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Market Towns of East Cumbria

As well as the stunning scenery provided by both the Pennines and the Lake District, the Eden Valley is also home to many historic markets towns, which are full of character and charm. As well as quaint cobbled streets and local markets to explore, there are local craft shops and museums, antique and other specialist shops.



Originally the County Town of Westmorland, Appleby became a part of Cumbria in 1974. Sheltered from the east by the High Pennines and from the west by the Lakeland Fells, the quintessential market town sits snugly in its past. Its Norman castle, 12th century church, wide medieval main street, and historic connections with a famous family radiate the magic of this little bit of heaven in Eden.

The charming market town of Appleby, situated on the banks of the River Eden, was developed after the Norman Conquest due to its strategic position in the Eden Valley.  The castle built by William 2nd in 1092 after seizing most of Westmorland from the Scots. The castle is now a private residence and is no longer open to the public.

Inside the castle is the stronghold of the Clifford Lords; this was once the home of Lady Anne Clifford, the great lady of Westmorland, The remarkable Lady Anne Clifford was born locally at Skipton Castle on 30th January 1590. She was fifteen when her father, George Clifford, died and was upset to find she did not inherit her father’s estate as his only surviving child. Instead her Uncle, the Earl of Cumberland, received it and, from the point forward, it became her mission to regain her inheritance. She finally succeeded in 1643.

She moved north in 1649 where she devoted much of her time restoring the neglected estates, castles and churches in the surrounding area.  Her work is much in evidence in Appleby. At the high end of Boroughgate, near the entrance to the castle are the almshouses, which were founded in 1651, these are now called the Hospital of St. Anne. Both Lady Anne and her mother, Lady Margaret, are buried in St. Lawrence’s Church and are commemorated by splendid tombs.

Appleby’s main street, Boroughgate, has been described as one of the finest in England. Shaded by ancient lime trees it is framed by the cloisters at the lower end, which were designed by Robert Smirke in 1811, and the castle entrance at the top of the hill.  The age of the town is echoed in the heritage of the streets' architectural styles, ranging from Jacobean through to Georgian and Victorian.

The field on the outskirts of Appleby originally known as Gallows Hill, due to its usage in earlier times is now called Fair Hill and looks over the town of Appleby. During the Appleby Horse Fair, horses may be found everywhere - in the river, on its banks, along the roadsides or tethered outside hotels and shops. Along the riverbank you are able to watch young people wash the horses in the River Eden.

The Appleby Horse Fair was set up by charter in 1685 and runs for a week in June, ending on the 2nd Wednesday of the month. It is probably the best known of the horse fairs attended by Romany families travelling to meet up with old friends and conduct business. It is world famous, the largest of its kind in the world, and attracts a huge gypsy gathering. It has existed since 1685, under the protection of a charter granted by James II.

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Penrith has a rich history. It was in the 9th and 10th centuries that it became the capital of Cumbria- a semi-dependent state which, until 1070 AD formed part of the Kingdom of Scotland and Strathclyde. Its strategic position on the route to Scotland has resulted, since roman times, in its development as a military centre. 

This strategic position has also meant it was vulnerable to raids from the Scots; it was primarily for defensive purposes that work began on Penrith castle, when William Strickland, later to become Bishop of Carlisle and Archbishop of Canterbury, added a stonewall to an earlier peal tower. The castle was improved and added to over the next 70 years, becoming a royal fortress for Richard, Duke of Gloucester before he became King Richard III in 1483. The ruins that can be seen today date from about that time.

Unfortunately not much is left of Penrith Castle today. However, just two miles outside Penrith lies Brougham Castle, built by the Norman Vieuxpont family, upon what originally was the site of a roman fort. The castle consists of a stone keep, service buildings surrounded by a timber palisade. You can wander through the impressive ruins of this 13th century fortress, admiring its lovely location of the banks of the River Eamont. The keep is the oldest part of the castle still standing; the bottom three stories are from about 1175. You may explore the keep, walking around the rooms, which include the castle's hall on the first floor. On the second floor is the lord's chamber, in which Lady Anne slept when she stayed here, and in which she died. On the third floor is a passage all the way round within the walls, and from various points you can get impressive views of the other castle buildings and the surrounding area.  Just down the road you will find Brougham Hall. The house was repaired in the 17th century by Lady Anne Clifford, and became the home of her agent. In 1726, it was repossessed and extended by Commissioner John Brougham of Scales Hall, whose great grandson, Henry Peter, became Lord Chancellor of England.  Since the 1930’s it has fallen into ruin, but a restoration programme has resulted in a range of craft shops, a gift shop and a tearoom being established within its impressive walls.

Penrith is also home to St. Andrews church, which was built in 1720. However the tower remains from the original 13th century church. The organ was said, when it was installed, to be one of the finest in the North of England. The church has an interesting stained glass East Window by Hardman and Powell, inserted in 1870. Murals painted in 1844 by a local artist, Jacob Thompson, surround the church. In the graveyard is a Norse cross, know as Giant’s Thumb, dating from 920 AD. Owen Caesarius, King of Cumbria from 920 to 937 AD, erected it as a memorial to his father. Legend says that the giant’s grave below it is that of Owen himself, the four hogback stones surrounding the grave are said to represent wild boar he killed in nearby by Inglewood forest.

