OL19: Kirkby Stephen

OS Explorer map OL19, Howgill Fells and Upper Eden Valley – I own this map, but had not visited the area before starting this blog. Visited for this post 8th February 2020. This is the third of five posts about a trip I did from Friday 7th to Monday 10th February 2020; a long weekend away to the Yorkshire Dales with my friends (and housemates) Erithacus, Millicent and Vesper.

My last post told you of the adventures that Millicent, Erithacus, Vesper and I had in Swaledale and Wensleydale, in and around the cottage where we were staying for the weekend near the village of Crackpot. There was a gap in that post, though, in the middle of Saturday – the reason for this is that we were over the boundary in this map area, OL19!

Leaving the cottage for a day of exploring (or at least a few hours in the middle of the day) at around elevenish, we drove westwards up Swaledale, and made our first brief stop up on the moors between Swaledale and the Vale of Eden. We stopped the car on a bit of solid gravelly ground next to the B6270 (not really even a lay-by), near such gloriously-named features marked on the OS Map as Tailbridge Hill, Lamps Moss, Fells End Bottom, Foul Gutter, Stank Hill and Careless Bank.

Thanks to the foreshocks of Storm Ciara due to hit the next day, it was very windy (this being the reason why we had decided not to go for a proper walk today), but it was very pretty, and just nice to get a spot of that good wilderness. We wandered around for a bit, took some silly photos, then got back in the car to drive down to Kirkby Stephen.

The area we were visiting was new to me and Erithacus. Vesper had visited in her childhood and didn’t have all that many memories of it. Millicent, however, had very vivid memories of it, this having been where he did one of his expeditions for the Duke of Edinburgh‘s Gold Award. He knew the area particularly well as, apparently, he’d been the one of his group who did most of the route planning. On that trip, Millicent had passed near Kirkby Stephen, but had been disappointed not to get to visit it – and so there we went!

It was raining all the time that we were in Kirkby Stephen, so we didn’t wander around too much, but from what we did see, it seemed a pleasant place. We parked up in the middle of town and proceeded pretty directly to the church, which Millicent wanted to see. And with good reason – as well as being generally historical, impressive and interesting, it was packed full of weird and wonderful things to look at! Interestingly, the church, dedicated to St Stephen, is shared by an Anglican and a Roman Catholic congregation.

Among the delights on offer was a lovely selection of early medieval stonework in a display case, including a nice little hogback tombstone. They’re also very proud of their “Loki stone”, a section of an Anglo-Saxon cross shaft that displays some kind of bound devil-type thing, which may or may not be related to Loki. It’s displayed in pride of place right in front of the entrance.

The “Loki Stone”

I was interested by some circular shelves around a pillar, which a helpful sign told my were 18th-century “bread shelves”, once used for distributing bread to the local poor. Also present was a display case full of fun items of local historical interest – there was a tusk that, tradition has it, came from the last wild boar to be killed in Cumbria, and a bullet found embedded in one of the church doors, which itself was said to have come from one of several nearby castles.

The bread shelves

I also spent a long time inspecting a lovely wooden cabinet (the others were at this point still discussing the collection of stonework). It was really solid, generally attractive, and I loved how it has clearly been used and re-used, patched up and altered for centuries – there were lots of odd holes and marks, one could distinguish the remains of several previous locks and latches on some doors. One door had metal hinges that looked fairly like the hinges I’m used to, I guess the doing of some Victorian repairperson or something, but its counterpart on the other side just had little wooden sticks at the top and bottom as its hinge, going into holes. 17th century, maybe? I know nothing about furniture, so that is a complete guess. [1]

The cabinet that I liked

The cabinet was presently being used to store Christmas decorations. I love this quality of churches – they’re just a general community space that lasts forever, where solemn memorials, fine art and random notable objects no-one could turn down (or think of anywhere else for) coexist with plastic toys, second-hand book sales and screaming children. A Jacobean cabinet can get plopped in one and just stay, and four hundred years later it contains shoeboxes full of tinsel, just a few yards down from a scholarly display of some notable historical artefacts.

Walking back to the car, our eyes were drawn by a chip shop, so chips (some cheesy, some not) were duly bought, and brought with us on a short drive southwards to our next destination: Pendragon Castle. We parked up in a lay-by near the castle in question to devour the chips with our packed lunch, also neatly out-waiting the rain.

Pendragon Castle

Pendragon Castle is Norman in origin, with various later addings-on, and has been a ruin these past three hundred years. As the name indicates, local lore would tell you that it was built by Uther Pendragon. It’s on private land, but access is permitted as long as you follow some rules tacked to a gatepost, including not to climb on the walls – which a Spanish party were engaged in blatantly flouting as we arrived. It was quite a fun little ruin to explore, and we had good fun pottering about exploring it before moving on.

Erithacus and Millicent at the little waterfall

From Pendragon Castle, we continued driving south up the Vale of Eden, planning to drive over into Wensleydale before returning to Swaledale over the moors; we’d just stop anywhere interesting we saw. In the end, we made only one other stop, in a lay-by, to admire a little waterfall and the view over the Settle and Carlisle Line.

I’ve never been on the Settle-Carlisle Line, but I’d really like to. (I did try to go on it when I visited Clitheroe a few months previously, but was unsuccessful due to a late once-daily train). It’s a really interesting railway. Despite going through mountainous, sparsely populated (and very scenic) country, connecting cities that have much more logical main lines between them, it’s no rural branch line; it’s a double-track, fast main-line all the way. There are no tight curves to wind its way cheaply up and down inclines, and the railway doesn’t divert to reach nearby towns and villages; instead there are tunnels and viaducts everywhere, and the stations are often miles away from the places they theoretically serve.

The Settle-Carlisle Line in the Eden Valley

The railway, I read, was built in the 1870s by the Midland Railway, which was in search of its own route to Scotland. It was a rival to the companies running the now West and East Coast Main Lines, but the logical coastal routes already having been built, it had to push its ridiculous route right through the middle. Naturally, after the railways were first combined and then nationalised, there wasn’t all that much point to this railway, and it nearly closed in the 80s. But traffic has recovered, primarily due to tourism, and here it is still, a fun historical oddity.

As I was leaving, a group parked up in their car and started unpacking some serious photography equipment. Are railway photographers a thing? If so, they certainly picked a good place for it – it was very pretty! It was good to be able to see the railway – hopefully I’ll get to ride it some day soon!

Returning to the car to continue on our way

From there, we got back in the car and continued driving. Our next stop was in Hawes, back in map OL30 – so that tale is told in my previous post!

[1] That experience briefly made me consider learning something about antique furniture, but I expect that, like trees, opera, birds and Finnish, it will probably remain on my list for a long while.


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