The River Eden
Location : Mallerstang / Kirkby Stephen / Appleby / Temple Sowerby / Langwathby / Little Salkeld / Lazonby / Kirkoswald /Armathwaite / Wetheral / Carlisle / Burgh by Sands / Port Carlisle / Bowness-on-Solway
The River Eden is entirely Cumbrian and is one of the few large rivers in England that flows northwards. The source of the river is on the high limestone fells above Mallerstang Common, near the North Yorkshire border, and makes its way across eastern Cumbria, with the hills of the North Pennines to the East, and the fells of the Lake District to the west, to Carlisle. Here it merges with other rivers to form the great Solway Firth estuary, before reaching the open sea, 90 miles (145 km) from its source.
For much of its course, the river is accompanied by the famous Settle to Carlisle Railway, a spectacularly scenic route saved from extinction in the 1960s by the efforts of local enthusiasts. The railway is a perfect means for accessing the Eden Valley.
The Eden Valley is green and fertile but in medieval times the valley 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.
The Eden’s source is hidden away, 2198 ft (670m) above sea level, in the moorlands above the Mallerstang Valley, between Wild Boar Fell to the west, and Black Fell Moss to the east. Here two streams – Red Gill and Little Grain – filter from the upland peat of Hugh Seat (2257 ft), and join forces to form Hell Gill Beck.
The waters flow over wild open moorland, over the spectacular Hell Gill Force waterfall, after which it proceeds sedately as the River Eden on down the valley.
Mallerstang, wild and lonely in its higher reaches, is deeply inurned between the crag-rimmed edges of Wild Boar Fell on the west, and the rocky ramparts of Mallerstang Edge on the east. The ‘capital’ of the valley in Outhgill, a hamlet with a church. A little further on, as the valley widens, stands the medieval ruins of Pendragon Castle.
In more open country, with the hills receding, the Eden continues north, passing the isolated remains of Lammerside Castle. As it passes the village of Nateby, it enters an impressive limestone ravine at Stenkrith Bridge. Ahead is the picturesque ancient market town of Kirkby Stephen.
After Appleby, the River is augmented by tributaries from the mighty Cross Fell and its neighbours, which form a lofty backcloth to the eastern side of the valley.
The Eden has now become a wide and attractive waterway, as its winds its way through rich farmlands bordering the A66. This road is laid on the old Roman road from York to Carlisle, and the villages of Kirkby Thore and Temple Sowerby both have relics of Roman occupation. The Eden Bridge at temple Sowerby marks the former boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland, and is also the halfway stage of the river’s journey.
After Temple Sowerby the river is joined by the waters of the River Eamont and River Lowther, and assumes majestic proportions as it follows a more leisurely course towards Langwathby.
The Bailey bridge over the River Eden was built in 1968 to replace a sandstone bridge that had been swept away by floods. The bridge was meant to be a temporary measure and as such is listed in the Guinness book of Records as the longest lasting temporary bridge in the country.
After Langwathby is Little Salkeld, where there is the greatest surviving antiquity in the Eden Valley – the Long Meg & Her Daughters stone circle. By the river is Lacy’s Caves and the Carlisle Settle Railway crosses here on the impressive Eden Lacy Viaduct.
After Lacy’s caves is the interesting village of Kirkoswald and Lazonby. Just beyond, Croglin Water joins the Eden, at what was known as Nunnery Walks. This once popular walk to the River Eden past impressive waterfalls, is no longer open to the public.
Just south of Armathwaite, right beside the river Eden, there are five carvings of these remarkable faces carved in the sandstone cliff.
The Eden then continues under a canopy of foliage to the attractive village of Armathwaite, the only community on the river in the twelve miles between Kirkoswald and Wetheral.
The river then winds through a series of secretive steep-sided sandstone gorges and valleys, before emerging on to Carlisle‘s fertile flood plain.
The main Scotland Road going North out of Carlisle crosses the river at Sir Robert Smirke’s Eden Bridge, passing Bitt’s Park and close to the Castle, before entering countryside once more.
East of Carlisle it passes the remote church at Grinsdale, then Beaumont and Drumburgh, with the Hadrian’s Wall Path following closely as the river continues its way past Rockcliffe to Bowness-on-Solway.
Bowness-on-Solway is the end of almost everything. It is the last community before landscape becomes seascape, where the Romans terminated their famous wall, and where in the widening estuary, the Eden loses its seperate existance and yields itself to the sea.
Beyond is the broad expanse of the Solway Firth, with Criffel in the distant background.
The eastern part of the catchment is drained by short, relatively steep streams from the Pennines; the western part includes tributaries of the Eamont system which arise in the eastern hills of the Lake District, and the major lakes, Ullswater andHaweswater.
The catchment is largely rural, with farming the main industry. There are significant settlements on the upper part of the river at Kirkby Stephen, Appleby-in-Westmorland and Carlisle.
Water quality in the upper reaches is classified as good, and drinking water is abstracted to supply the city of Carlisle. The river is excellent for salmon fishing and also supports a sea trout run. Many other species of fish are also found, eg brown trout, grayling, chub, dace, eel, minnow, loach, river lamprey , sea lamprey, and brook lamprey, stickleback and bullhead. Otters and native crayfish are also found in the Eden catchment.
In 1997 the “River Eden and Tributaries Site of Special Scientific Interest” (SSSI) was declared under the British Wildlife and Countryside Act.
An attractive man-made feature of the valley, commissioned by the East Cumbria Countryside Project, is the collection of stone sculptures known as the ‘Eden Benchmarks‘, which are dotted along its length. Each created by a different sculptor, they have been located beside public paths and, since they also function as seats, provide the perfect setting in which to enjoy the valley’s unspoilt scenery. There are 10 of them in all, beginning with Mary Bourne’s Water Cut, an intriguing limestone sculpture, shaped rather like a tombstone riven from top to bottom by a serpentine space representing the river. It stands on Lady Anne’s Way, a public path along the eastern ridge of the Mallerstang Fells.
Follow the course of the River Eden from source to sea in the gallery below.
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