Situated on Beacon Hill above the town is Penrith Beacon. The monument was built in 1719, on a site where beacons have been lit in times of war and emergency since the reign of Henry VIII. There is a pleasant and gentle walk up to the beacon with rewards of stunning views, on clear days, across the Eden Valley to the Lakeland hills.

Rheged, a local visitor attraction, is situated two minutes outside Penrith. It is Europe’s largest grass covered building and is designed to look like a Lakeland hill. Inside it houses a small selection of shops selling local produce and crafts as well as cafés and a giant cinema screen which shows a selection of films throughout the day. They also host various exhibitions and talks throughout the year; these range from Wainwright in colour, miniature farm and construction exhibitions, through to lady’s day, and many more in between.

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Orton is a small but exceptionally picturesque, market village which lies at the foot of Orton Scar, one of the few remaining limestone plateaux in the country, and the Howgill Fells, a unique cluster of hills marking the boundary between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.  The village was established in the 13th century and the village green is remarkably pretty, surrounded by 17th and 18th century cottages.

The village church, All Saints, dates from the 13th century but many restorations have taken place over the years. The church is now dominated by the 16th century perpendicular tower, which has a fine peel of eight bells. Inside there is a display of 17th century bells as well as several fine stain glass windows.

It is well worth a trip to Orton to visit the farmers market, which is held on the second Saturday of every month. In 2005 it won the farmers market of the year award.  Over 40 local farmers, growers, producers and artisan craftsmen offer a tremendous variety of high quality and speciality local produce and crafts.

As well as the local farmers market Orton is also home to Kennedy’s Fine Chocolates, where you can watch the chocolates being handmade, have cake, coffee and homemade ice cream in the coffee shop and have your own selection box made up to take home.

Orton is also a popular staging post on Wainwright’s coast-to-coast walk before the long haul to Kirkby Stephen. There are also walks from the village, which lead over Orton Scar and across the limestone plateaux, a place of deep fissures, ferns and wild flowers. Situated behind Orton Scar is Castle Folds, a small fort and wall constructed to hold cattle during Scottish raids. One mile outside the village, situated in an attractive and peaceful setting, lays the ancient Gamelands stone circle. Although one of the largest in Cumbria, being some 100 yards in circumference, it is now partially destroyed. It once boasted 40 stones but farming over 100 years ago has either damaged or reduced them. There are now only 33 stones left and it is classed as a flattened and embanked stone circle. The stones, which are made of Shap Granite, stand no more than 1 metre high, above ground.


Kirkby Stephen

The market town of Kirkby Stephen lies at the head of the Eden Valley. The town was granted a market in 1361, and a lively market is still held on every Monday. The town is blessed with a good proportion of handsome buildings in a wide variety of architectural styles and periods. Many of the buildings are built from the local brockram stone, an unusual mixture of limestone and sandstone which has a rosy rue when the sun shines on it

The Market Square is surrounded by an ancient collar of cobblestones, and has a number of buildings of historical and architectural significance. The Cloisters were built in 1810 between the Square and The Parish Church, with the intention of providing shelter for churchgoers and market people. Immediately through the Cloisters is the Trupp Stone, where tithes were paid until 1836.

The parish church, known locally as the cathedral of the dales, is built on the site of an old Anglo Saxon church and contains many interesting relics. One of these is the ‘Loki stone’, which can be found at the west end of the church among several other ancient remnants. The Loki stone is only one of two such stones in Europe. It is a block of stone that stands about a metre high and decorated by a carved figure with horns. It holds historical importance as one of a few surviving objects from a time when the Vikings settled in the area.   

Kirkby Stephen also has a Poetry Path - on the theme of 'A year in the life of a fell side farmer'. Along the path you will find a series of twelve short poems carved on stones, which have been incorporated into walls and stiles or planted as milestones. The poems resonate with a sense of the place and reflect the farming calendar, by following the route, which loops from Stenkrith near Kirkby Stephen to Hartley and back; walkers will be able to trace the course of the farming year.




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The Cloisters Appleby in Westmorland.

Rutter Falls near Appleby in Westmorland.

Appleby in Westmorland in autumn.

St. Lawrence's Church in Appleby in Westmorland.

Washing the horses in the river Eden, during Appleby fair.






The Dame Anne Birkett school, Penrith.


Penrith Castle.


Brougham castle, near Penrith.


St. Andrews church, Penrith.

Penrith Beacon.





Orton village centre.


All Saints church, Orton.

Great Asby Scar, situated near Orton.





Kirkby Stephen train station.

Kirkby Stephen's parish church, known locally as, the cathedral of

the dales.

One of the carved stones along Kirkby Stephen's poetry path.


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