Howgills, Sedbergh­ & Kirkby Stephen

Jonathan’s View

“Lonely hills and quiet towns mark any visit as a wonderful trip back in time.”

I always viewed the Howgills from the M6 on my way to the Lakes or Scotland with a certain yearning to walk their lofty, grassy ridges but not sufficiently to stop for some closer exploration. However in the last few years I have become a regular visitor. The Howgills themselves are a pleasure to walk but head further east the remote Pennine spine offers some tougher days. Mallerstang is lovely and a holiday based in the town of Kirkby Stephen offers the walker endless walking opportunities. Whilst not pretty there is a remoteness and timelessness which has defied the modern world making this a genuine journey back in time.

Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen are two good sized towns where you will probably end up staying. Sedbergh is the gateway to the Howgills whilst further north Kirkby Stephen is situated perfectly for Mallerstang and the Pennine chain.  It is usually by trainvia the famous Settle to Carlisle line or as one of the middle day on the Coast to Coast long distance walk. This area does not do villages though – staying here is about one of the 2 towns above or hamlets and farms off the beaten track.

Sedbergh is a town I visited a lot as a young lad on trips to the famous old boarding school My elder brother went there and these are his comments…”Whenever I think of Sedbergh, I remember the School 10 mile, arguably the finest cross country running course in the world. It runs along the side of the Howgill fells then crosses to Baugh Fell passing ‘Plantation’ and ‘Muddy Slide’ before reaching the road at Danny Bridge and a 2 mile run back to the town centre. Sedbergh is surrounded by mountains though dominated by Winder and a walk to it’s summit should not be missed. From here you can carry on over flatter ground to Higher Winder and Calf before dropping down via Cautley Spout to Cautley and tea at the Cross Keys. At school we were usually fortunate to have the transport back laid on!

Personally I find it a fascinating little town, with a superb array of small shops offering a variety of interesting and little found things. Sedbergh sells itself as the ‘English Book Town’ and there are a number of small shops selling second hand books  Hay on Wye in Wales and Wigton in Scotland are two other Book Towns. Sedbergh also has some very attractive old churches and school buildings and has a certain peace and tranquility I find particularly appealling.

Kirkby Stephen never seems to do itself  justice. The situation is fantastic with much to see and do from the doorstep but the town itself always feels a little dour. Tourism income has not increased sufficiently to ensure the upgrade of facilities which is so sorely needed. Passing through on the Coast to Coast I found the town lifeless and without energy (bit like me at the time), the pubs and tea shops either under invested in or trying too hard and over pricing themselves. It needs visitors to create the investment and I would hope walkers in particular will give the town a shot. Mallerstang just to the north is lovely and the hills of Wild Boar and Nine Standards Rigg provide excellent walks whereas the Monday market and the annual music festival are lively and fun occasions.

The history of the Howgills and the area around Kirkby Stephen is dominated by its geographical situation on the old trade routes to the north, first started in Roman times. Henry VII granted Sedbergh market town status and the famous old school also originated from this time. It is sheep farming which has dominated the area since the mid 17th century. Knitting and woollen industries thrived in the 19th century and left a legacy of buildings that can be seen in both Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen. However the gradual decline of these industries has meant that the area has suffered, with tourism never really taking its place as it did in many other areas of the Yorkshire Dales. 

Much of the area is now included within the Yorkshire Dales National Park (since 2016 and the boundary review) and this will certainly help the promotion of the area. However recognition will take time and in the meantime we can enjoy lonely walking in fantastic and wild scenery.

It is a wonderful base to try a good number of the Dales 30

We hold many of our Learn a Skill, Climb a Hill courses in the Kirkby Stephen area. 


My favourite walks in the Howgills and around Kirkby Stephen are outlined below. Just click the link for further details.

Ancient Castles of Mallerstang. This intriguing valley is full of history and beauty and can be started direct from Kirkby Stephen.

Nine Standards Rigg. A good path from Kirkby Stephen climbs the mountain with the 9 stone pillars on the summit.

Killing Grounds of the Wild Boar. A climb up Wild Boar Fell from Mallerstang with superb views from the large summit plateau.

East of Mallerstang. An rarely frequented broad ridge linking 2 high summits

Dick Turpin & the Source of the Eden. A 7 mile low level walk to Hell Gill in upper Mallerstang, a deep chasm at the source of the Eden.

Smardale Gill & Moors. Spectacular gorge near Kirkby Stephen with 2 viaducts and a river bed full of wild flowers and grasses

A Brough Circular. Exploring the lands to the south of the historical town of Brough in Cumbria

Sedbergh & the River Rawthey. A low level exploration of the river, rugby fields and flanks of Winder mountain

Fell Head in the Howgills. From the west the Howgills are even more graceful; smooth but steep ridges

Northern Howgills. Rarely visited the long ridges of the northern Howgills offer some wonderful walking with far reaching views

Short Climb up Yarlside . My favourite short but steep mountain in the Howgills, perfectly formed with excellent views.

The Calf via Cautely Spout. The highest waterfall in England leads to the high plateau at the south end of the Howgills.

Sedbergh to Dent & back. Discover the Dales Way and upland moors between these attractive villages/towns

Lonely Howgills. A longer 10 mile walk across the length of the Howgill Hills on good terrain from Sedbergh.

The Wilson Run . A classic 10 mile fell race open to walkers on only 1 day a year

Lonely Wandale Hill. An unusual 5 mile walk circling a rarely visited hill at the northern end of the Howgills.

Baugh Fell. If fellow walkers are not your bag this 10 mile circuit over this vast hill is just the ticket!

Other Things to do in the Howgills, Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen

Fell Running for Women. Ali Bramall is a business coach and has combined her profession with a love for fell running in a series of courses

Farfield Mill. A variety of crafts and arts are housed on 4 floors in this converted Victorian woollen mill near Sedbergh.

Holme Farm. A great place to visit for the family on this working farm near Kirkby Stephen with ponies, ducks, pigs and many more animals to see.

Cook in Cumbria. Learn to cook the Cumbrian way with one day classes at Ravenstonedale.

Bookshops. A selection of book shops in Sedbergh that are favourites of locals and visitors alike.

The Coast to Coast passes through Kirkby Stephen on its way from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay.

Updated Weather Forecast

This Weather Widget is provided by the Met Office

Click here to go to the Met Office website for a 5 day forecast for Sedbergh.

Places to Stay

Bull Hotel, Sedbergh

New Ing Lodge, Shap

Summerhill Guest House Sedbergh

Beck House Farm Caravans, near Sedbergh

Cottage for 2, Kirkby Stephen

Cottages in the Dales



  1. Jonathan says:

    You are well placed for a great week.

    The 3 you must do are the following:
    1. Nine Standards Rigg which is described above
    2. Sedbergh & the Howgills described above as the Lonely Howgills
    3. Wild Boar Fell is great but if the weather is not so good try the Mallerstang Castles one

    Finally if you have some suitable transport drive up to Dufton (near Appleby and only 1/2 an hour drive) and go up High Cup Nick in some lovely area of limestone described here

    All of these require a bit of effort but excellent walks

  2. alan hallam says:

    We are agroup of 11 experienced walkers from the south of France,we are booked into The Manor House, Kirkby Stephen, in July for a week of walking. Your walks are very interesting, but which ones would you reccomend for us.
    Alan Group Leader

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