Walks in the Eden Valley
The Eden Valley and the surrounding fells are some of the best parts of Cumbria. While the crowds rush into the Lake District to battle with each other, you can bask in near solitude on the Howgills or on the Cumbrian flanks of the Pennines or Yorkshire Dales. Yes, they all meet at the Eden Valley, itself an idyllic triangle of countryside stretching from Penrith to Brough, Kirkby Stephen and Tebay (well known to drivers on the M6 as one of the best service stations).
Starting from the northern end... Penrith is a workaday town, not particularly attractive but a good base for exploring the Pennines or a foray into the northern Lakes. It has some quaint corners. There's a cinema where they still have interludes and ushers come out to sell ice-creams. A very ruined Penrith Castle sits in the centre of town (opposite the train station) but just outside the town boundaries is Brougham Castle, a very fine and almost complete pile under the protection of English Heritage. Penrith has a mainline station on the West Coast line making it the easiest of the Eden Valley towns to reach by public transport. Penrith TIC 01768 867466.
Fifteen miles or so further south there is the pretty town of Appleby-in-Westmorland, scene of an annual horse fair and possessor of another fine castle (sadly no longer open to the public). Appleby Tourist Info - 017683 51177. The surrounding villages are beautiful and to the west you can scale the edge of the Pennines, for instance to High Cup Nick, one of the highlights of the Pennine Way. Appleby can be reached by the Settle-Carlisle railway which runs through some stunning countryside and joins the town to a number of attractive villages in the Eden Valley. See www.settle-carlisle.co.uk for train links from Carlisle and Leeds.
Follow the A66 further south and you come to Brough, famous for, well, being on the A66. The A66 can be treacherous in winter as it passes over the Pennines and indeed at Brough you can see the barriers that are brought down across the road when the winds are too high or the snow too deep.
Brough itself is somewhat isolated now that the A66 passes around it, although there's a good ruined castle, evidence of times when this was the English/Scottish border. More appealing is Kirkby Stephen, a few miles to the west and a very traditional small market town. There's a Co-op supermarket but other than that all the shops are private retailers - not a WH Smiths in sight. Kirkby Stephen sits about halfway along Wainwright's Coast to Coast path and has more than its fair share of tea shops, cafes and fish and chip shops to satisfy the hungry walker. The Tourist Info Office is friendly - call 017683 71199.
Rising up from behind Kirkby Stephen is Nine Standards Rigg. At the top are nine curious piles of stone - purpose unknown but visible from miles around. Continue south and you reach Tan Hill Inn, also on the Pennine Way and England's highest inn.
Kirkby Stephen is now a 'Walkers are Welcome' town - find out more on the WalkEden website. It is also on the Settle-Carlisle line. Lots of walkers use the line to hop from one starting point to another.
There are plenty of attractive villages at the southern end of the Eden Valley. Ravenstonedale is a good base for walking on the Howgills and for venturing into the Yorkshire Dales. The Black Swan there is a very reasonably priced hotel with excellent food. Orton is close to the M6 but you wouldn't believe it - it's as quiet as anywhere.
Wherever you go, the whole of the Eden Valley is criss-crossed with footpaths - making it a fine base for people who like gentle country strolls or a good break from scaling the fells. For hill-walkers there are plenty of proper fells, including the splendidly named Wild Boar Fell.