The vibrant market town of Kirkby Stephen lies in the beautiful Upper Eden on the eastern borders of Cumbria, in what was historically part of Westmorland. The town was the first in Cumbria to receive the ‘Walkers are Welcome’ award and was also a previous winner of the prestigious title of Calor “English Village of the Year”. As you would expect there are numerous pubs and cafes to visit, as well as galleries and craft shops, and there is still a regular thriving animal market. If you are lucky you might also see one of the parrots belonging to a local conservation charity flying about the town.
Less known to the casual tourist is that the Parish Church houses one of only 2 surviving Loki Stones in Europe, Loki being a Norse God. In addition, if you like your historical transport then you are well served in Kirkby Stephen. Cumbria Classic Coaches run 3 regular routes during the summer months, the Stainmore Railway Company are a must for any railway enthusiasts. Of course Kirkby Stephen is also one of the stops on the Settle to Carlisle line.
You are also only a short drive from the famous Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in England. Often snowed in due to its location, check the weather forecast if you are not wanting to enjoy an extended lock in.
Walks, Poets and Monuments
The Coast to Coast walk runs through the town and, when travelling East, heads up to Nine Standards Rigg, which is the highest point on the skyline at 650m. At the top you will find the stone cairns that make up this striking and popular landmark. They vary in height between 2 & 4 metres and due to frequent rebuilds because of the weather can number anything from 7 to 10 pillars. It is not known who or why they were built, but there are historical records suggesting that they were around at least 500 years ago. This is well worth a walk up, and is not for the faint hearted, but the reward is a superb panoramic view across the Upper Eden.
Across the valley stands Wild Boar Fell with its characteristic profile that can be seen from Dufton Pike. Another challenging walk this is also supposed to be the place where the last boar was killed in England in 1409.
If you are looking for something more sedate and inspirational then the Poetry Path may be for you. Starting from Bollom Lane off Nateby Road the short circular walk along either side of the river Eden has 12 poems carved on blocks of stone addressing the hill farmers relationship to the Upper Eden Valley.
Heading out to the west of Kirkby Stephen another option for a gentle stroll is Smardale Gill and viaduct. The walk here has been made accessible and goes across the top of the iconic viaduct. For great photos you can walk down the left hand side, returning across the viaduct, to make a short circular walk of 3 miles or so.
Source of the Eden
A little further south into Mallerstang can be found the source of the river Eden which flows from here along its 81 mile course to the Solway Firth. It is the only river in England that flows North and has clearly had a huge impact on the landscape it flows through. There is a nice circular walk that takes in the impressive Hells Gill and part of Lady Anne’s Way, before reaching the first of 10 carved stone sculptures that are sited along the length of the Eden – this one is ‘Water Cut’ and stands at a high point along the valley and offers a dramatic photo opportunity with the Upper Eden as a backdrop.
History & Ice Cream
Brough Castle is one of several castles located across the Eden and is located at Church Brough, just north of Kirkby Stephen. Dating from around 1200 it is free to enter and is starkly impressive on a ridge commanding Stainmore Pass, and if you arrived in the area from the East along the A66 you will almost certainly have seen it as you drove through. More comfortable living was added by the Clifford family only to be accidentally burnt following a ‘great Christmas party’ in 1521. Like so many castles in the region it was restored by Lady Anne Clifford in the 17th Century. Equally as impressive is the Ice Cream parlour and tea rooms that can be found next to the castle. The ice cream is all homemade and is a great reward for a day out in this area!
There is also a nod to the legend of King Arthur in the area. Heading out south along the Natebyroad from Kirkby Stephen you will come across Pendragon Castle. Again, no more than a ruin, but nevertheless still fun to explore this castle which is reputed to have been founded by Uther Pendragon, King Arthur’s father.