Things to do in and around Masham
Before we start, let's get the name right. It's pronounced "Massam" (meaning: Massa's ham as in saxon chieftain's farmstead), not Mash-em! Masham is a small market town with an incredible concentration of artistic and cultural activities and people. It sits on the fringes of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so an inspiring landscape is a given.
Masham is situated on the banks of the river Ure offering lovely riverside walks including along the Ripon Rowel to nearby Hackfall woods with its historic follies, waterfalls and fountain.
Masham Market Place is said to be one of the largest in England. Elegant Georgian houses stand around its periphery with an ancient cross and cobbled area at its centre. It was given its first market charter in 1251. At that time Masham was quite an active place to be with mills, cloth making, tanning and sheep farming. At one time huge annual sheep sales took place in the square and surrounding lanes, with up to 40,000 sheep for sale. Those days are long gone but Masham Sheep Fair still takes place each Autumn and is an important date in the sheep showing calendar. Sheep were almost certainly introduced to Masham and the Yorkshire Dales by the Vikings, who left another unexpected legacy in Masham.
Masham is famous for its two breweries, The Black Sheep and Theakstons, and now has its own gin - Spirit of Masham available from Corks and Cases.
It’s also becoming known for its thriving artistic community and has a long history of inspiring creative people and artists such as Julius Caesar Ibbetson and Turner. Ian Scott Massie captures the Dales landscape in atmospheric watercolours, screen prints, poetry and stories. Charlotte Morrison hand builds delicate ceramic vessels inspired by local landscapes and vintage items. You can see their work at Masham Gallery alongside work by many other local artists and makers. Josie Beszant’s work is often based around the idea of collections and memories, evoking strong emotions and telling the stories behind half-forgotten ephemera.
If you’d rather enjoy your art outdoors, look out for the two sculpture trails. One is known as the Leaves Walk and follows a route along the River Ure. The sculptures are large but some are a little hidden.
The Swifts Trail is centred around the market square and roads leading from it. You’ll find it much easier to find them all if you pick up a leaflet from the Visit Masham community office, which also has its own small gallery, the Blue Light Gallery (the building used to be a police station) featuring a changing programme of local artists.
Twice a year, Masham plays host to an excellent contemporary craft fair (no crocheted toilet roll holders!), Crafted by Hand when carefully selected makers show their talents and sell their creations. The Town Hall is home to many other events from comedy to plays, bands, poetry evenings, film showings and exhibitions.
Within the Masham community, there are many friendly creative groups including the Photographic Society, Knit and Natter, the Quilters, Masham Players, Masham Music Society, and Women’s Institute.
Some years ago a huge pile of bones was found: it's thought there was once a Viking burial ground in the Little Market Place, now commemorated by a blue plaque on the wall of the Masham Community Office. They were re-interred in St. Mary's Churchyard which also has an stump of an Angle Saxon cross by the door. A few years ago when the doctor's surgery was being extended, a skeleton was found, which caused some consternation - it was later found to be Viking, rather than a neglected patient.
There are several interesting buildings and businesses around the Market Square - from the Kings Head Hotel on which if you look carefully, you can just see the outline of the words "Excise Office" from when it was a coaching inn and Masham was an important trading place.
Nolon Stacey’s Gallery features his very detailed, pencil drawings of British wildlife, dogs and farm animals. Simon Palmer has shown his enigmatic depictions inspired by North Yorkshire at the Royal Academy and regularly holds acclaimed London exhibitions but you can still sometimes buy his work through Masham Gallery.
Maureen and Tim Simon at Uredale Glass have been blowing brightly coloured glass for many years and their daughter, Zoe, is now taking on the mantle, specializing in fused glass.
Stone carver Gaynor Pearson works to commission & you'll increasingly spot her work around Masham. Nearby Em Fountain creates incredible felted hares, green men and other animals.
Rob Blades’ beautiful illustrated maps of Masham and Fearby can be seen on postcards and posters. Every year he creates a new design for the Sheep Fair tea towels which have become collectors’ items and sell out each year.
You might want to learn to create your own artistic or craft masterpiece – you can do exactly that at ArtisOn near Masham where the cakes and lunches are just as good as the tuition!
Masham boasts the largest market square in the Yorkshire Dales and much of the town’s life is centred on it. There is a twice weekly market and it is the site of the popular autumn Sheep Fair. Vehicles from the annual Traction Engine Rally and Steam Fair also parade to the square for visitors and residents to admire.
St. Mary’s Church dates back to medieval times. Visitors come to see the ancient Saxon Cross in the churchyard. Inside you’ll find a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds and intricate carvings from the 17th century. Just outside the door you’ll see the richly carved Saxon Cross so it seems Masham’s creativity isn’t just a recent thing!
Not far away on the hills is Druids Temple, a folly near Ilton and now home to Bivouac, part of the Swinton Estate which also includes Swinton Park Hotel with its award-winning restaurant and cookery school. Every Spring in the next village the Himalayan Gardens have an outdoor sculpture exhibition.
Just up the road from Masham is nearby Fearby Village Hall is the stage for the annual pantomime – so popular that when tickets go on sale, queues form at the makeshift box office.