By Mark Sandamas, Owner C2C Packhorse

Our home town. Our wonderful home town! We love living, working and being here and are pleased that we can welcome you on your trip through.

It’s everything you want in a place to live – lovely friendly neighbours, character, interesting places and quirks, a very strong sense of community, superb pubs and cafes, a thriving art scene and of course it is set a most beautiful position.

If approaching by car from the west, you’ll first pass the majestic Howgills then rise over Ash Fell. Broaching the top you’ll see both the imposing North Pennine Fells including Cross Fell, Dufton Fell and High Cup Nick, and the majestic Nine Standards Rigg. Our lovely town, down in the dip on the river Eden, remains coyly hidden until you reach it crossing over the old railway bridge.

Approaching from the south via Sedbergh, will bring you past Britain’s tallest waterfall – Cautley Spout and into the sheer dominance of the Howgill Fells.

Kirkby Stephen originated from a small Danish settlement in the 10th Century. By 1170 the first church was built as a timber construction with the first stone building coming around 100 years later. Further developed over the following couple of centuries it became known at the Cathedral of the Dales. The Market followed with the first Charter being granted in 1353.

The Nine Standards Rigg is perhaps what Kirkby Stephen is most associated with (well apart from Coast to Coast Packhorse…!)… The origins of these nine cairns or stone columns remain a great topic of debate, as does their purpose. The most recent research suggest they were first built around 800 years ago. Though possibly a lot earlier by the Romans to give the impression of a dominant fortification. What’s your theory?

However it is not the only walk you can do from the town. As the informative leaflet produced by the town shows, there are at least ten other lovely circular routes to suit all preferences. From a longer yomp up to the majestic Wild Boar Fell – so named as the last place these animals roamed freely – to a shorter flat circuit on the Railway Viaduct walk (probably the most popular). This starts at Stenkrith Park where the river Eden rushes through spectacular limestone rapids and whirlpools. Crossing Podgill and Merrygill Viaducts with superb views across the Eden Valley and across to the North Pennines, it also incorporates the Poetry Path – themed ‘A year in the life of a hill farmer’, celebrating the landscape of the Eden Valley. Poet Meg Peacocke wrote a series of twelve poems, which give sense of place and reflect the farming calendar – hay-making, harvest, hedgelaying and lambing time. Look out for the poems carved into a series of stones and incorporated into walls and stiles, or placed like milestones along the path.

We also have Lady Anne’s Way passing through the town – you’ll notice the lifesize statue of her in the middle of town. An option therefore is to follow this for 14 miles along the Eden Valley to Appleby and then catch the train back.

Being on the world famous Settle Carlisle Railway is another asset. Any travel in either direction is a pure joy and just spent gazing out the window. Either down past Garsdale and Britain’s highest station at Dent or up to Appleby and beyond through the lovely villages of Langwathby and Lazonby right through the heart of the Eden Valley.

Just one thing to bear in mind if arriving or leaving by train – the station is just over a mile outside town up Whinny Hill. Though there is a footpath to it so you can avoid walking on the main road.

That community friendliness is perhaps most encapsulated for visitors when popping in to our cafes and pubs. It really is a truism you enter a stranger and leave a friend. La’l Nook, our superb Tap Room owned by Dave and Wendy, The Taggy Man, owned by Kevin and Jenny, and the Pennine, owned by Shelly and Hugh – all full of character, delightful ales and the lively buzz of conversation. All places that we welcome you into to enjoy your free drink on us (to all our package customers).

And whilst you are here some other suggestions from the team:

  • Look out for the red squirrels which are still resident in the area. For an almost certain encounter, find your way to Smardale Gill nature reserve less than three miles from the town.
  • Nine Standards is not the only mystery, although it is at least visible. At several places in the town centre, houses are connected from one side of the road to the other by tunnels between the cellars. No explanation has ever been established. You can get more information at the excellent little Visitor Centre.
  • If you’re lucky, you will also see one of the really unique features of Kirkby Stephen – full grown macaws flying free, and squabbling with the jackdaws around the chimney pots.
  • Another rather special feature of Kirkby Stephen town centre is that every single shop is taken. The most recent changes include a florists, an interesting vintage and second-hand shop, and a rather good gallery near the traffic lights showing (and selling) work from more than 20 local artists.

Who wouldn’t want to live here?

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