It’s something of a challenge going for a walk when most of the places you want to walk are closed off.

As the foot-and-mouth crisis has deepened and the access ban has been extended to cover much of the canal towpath as well as all rights of way, it’s become increasingly difficult to find any countryside outings which don’t rapidly come to a dead end.

So for the time being, town trails are on the agenda - starting with Skipton, which is a very busy place no matter what day you visit it. It has set out its stall to attract tourists, with plenty of bed-and-breakfast places in and around the town and a growing number of restaurants, tea shops and wine bars to cater for all tastes and pockets.

Shame, then, that its Tourist Information Centre has closed, to be replaced by a trestle table and a few racks of leaflets in the Town Hall.

Starting point for this walk was the station, from where I walked up Belmont Street towards the town centre. Over Belmont Bridge, I took the first turning on the left into Coach Street. This continues over the canal to a town-centre car park, the alternative starting point for those who head for Skipton by car.

However, I didn’t cross the canal. Instead, I turned right up one of the cobbled streets and alleys which cut through an attractive part of old Skipton, to emerge soon into Sheep Street.

This is a sort of siding off High Street, divided from it by a long block of shops, offices and restaurants. It includes the former Town Hall, a Georgian building which has an imposing Sheep Street frontage reached by a flight of stone steps. Here, too, is where the West Riding Quarter Sessions used to be held.

I continued up Sheep Street then turned right at the end of the block of shops to cross High Street by the pedestrian crossing.

This was a Tuesday, which is not a market day in Skipton. On most other days, both sides of High Street are lined with busy stalls and movement along the pavements is slow.

On this day, though, there was nothing to impede progress as I turned right on the far side of High Street and walked down to Craven Court, an attractive indoors shopping arcade.

I walked through this to emerge into Otley Street (passing the empty premises which until recently housed the TIC) and turned left to re-enter High Street. A right turn here found me looking up the street towards Skipton Castle and Holy Trinity Church.

I walked up the street, admiring the architecture of the library across the road and the luxurious chocolate confectionery in the window of Whitaker’s shop which I passed on my right on the way to the “new” Town Hall, which now has the table of tourist information.

It also houses the Craven Museum, which is well worth interrupting your walk for.

The street between Whitaker’s and the Town Hall leads to a large car park and toilets. However, the walk led ahead up High Street, crossing the end of The Bailey carefully to reach the entrance to Skipton Castle, an impressive, well-preserved Norman pile which in 1311 came under the control of the Clifford family.

Best-remembered member of that family is Lady Anne Clifford, less than five feet tall but a real tough cookie. It was during her time that Skipton Castle managed to hold out against Cromwell’s army for three years, becoming the last Royalist bastion in the North after the Battle of Marston Moor before it eventually fell.

Next to the castle stands the church, founded about 1300 by the canons of Bolton Priory. It was knocked about a bit in the Civil War and repaired by Lady Anne at her own expense. Windows in the church illuminated with her initials “A P” (the “P” being for Pembroke) and the date 1665 are testimony to the restoration work.

The route lay through the churchyard to pass the front door and descend to the road beyond. Here, on the right, was the Springs Branch of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, an offshoot which runs around the back of the castle and heads off beside Castle Wood.

It had been part of my plan to divert along the towpath here for a while, to look at this attractive stretch of water. However, unfortunately it was sealed off - not by foot-and-mouth disease but for safety reasons because work was being done on the drained canal in the centre of Skipton and nowhere was the towpath accessible. Hopefully it will be when you visit.

So instead I crossed Mill Bridge, forcing myself to pass Stanforth’s famous pie shop without diving in and buying a hot pork pie (well, it was barely past breakfast time) and turning left up Water Street.

The route led up the pavement as Water Street became Park Avenue and passed the splendid buildings and grounds of Ermysted’s Grammar School, then Skipton Girls’ High School. A sign here indicated the presence of the Judi Dench Studio. Dame Judi wasn’t a former pupil of the school. She was actually brought up in York. But she did offer a lot of support to the school when a new drama studio was being planned - hence it being named in her honour.

Not much further up the road, on the left-hand side, was the entrance to Aireville Park, a fine open area with children’s playground, tennis, pitch-and-putt, a skateboard park and the leisure centre with its swimming pool.

We turned right immediately through the gate and followed the top path almost to the far entrance, turning left where the path met the drive to walk down through the park, passing the swimming-baths car park. Soon the path ran alongside the Conservation Meadows, which was closed off by foot-and-mouth, to eventually meet the canal at the swing bridge.

The towpath on the right, leading to open countryside, was cordoned off because of disease. The one on the left, leading into the town past the block of apartments created in the former Victoria Mills, was blocked off because of canal work.

There was nowhere else to go but ahead, back to the station feeling just a teeny bit claustrophobic.

Fact File

  • Time for walk: an hour plus any  extra for diversions.
  • Toilets: at the two main car parks and in the leisure centre.
  • Skipton Castle: open daily from 10am. Charge (tel: 01756 792442).
  • Holy Trinity Church: open daily (free).
  • Craven Museum in the Town Hall: open daily except Tuesday, 1.30-5pm until end of March, 10am-5pm from April (2pm-5pm Sunday)