Howgills and the Cumbrian Dales

Jonathan’s View

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

The Cumbrian Dales

I always viewed the Howgills and the Cumbrian Dales from the M6 with a certain longing. To walk their lofty, grassy ridges was very tempting. However I was always hurrying to Scotland or the Lakes to stop for some closer exploration. However in the last 10 years I have become a regular visitor. The Howgills in particular are a delight to walk on.

Head further east the remote Pennine spine offers some much tougher and largely trackless days. Mallerstang is a lovely valley and any stay 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.  Both towns are easily accessible from the M6 and Kirkby Stephen is on the Settle to Carlisle rail line. 


Winder summit
Winder summit

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 (no money for a younger brother) and spent his time eulogising about the Howgill fells which dominate the town. As a fell runner he spent many a tortuous hour on the steep slopes and perfect grassy ridges of this rarely visited range of mountains. Known locally as the ‘Sleepy Elephants’ the Howgills have some superb walking, once on the ridges you can walk for hours with views to the Dales one way and the Lakes to the other.

I find Sedbergh a fascinating little town, with an interesting 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 the other two Book Towns. Sedbergh also has some very attractive old churches and school buildings and has a certain timelessness that many will find appealing.

Kirkby Stephen

Lammerside Castle, Mallerstang
Lammerside Castle, Mallerstang

Kirkby Stephen could do with some investment and it would become one of the tourist hot spots of the Dales. The situation is fantastic with endless walking , much of it from the door. Tourism income has unfortunately not increased sufficiently to ensure the upgrade of facilities which is so sorely needed. It is on the Coast to Coast which does bring traffic but sandwiched between the dramatic Lakes and pretty Dales it is often forgotten.

Kirkby Stephen needs to develop its own identity. Mallerstang just to the north is lovely and the hills of Wild Boar and Nine Standards Rigg provide excellent if rough walking.  There is a wonderful history, old churches and buildings and I would urge anyone to give it a try. Just up the road Nateby is tucked beautifully in to the fells.

Further west is Orton with its famous limestone pavement and Crosby Ravensworth, quiet villages with some excellent walking nearby. Tamer than the moors of Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen.

A Rich History

Church at Crosby Ravensworth
Church at Crosby Ravensworth

The early history of the Howgills and the area around Kirkby Stephen is dominated by its geographical situation on the old trade routes leading to the north. It was first used in Roman times. Henry VII granted Sedbergh market town status and the famous old school also originated from this time. Lady Anne Clifford may be Mallerstang’s most famous resident. She helped restore Pendragon Castle in the 17th century, a castle allegedly owned by King Arthur’s father. 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. Tourism never really replaced the struggling farming industry as it did in many other areas of the 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 image and development of the area. However recognition will take time and in the meantime we can enjoy the wonderful location in splendid isolation.

My Favourite Walks in the Howgills and Cumbrian Dales

The area is home to a large number of the Dales 30 Mountains.

Just click on the walks below for further details.


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.

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


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

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.

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

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

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

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


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. A rarely frequented broad ridge bordering the east of Mallerstang linking 2 Dales 30 summits.

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

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

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

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

Weather Forecast



Other Things to do

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

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.


Places to Stay

Cottages in the Dales
  • 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

    • 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

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