Almost one-third of the Yorkshire Dales National Park falls within the county of Cumbria, stretching from the market town of Kirkby Lonsdale on the Lancashire border in the south almost all the way up to Appleby-in-Westmorland in the north. Although there are several interesting attractions, people don’t come here for the museums or the organised adventure activities; they come for the scenery and the area’s relaxed, laid-back feel.
The southernmost town is Kirkby Lonsdale, an unspoiled market town on the banks of the River Lune. Here you’ll find Ruskin’s View, a scene painted by Turner in the 1820s that the Victorian social theorist John Ruskin proclaimed to be “one of the loveliest views in England, therefore in the world”. Further north, beyond the quaint cottages and cobbled lanes of beautiful Dentdale, is Sedbergh. The narrow streets and alleys of this sleepy old settlement, England’s official ‘book town’, are full of shops crammed with second-hand titles as well as all the best-sellers.
Sedbergh sits at the foot of the Howgill Fells, brooding giants with a character that sets them apart from the neighbouring hills of the Lake District and the Pennines. Steep but grassy slopes, popular with hill-walkers, make up a great dome which the guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright likened to “a huddle of squatting elephants”. Yorkshire’s highest peak, Whernside, can also be climbed from nearby, as can the highest hill in Lancashire, Gragareth.
Beyond the Howgills lies Kirkby Stephen, another market town that’s oozing with character. Although it’s just outside the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales, it’s a great base for exploring lonely Mallerstang’s wildflower meadows and the ruins of Pendragon Castle; the fascinating Karst scenery of Great Asby Scar; the rare wildlife of Smardale Gill; and the impressive waterfalls of Cautley Spout, Rutter Force and Hell Gill.
The trains of the Settle to Carlisle Railway, probably the most scenic line in England, pass through this part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. They enter Cumbria just after crossing the 24 massive arches of the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct and then pass through Dent, the highest mainline station in England, before continuing on to Kirkby Stephen, skirting the edge of the Westmorland Dales, and then carrying on through the towns and villages of the Eden Valley. There are occasional steam services along the line, mostly during the summer, but you’ll need to book well in advance.