North of Kirkby Stephen, the River Eden runs through a landscape of wooded gorges, rolling farmland and idyllic red sandstone villages, all towered over by the biggest and bleakest hills of the Pennines. Some of Cumbria’s most imposing Norman castles can be seen here, including Brough, Brougham and Appleby. You’ll also discover evidence of even earlier inhabitants in the form of Neolithic henges and a stone circle known as Long Meg and Her Daughters. One of the most enigmatic sites in Cumbria, it’s said to be the remains of a coven of witches turned to stone by a Scottish wizard for profanities on the Sabbath. Visit if you dare!
Appleby-in-Westmorland is one of the largest towns. As well as a castle, it is home to Boroughgate, a broad street lined by Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian buildings that runs all the way from the castle to the cloistered arcade of the town’s twelfth-century church. For one week every June, this otherwise sedate town is transformed when it plays host, as it has done for more than 300 years, to a colourful and vibrant spectacle – the Appleby Horse Fair, Europe’s largest annual gathering of Romany people and travellers.
Some of the best walks in the North Pennines can be easily accessed from a base in Appleby. Cross Fell, the highest point on this long chain of hills, can be climbed from nearby Blencarn. And even if you’re not a regular hill-walker, you won’t want to miss out on High Cup, a line of exposed volcanic rock that forms a spectacular rim around a steep-sided valley. Follow the Pennine Way south from Dufton to see this amazing geological spectacle, part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Eden Valley is most easily accessed via Penrith, close to the M6 motorway and also on the West Coast Mainline railway. The pretty villages of Little Salkeld, Lazonby, Langwathby, Kirkoswald and Armathwaite are all nearby. Penrith also marks the start of the A686, an amazing road that climbs in a series of switchbacks to Hartside Pass, one of the UK’s highest road passes. Drive to the top simply to enjoy the far-reaching views back across the Eden Valley to the Lake District, or carry on into the heart of the North Pennines… Here, up on the windswept moors, lie the cobbled streets of Alston, one of England’s two highest market towns and, higher still, the village of Nenthead.