“Lonely hills and quiet towns mark a visit as a wonderful trip back in time.”
Most view the Howgill Hills from the M6 on their way to the Lakes or Scotland with a certain yearning to walk their lofty, grassy ridges but nothing sufficient to stop for some closer exploration. I admit I did but in the last few years have come to enjoy the area from much closer at hand. The Howgills are indeed a pleasure to walk on but further east the going gets rougher as the true spine of the Pennines is met. However Mallerstang is lovely and a holiday based in the town of Kirkby Stephen offers the walker endless, contrasting 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 which hold the key to the area. Sedbergh can be visited from the south or west and is the gateway to the Howgills whilst further south and east Kirkby Stephen is in the centre of a particularly remote spot visited mainly by train travellers on the famous Settle to Carlisle line or those plodding over the Coast to Coast. This area does not do villages though – staying here is really 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 ‘book town’ and there are a number of small second hand shops selling books I guess would not be found elsewhere. Hay on Wye and Wigton are two other such towns. Away from the books Sedbergh has some very attractive old churches and school buildings and is nearly always quiet enough to enjoy exploring without feeling in the middle of a tourist trap.
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 can be a little disappointing. The income has simply not flowed in with sufficient regularity to ensure the upgrade of facilities which is so sorely needed. Passing through on the Coast to Coast recently I found the town lifeless and without energy (although there is an excellent new Indian restaurant), the pubs and tea shops either under invested in or trying too hard and over pricing themselves. It needs the 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 remoteness and geographical positions as old trade routes on any journey to the north from the south or east to west. Henry VII granted Sedbergh market town status and the famous old school also originated from this time. However it is sheep that dominated the locals’ lives in the area through the ages with knitting and woollen industries thriving in the 19th century and leaving the legacy of buildings that can be seen in both Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen. However the gradual erosion of these industries has meant that the area declined, with tourism never really taking its place as it did in many other areas of the Yorkshire Dales. Maybe the proposed redrawing of the National Park boundaries will make a difference and increase the area’s popularity.
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.
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
Click here to go to the Met Office website for a 5 day forecast for Sedbergh.
Places to Stay
New Ing Lodge, Shap
Summerhill Guest House Sedbergh
Beck House Farm Caravans, near Sedbergh