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Tucked away between the mountains of the Lake District and the Pennines, the Eden Valley is one of Northern England's hidden treasures. Access to a wide range of hill and valley walks make the region an ideal base for hikers and nature lovers looking to wander far from the crowds found in England's National Parks. History buffs will appreciate the area too, with castles and churches peppering the landscape.
The Eden Valley is the floodplain of the River Eden, from its source at Aisgill near the Cumbria/North Yorkshire border to the city of Carlisle. It's a wide, gently rolling plain almost entirely surrounded by the highest mountain ranges in England - the Lake District mountains, the Pennines, the Howgill Fells and the Yorkshire Dales.
The modern administrative capital of Eden District, Penrith is a working Cumbrian town hewn of red sandstone. It's not without its attractions, including an interesting town centre and a distinctive ruined castle, and makes a good base for exploring both the Eden Valley and the Northern Lake District.
The old capital of the ancient county of Westmorland, Appleby is a pretty and traditional market town best known for its annual Roma fair.
The Eden Valley is a great base for a walking holiday, with interesting excursions including Nine Standards Rigg, Wild Boar Fell (where Englands last native wild boar was reputedly shot) and the picturesque disused railway track at Smardale. Kirkby Stephen's Poetry Path in lovely Stenkrith Park makes for an interesting and unusual gentle stroll.
The Eden Valley has a number of imposing Castles, with the finest examples being the great Norman keeps of Brougham and Brough. Hidden away in Mallerstang is tiny Pendragon Castle, the ancient court of Uther Pendragon (according to local legend). Most villages possess a medieval church. The church of Kirkby Stephen hosts a perfectly preserved Loki Stone - a Norse artefact depicting the god of mischief.
The picturesque Settle-Carlisle railway passes through much of the Eden Valley and makes a scenic and relaxing day out, stopping at towns and villages including Kirkby Stephen, Appleby, Langwathby and Armathwaite. The recently restored Eden Valley Railway, from Appleby to the village of Warcop, is another attraction.
Holding the somewhat bizarre accolade of 'Europe's Largest Grass-covered Building', the Rheged Visitor Centre at Penrith is an unusual experience. The attraction centres on a film celebrating the region's history and culture, shown on a vast IMax screen ('the size of four double-decker buses'). The rest of the building holds an exhibition of the work of Eden's artisanal craftspeople.
Trading has been tough recently for Eden's small farmers. Some have attempted to counter this by diversifying into some interesting and unusual lines - Eden Ostrich World and The Alpaca Centre provide a chance to see the beasts up close.
Probably the best attended Roma fair in the UK, Appleby Horse Fair draws travelling families from across the country. It's a great spectacle for the rest of us too, with hundreds of horses paraded (and raced) around town and many attractively decorated traditional caravans.
2nd week in June, Appleby
Also in Appleby, the annual Jazz Festival is Eden's biggest cultural event, attracting some top names.
Dates vary annually, Appleby
Many towns and villages hold agricultural fairs, giving you the chance to see parades of Eden's finest exhibits (sheep and cows, mainly). Other attractions may or may not include cake baking, clay pigeon shooting and dry stone walling competitions.
The Eden Valley does receive more than its fair share of wind and rain. On a bad day, the characteristic 'Helm Wind' can really whip down from the Pennines, making life particularly tough for walkers and cyclists. Come prepared, at any time of year, and consider abandoning walks on high ground if the weather is really bad (particularly in winter)
The Eden Valley is easily accessible by car, with the M6 North-South arterial route passing Penrith. It's also possible to access The Eden Valley from the East of England using the A1/M1 and A66 transpennine road. Note that both of these routes (the A66 particularly) are prone to closure due to snow in winter.
National Express offer services to Penrith, Appleby and Brough from across the UK. The bargain-basement Megabusservice from London to Scotland stops at Scotch Corner , just outside Cumbria to the East.
The railway is a great way to get around Eden. The fantastic Settle-Carlisle railway stops at Garsdale, Kirkby Stephen, Appleby, Langwathby, Lazonby and Armathwaite. There's also a branch line maintained by enthusiasts (the Eden Valley Railway) running from Appleby to Warcop
The road is a convenient way to get to some of the remoter bits of the area. A particularly attractive drive is the B6259 route from Kirkby Stephen to Garsdale via Mallerstang.
The bus network is decent enough and relatively cheap, with all but the remotest villages served by a route of some sort. Make doubly sure that the bus runs on the day that you want to travel. All local bus service timetables are available on the Travelline website.
Principally an agricultural region, Eden isn't geared up to provide the sort of dining available in the more touristic Lake District. That said, some country pubs do a good job of serving up tasty, wholesome food including plenty of local produce - particularly the Fat Lamb at Mallerstang, the Royal Oak at Appleby and the Black Swan at Ravenstonedale.
Some of the produce is second to none - Eden Valley farmers rear Lamb to die for, much of it sold under the prestigious Cumbrian Fellbred brand, and the crystal clear rivers and streams are ideal for Trout fishing. Grouse and Pheasant are raised on the moors around Brough and Kirkby Stephen.
The Eden Valley shares a passion for real ale with the rest of Cumbria with many pubs tied to the ubiquitous Jennings of Cockermouth. The only brewery based in the valley itself is the Tirril Brewery, producers of some particularly good bottled beers, based at Long Marton near Appleby. The thoroughly excellent Hesket Newmarket brewery is based at the Rose and Crown in the village of Hesket Newmarket at the foot of the Caldbeck Fells just outside the Eden Valley.
For the budget conscious there are numerous campsites available, though given the climate it might be more comfortable to stay in one of the YHA's hostels (located at Kirkby Stephen, Dufton and Birdoswald).
In the mid-range bracket, almost every village will have at least one Bed & Breakfast, with standards and decor ranging from grubby and chintzy to modern and flash. Some particularly good deals are to be had staying in traditional working farms, and you're guaranteed a freshly laid egg at breakfast. Check reviews before you book. Prices are generally comparably low. Village pubs will often have a room or two to rent, with costs usually similar to Bed & Breakfast.
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