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Eden Valley & North Pennines Quick Guide
The Eden Valley is the area of Cumbria east of Penrith and the M6, covering the area that was mostly the old county of Westmorland. Surprisingly little known, it is visited time and again by those who have discovered it. The Pennines form the northern boundary of this area, the Yorkshire Dales are the southern boundary.
The Eden Valley is green and fertile with rolling countryside. Now it is a peaceful, gentle land but in medieval times was vulnerable to Scottish raids and the number of pele towers and castles in the area are testament to a turbulent and often violent past. There are ruined castles at Pendragon and Lammerside, near Kirkby Stephen, and a well preserved castle at Brough.
The River Eden rises in Mallerstang, and flows north through the old market towns of Kirkby Stephen and Appleby. It is one of the finest salmon and trout rivers in the North of England and you can enjoy some great riverside walks. As the river moves northward towards the sea beyond Carlisle it becomes broader and slower but has dramatic moments, at Armathwaite and Little Salkeld for example, where sandstone cliffs plunge down to the water.
The famous Carlisle to Settle Railway roughly follows the line of the River, with stations at Kirkby Stephen, Appleby, Langwathby, Lazonby and Armathwaite. There are several viaducts and tunnels and occasional charter steam trains run the line as well as the usual scheduled services.
Appleby developed as the market town of Westmorland after the Norman Conquest, having a strategic position in the Eden valley. It is an attractive market town with a dominating castle now open for tours (booking essential) and, of course, the famous Horse Fair (June).
The pretty market town of Kirkby Stephen lies to the south, at the head of the Eden Valley, the source of which is in the nearby Mallerstang Valley. Kirkby Stephen was granted a market charter in 1361, and a lively market is still held on Mondays.
Ravenstonedale is a tranquil, attractive village lying among beautiful rolling countryside a few miles south of Kirkby Stephen. There is superb walking in the Howgill Fells from here and a good variety of quality accommodation and places to eat. An excellent base from which to explore both the nearby Yorkshire Dales as well as the Lake District.
Dufton is a pretty village three miles north of Appleby, which lies on both the Pennine Way and Cumbria Cycle Way. Many old houses, some from the 17th century, border the rectangular village green with its avenue of lime trees. You can approach Cross Fell (the highest point on the Pennines) or High Cup Nick from here. At the head of this perfectly formed U-shaped Valley High Cup Nick is one of the highlights of the Pennine Way, described by Wainwright as an ‘unforgettable sight’. Dufton is perfectly situated for exploring the moorland of the North Pennines, or the green valleys of the River Eden.
Alston in the North Pennines claims to be the highest market settlement in England, being about 1000 feet above sea level. It is also remote, about 20 miles from the nearest town. From every direction Alston is approached over a broad, heather-clad Pennine landscape. Alston has a steep cobbled main street with a distinctive market cross and many stone buildings dating from the 17th Century. The nearby small village of Nenthead is England’s highest village at 1500 feet.