, but the linesman adjudged him to be offside.
The home side pulled a goal back on 78 minutes when Matthew Pascal hammered the ball home from a Byron Littlefair corner.
The final opportunity of the match turned out to be the last kick, and Knaresborough should have drawn level. A deep cross from the left hand side found its way to Matthew Pascal, who with time and space, opted to smash the ball over the top of the goal.
We didn’t stick around after the final whistle, opting to head back into the town to visit some more pubs. Paul drove us to a part of the town which meant we could venture through the area by the River Nidd. There was nobody else around, making it feel rather like a ghost town.
The Worlds End was our next pub, found on the banks of the river. Named, apparently, due to Mother Shipton’s theory that if the bridge/viaduct collapsed three times, then the world would end. It has already collapsed twice, meaning that if it were to fall again then the world as we know it would change forever. Matt rightly pointed out that if the world was to end then Knaresborough would be a fantastic place to witness it from.
I had some strange beer from Harrogate in this pub as we sat in the conservatory at the rear. The light rain continued to fall, while some reminders from the Tour de France last summer were plastered on the walls and streets around the pub.
Paul left us, and the three of us were left to fend for ourselves. We ventured back up the hill, arriving back at the train station from where we had started the day. That dreaded hill had to be climbed once more if we were to carry on drinking; it was most definitely worth it.
Bind Jacks was our next stop where Matt and I had what we have unanimously described as the beer of the season. Yorkshire Red Lager was it’s name. The only thing that let it down was the fact the pub ran out of the stuff after we had bought ours, meaning we couldn’t have another.
We then headed back down to the train station for a pint in The Mitre, before I caught my train back to York. It had been a fantastic day in Knaresborough. The football ground may not be much but it is one of my favourite NCEL ones that I have visited so far. The town is one of the nicest I have visited and the number of quality pubs makes it an ideal place to spend the day. Get down to Knaresborough, you know you want to.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 18 miles (from York)
- ADMISSION: £3 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1