If you want to explore the Eden Valley, the north-western edge of the Yorkshire Dales, the North Pennines or the Howgill Fells, Kirkby Stephen is the perfect base. There’s a wide range of accommodation here – including inns, campsites, B&Bs and a hostel located in a gorgeous old Methodist chapel – as well as lots of places to eat and a tourist information centre run by helpful, knowledgeable staff.
Located in the Upper Eden Valley, this quiet market town is served by the Settle to Carlisle Railway, although the station itself is just outside of Kirkby Stephen. For those using private transport, it’s a 20-minute drive from junction 38 on the M6 or less than 10 minutes from the A66 cross-Pennine road.
Sitting at the foot of the hills, this old Norse settlement is understandably popular with walkers – a fact that is acknowledged by its recognition as a ‘Walkers are Welcome’ town. The Coast to Coast, one of the world’s most popular long-distance walking routes, passes through the town on its way from St Bees on the Cumbrian coast to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. There is also some superb walking to be enjoyed in and around the town. One of the most popular routes is the hike up to Nine Standards Rigg, where a group of mysterious stone cairns stand guard above the town. Part of a disused railway has been converted into a walking route along the edge of Kirkby Stephen, and the Poetry Path, near the River Eden, features 12 short poems by local poet Meg Peacocke carved into a series of stones.
The parish church, known as the ‘Cathedral of the Dales’ because of its size and beauty, is entered from Market Square via an elegant, red sandstone portico known as The Cloisters. Inside is the eighth-century Loki Stone, showing the figure of a bound devil, probably the Norse god Loki. A narrow lane leads from the church to converted brewery buildings beside the River Eden, spanned since the seventeenth century by Frank’s Bridge.
Beyond the town itself, nearby attractions include Smardale Gill nature reserve, Brough Castle, the heritage Eden Valley Railway at Warcop and the ruins of Pendragon Castle in remote Mallerstang.