Craven: the hap­pi­est place in Great Bri­tain

The Phnom Penh Post - - TRAVEL - Stephen Cas­tle

BRI­TAIN’S econ­omy is slow­ing. Talks on quit­ting the Euro­pean Union have stalled. And the gov­ern­ment is in dis­ar­ray, trou­bled by cab­i­net res­ig­na­tions and em­broiled in a se­ries of sex and sleaze ac­cu­sa­tions.

Yet the na­tional gloom seems to have by­passed Craven, an area of York­shire, in the north of Eng­land, that has star­tled Bri­tons by emerg­ing from na­tional statis­tics as the hap­pi­est place in the coun­try.

In Craven’s big­gest town, Skip­ton, pop­u­la­tion about 15,000, even the mayor, Andrew Rank­ine, ad­mit­ted he was sur­prised. “We just go with the flow,” he said. “We are who we are.”

He is not the only one taken aback by the find­ing from the Of­fice for Na­tional Statis­tics. The Daily Mail head­line read: Not that grim up North! Our hap­pi­est town is in York­shire.

That is be­cause the north of Eng­land is considered by many south­ern­ers to be colder, poorer and less so­phis­ti­cated.

Such stereo­types are be­ing dis­man­tled. A coun­try pub in North York­shire, the Black Swan at Old­stead, was re­cently named the world’s best res­tau­rant, based on cus­tomer re­views com­piled by TripAd­vi­sor.

Yet York­shire folk, it must be said, of­ten revel in their rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing blunt and tac­i­turn. One joke goes, “You can al­ways tell a York­shire­man – but you can’t tell him much.” Paul Rout­ledge, a jour­nal­ist and au­thor who lives in Craven, sums up the York­shire ethos as: “Why call a spade a spade, when you can call it an eff­ing shovel?”

The sur­vey asked ques­tions de­signed to es­ti­mate “life sat­is­fac­tion, whether you feel the things you do in life are worth­while, hap­pi­ness and anx­i­ety”. Bri­tish me­dia out­lets placed Craven top af­ter crunch­ing the num­bers.

Among the happy Skip­ton res­i­dents is Se­bas­tian Fat­torini, though his rea­sons for con­tent­ment in­clude the fact that he lives in a me­di­ae­val fortress. Fat­torini’s grand­fa­ther bought and re­stored Skip­ton Cas­tle at a time when it might have been turned into a theme park.

On a tour of the for­ti­fi­ca­tions, among the best pre­served in Bri­tain, Fat­torini pointed to what he calls the “new” or “mod­ern” parts of the struc­ture. They were added in the 16th cen­tury.

Fat­torini, who has an of­fi­cial ti­tle of Lord of the Honor of Skip­ton, has to think hard be­fore he can say how many rooms there are in the cas­tle’s pri­vate area. He even­tu­ally counts 11. But he does know that only a cou­ple are heated, and that to warm the rest, “you’d need a nu­clear power sta­tion”.

That’s not to say that liv­ing in Skip­ton was easy to start with for Fat­torini, who moved from London in 1998.

“Peo­ple are a lot straighter, more blunt,” he said. “You’re not quite sure whether they are be­ing friendly, then you re­alise they are be­ing ex­tremely friendly.” Now he loves the place, not­ing that peo­ple have time for one an­other, and that “if you died in your flat some­one would no­tice”.

An­other con­tented lo­cal is Geoff Crocker, the po­lice in­spec­tor re­spon­si­ble for Craven in the North York­shire polic­ing re­gion, which has the low­est crime rate in Eng­land.

The area has some gang ac­tiv­ity, se­ri­ous felonies and oc­ca­sional cases of sheep rustling and poach­ing. But with about 20 crimes per 1,000 peo­ple per year, it is among the safest in Eng­land.

No one lives here for the weather, how­ever. Rank­ine, the mayor, said a sunny day “has been known to hap­pen oc­ca­sion­ally”. For­tu­nately, he added, “Skip­ton is one of those places which is ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful in the rain – as long as you are dressed ap­pro­pri­ately.”

Si­mon My­ers, a re­tired lawyer, re­called stand­ing out­side his home on a day when it was rain­ing so hard that the hill op­po­site was in­vis­i­ble, then turn­ing to his neigh­bour and say­ing, “Do re­mind me it’s the views that we live here for.”

Craven is an af­flu­ent pocket of the north, though not the rich­est place in the coun­try. To My­ers, that il­lus­trates that wealth and hap­pi­ness are not syn­ony­mous.

“I think it’s about be­ing self­suf­fi­cient, valu­ing your com­mu­ni­ties, and do­ing your bit and muck­ing in to­gether,” he said. “It isn’t be­cause we can af­ford fancy cars.”

This be­ing York­shire, not every­one is buy­ing the no­tion of Craven as Shangri-La.

“It’s not as won­der­ful as those who make these claims for it say,” said Rout­ledge, sip­ping a pint of lo­cal beer, which, in­ci­den­tally, is roughly half the price of a pint in London.

“The traf­fic is ap­palling, there are not enough places to park and it’s too ex­pen­sive,” he said. “The bus ser­vices have been cut back, and it’s a honey pot for com­muters into Leeds and Brad­ford, so a lot of lo­cal peo­ple can’t af­ford to live here.”

Rout­ledge, who lives a few kilo­me­tres away, has ruf­fled feathers by de­scrib­ing Skip­ton as “snooty” – a word its res­i­dents tend to re­serve for a nearby up­mar­ket town, Har­ro­gate. But the in­hab­i­tants of Craven seem to be happy with the way they are even if, to some out­siders, that can ap­pear glum.

Dave Parker, chief of­fi­cer for the Skip­ton Town Coun­cil, said the mis­take was to equate hap­pi­ness with peo­ple “danc­ing around the streets clap­ping their hands”.

“You will find the old bloke who has been a farmer for years, who is very, very happy sit­ting at the side of his log fire, in his pub, hav­ing his pint – but he won’t look as though he is the hap­pi­est per­son in the world,” Parker said.

Ex­u­ber­ance might not be a lo­cal trait but, on a re­cent Fri­day night, Lothers­dale Vil­lage Hall was packed for a con­cert by the vis­it­ing Clitheroe Ukulele Orches­tra. An entrance ticket in­cluded a meat pie with mushy peas; the thick green mash is a north­ern spe­cialty.

Af­ter per­form­ing sev­eral num­bers, in­clud­ing the Rawhide theme, one band mem­ber asked the fa­tal ques­tion: “What do you think of it so far?”

“Rub­bish!” came the shouted re­ply from the au­di­ence, to cheers and gales of laugh­ter.

No one left early.


Pedes­tri­ans on a street in Skip­ton, Eng­land, the largest town in the district of Craven, on Novem­ber 3.



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