To the east lies the North Pennines, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Cross Fell is the highest point on the Pennines at 893 metres (2930 ft) with the distinctive conical peaks of Knock, Dufton and Murton pikes jutting up from the edge.
The valley floor is occupied by the Eden River and its tributaries. The Romans marched through this valley between Carlisle and Brough, whilst the Vikings were drawn to the rich grazing lands around the river and founded the first settlements of Temple Sowerby, Bolton, Appleby, Great Ormside and Sandford.
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The village of Orton stretches languidly in all directions but never loses sight of its focal centre, where several roads and footpaths converge. Here on the second Saturday of every month is one of the best farmers' market in northwest England with a huge array of local produce, complemented by a fine artisan chocolate factory and a traditional village shop.
Kirkby Stephen, an ancient market town at the head of the Eden Valley, possesses an air of historical intrigue. A fine church and busy market square lie at its heart. Narrow, twisting passageways await exploration and underground passages once provided refuge during Scottish raids and to smuggle in beer to the ale-houses to avoid paying taxes.
The double-ringed Oddendale Stone Circle and other prehistoric cairns can be found on the limestone plateau to the south-west of Crosby Ravensworth, as well as evidence of Iron Age settlements. At Ewe Close there are traces of a Romano-British settlement - one of the finest in northwest England - comprising a series of hut circles and enclosure walls.
During the 9th century, Viking settlers arrived in the Eden Valley and probably established the first homestead near Bongate in Appleby and at many other places along the Eden and its tributaries. The Normans recognised the advantages of overlooking an important river crossing at Appleby and built the defensive stone keep of Appleby Castle on a high vantage point.
The Clifford family took over the castle in the 13th century and held it for the next 400 years. Extensive renovations were made in the 17th century by Lady Anne Clifford in 1651. After her death, the castle passed to the Earl of Thanet who re-faced the building. The castle is still open for tours, weddings, functions and conferences.
Appleby is an ancient royal borough and was the county town of Westmorland until government boundary reorganisations in 1974 swept away the old counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and parts of Lancashire to create Cumbria. Its high status is evident in the elegant uphill sweep of its tree-lined main street (Boroughgate) from the Norman church of St Lawrence at the bottom to the defensive Norman castle at the top. In places are narrow defensive lanes called ‘wiends' that could be closed off in times of danger.
Appleby developed early as a market town to sell produce from the surrounding rural area. The strong tradition of milk, butter and cheese production led to the establishment of the Appleby Express Creamery in 1931. The bull tethering ring, which can still be seen between Low Cross and the Moot Hall, was last used in 1812. Further along, the old County Gaol incarcerated prisoners for various misdeeds. Prisoners were made to work for their keep by grinding malt for the brewery and pumping water. A treadmill was uncovered here by Channel 4's Time Team in 2003. Gallows Hill (now known as Fair Hill) was the site for public hangings, the last being in 1829.
Appleby Horse Fair
This colourful spectacle has its origins circa 1685 when James II granted the town a second market charter to hold a fair ‘for the sale of all manners of goods, cattle, horses, mares and geldings’. Held in early June every year at Fair Hill, the event is a major cultural gathering for travelling people and attracts huge numbers who come to witness horse sales and the tradition of washing horses in the river.
St Lawrence's Church
The parish church of Appleby was founded shortly after the castle. Although badly damaged by the Scots in 1388, the church was rebuilt by Lady Anne Clifford in the mid-17th century. When she died in 1676 her coffin was laid in a vault near to a handsome monument to the Clifford family lineage. Adjacent is a magnificent marble memorial to her mother Margaret, Countess of Cumberland.
St Anne's Hospital almshouses
Midway up Boroughgate is a picturesque courtyard of almshouses built by Lady Anne Clifford in 1651 to house poor Appleby widows. Although the houses are still occupied, the courtyard and chapel may be visited during the day.
Ten carved stone sculptures (which also function as seats) that can be found along the length of the River Eden from Mallerstang to Rockcliffe. The sculputures were commissioned to commemorate the 2000 millennium.
Although the present building dates from 1838, it is thought there has been a mill here since the 13th century, probably supplying ground corn to the castle.
A horticultural haven that contains the largest collection of culinary and medicinal plants in the north of England and a traditional orchard with many regional varieties of apple, pear and damson trees.