For anyone approaching from the east the small market town of Leyburn marks the start of Wensleydale. On the approach to the town from the east the hills lining the dale make fleeting appearances in the view, and the first full scale view up the valley comes when one emerges from the western end of the town’s market square. The same views can be enjoyed on foot from Leyburn Shawl, a grass covered limestone terrace that runs west from the town (starting from Shawl Terrace at the western end of the market square).
The town is built around its sloped market square, with the impressive Bolton Arms at the upper (western) end. The town gained prominence at the cost of nearby Wensley, which was devastated by the plague in 1563. Even then the town did not gain its charter until 1684, 121 years later. The railway arrived in 1856, and originally ran all the way up the valley, eventually joining the Settle to Carlisle line at Garsdale Head. Passenger services originally ended during the 1960s, and eighteen miles of track between Redmire and Garsdale was pulled up and the land sold off. The track to Redmire was retained to serve the quarries above that village. In 1990 the Wensleydale Railway Association was formed, with the aim of restoring the entire railway. Passenger traffic between Leyburn and Leeming Bar resumed in 2003. The service now reaches Redmire, and there are plans to reconnect to the mail line at Northallerton. Leyburn Station is at the eastern end of the town.
Although it sits just outside the national park, Leyburn makes a good base for a visit to the eastern dales. Good roads lead north into Swaledale, one heading to Richmond and another to Reeth, while to the south Coverdale and beyond it Wharfedale are both easily accessible.