With a wealth of family-owned shops and a market each Monday, Kirkby Stephen is a good place to pick up a few bargains as well as see some stunning sights. The Cumbrian town, which is part of Westmorland, has held its market charter since 1352 and its stalls sell everything from clothing to meats from local farms.
During any visit to the market square you will notice a building with a triangular roof and a series of stone pillars. While it may look like something from ancient Rome, the Cloisters was built in 1810 as a shelter for people going to the Parish Church after visiting the market.
It has an inscription on its front that is dedicated to the memory of John Waller Esq, a local Navy man who left the money needed for the building in his will.
Just outside the town is a place that goes even further back in time. Pendragon Castle is in ruins today, but according to local legend it was built by the father of King Arthur and was one of the north’s major fortresses.
While there is little recorded evidence, folktales say that Pendragon and 100 of his men also died at the site after Saxon invaders poisoned its well.
The existing structure dates from a much later period. It was built by the Norman Sir Hugh de Morville in the 12th century and it is believed that he chose the location to its historical significance and its proximity to the River Eden.
He was one of Henry II’s most loyal knights and is best known for being one of three people involved in the assignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket in 1170.
The castle passed to de Morville’s relatives, but was badly destroyed by fire in 1541. During the 17th century Lady Anne Clifford, the Countess of Dorset, took over the property and restored it to its former glory. However, after her death, the castle was abandoned and became ruined.
Lady Clifford was clearly an admirer of de Morville as she arranged for pillar to be erected with a dedication to the knight on Hugh Seat, the fell that marks the border of Cumbria and Yorkshire and overlooks Kirkby Stephen.
Known as Countess Pillar, it also honours Lady Clifford’s mother as its position marks the spot where she last saw her prior to her death. The site, as well as the rest of Hugh Seat, offers fantastic views of Cotterdale and Wensleydale to the south-east and Mallerstag to the west.
Another historical site close to Kirkby Stephen is Brough Castle. Like Pendragon it is also in ruins and but it dates from a century earlier. It was built by William I around 1092 and stands on the site of on old Roman fort.
Due to it being a Royal residence, it was attacked by Scots on numerous occasions. In 1174, it was even captured by William the Lion, King of Scotland, who ordered his men to burn it to the ground.
King John gave the castle to Robert de Vieuxpont in 1203 and he restored with a new keep and gatehouse. Later that century, the building became a possession of the Clifford family and would pass into the hands of the aforementioned Lady Anne more than three hundred years later.
As with Pendragon, she upgraded much of the structure and made substantial additions including new stables, but again decay set in after her death. In 1763 some of the castle’s stone was stolen for repair work on Brough Mill and it fell further into ruin.
Today the remaining structure is maintained by English Heritage and is free to visit.
A key walk near Kirkby Stephen is called the Poetry Path. It is themed on a ‘a year in the life of a fellside farmer’ and was created by the East Cumbria Countryside Project as a way of celebrating the region’s natural beauty.
A series of 12 poems were written by Meg Peacocke, with the words being carved into stone tablets and pillars that have been placed at specific points on the trail.
The town is also on the Coast to Coast route, which was devised by Alfred Wainwright and runs from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay on the east coast.
Kirkby Stephen is easy to get to as it has a train station on the Settle to Carlisle railway.