Revel in Ruskin’s favourite view, traditional pubs, cosy atmosphere and a corner of Cornwall in Cumbria, says Simon Whaley …
“I do not know in all my country, still less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine.” – John Ruskin
Wander around Kirkby Lonsdale today and you’ll see John Ruskin’s words still ring true. While tourists flock to Cumbria’s Lake District towns, those in the know savour Kirkby’s delightful cosy cafes and independent shops, tastefully trimmed Christmas lights, wonderful architecture, riverside walks and one of England’s finest views.
Timing, though, is everything. This gentle 1 ½-mile walk works best on a winter’s afternoon. Use the gently fading light to explore the dashing Devil’s Bridge, ramble along the River Lune and wonder at Ruskin’s View, before slipping back into town in the twinkling twilight, under the cosy atmosphere of Christmas lights for some festive shopping.
1 – Devil’s Crossing
Park in Bridge Brow, just off the A65, which used to be the main Kendal to Settle road, and walk along to Devil’s Bridge. Built by monks in the 14th century, it crosses the Lune at one of its narrowest points. Step into the pedestrian refuges and lean over to spy the unusually ribbed stone arches.
Return to the western bank, and turn right onto a path signed to the Radical Steps (⅔ mile). Pass through a kissing gate, and then fork right to follow the river bank.
This level path bears gently left, through another kissing gate, into trees. The island in the river was created in 1810 when it froze completely during a severe frost. Its subsequent thaw led to ice blocks gouging out the watercourse seen nearest to the path. Over the years, the river has adopted both routes, creating the small island.
Continue along the path, passing an old mill house on the left, and then a picnic area on the right. The path becomes narrower, following the water’s edge closely, and at the corner of a wall, turns left up Radical Steps.
2 – Radical Risers
Uneven, worn and steep, these 86 steps were created in 1820, when Dr Pearson became frustrated at having so many people walk through his garden. He managed to get the footpath diverted alongside the river, requiring the need for these steps. Their name comes not from their unusualness, but from the politics that Dr Pearson practised at the time.
3 – Ruskin’s View
At the top of the steps, turn right, onto a level path, to gaze at a view that John Ruskin called, “one of the loveliest views in England, therefore the World.” On a late winter’s afternoon, when the setting sun casts a warm orange glow on the cold rounded flanks of Barbon Low Fell and the curve of the Lune, it’s easy to see why JMW Turner was inspired to paint this scene from the nearby graveyard in 1822.
Return toward the Radical Steps, but fork right, through St Mary’s graveyard. Look out for the open, hand-hewn stone coffin near the main entrance to St Mary’s Church, and step inside to view its interior pillars, some decorated in a similar style to those in Durham Cathedral.
Leave the churchyard through the large metal gates, dropping into pedestrianised Church Street, with the Sun Inn on the left, to reach Market Street.
4 – Festive Fayre
Kirkby Lonsdale gained its market charter in 1227, and Market Street was busy with traders passing east-west between the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria, and those travelling north-south. A new market place was built round the corner in 1822, but market street is still packed with wonderful independent retailers, many of whom have traded here for years.
For some local Cumbrian and Lancastrian meats, perfect for any Christmas meal, turn right, briefly, for Dales Traditional Butchers. Established in 1906 by Herbert Dale, staff will happily share preparation and cooking tips for its award-winning produce.
This small market town was so busy with traders and shoppers in the 18th century it once boasted 29 local hostelries. Today, there are fewer, although both the Sun Inn and the Kings Arms opposite have roaring fires to warm the souls of those cold from their riverside wander.
Take Market Street, with its fine boutiques and gift shops, and follow the road round to the right into Main Street. Dog-lovers may get side-tracked by Tails at KL on the corner, full of pooch pressies and stocking fillers. The narrowness of Main Street cocoons shoppers from the cold, with plenty of opportunities to buy a unique present from the traditional ironmongers, antique shops, or gift shops like Parma Violet.
5 – Cornish Congruity
At the end of Main Street, continue ahead into the Market Square and then turn left, passing the Sweet Shop with its sugary temptations, many from Christmases past, and the Crossing Point Cafe. If Market Square looks familiar, it’s because it was used it in the recent BBC adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.
Continue ahead into Jingling Lane, then at a junction turn right onto a path that passes under a footbridge. Follow this, as it negotiates its way back out through the town, passing the cricket pitch on the left, and returning to the car park at Bridge Brow.
How To Get There
Kirkby Lonsdale sits on the A65, 13 miles south-east of Kendal, and six miles from Junction 36 of the M6.
The Crossing Point Cafe,
7 Market Square, Kirkby Lonsdale, LA6 2AN
Tel: 01524 298050
A wide range of loose-leaf teas, homemade cakes and meals made from locally-sourced produce. The Eggs Benedict is truly scrumptious!
The Royal Hotel,
Main Street, Kirkby Lonsdale, LA6 2AE
Tel: 01524 271966
This Georgian townhouse hotel overlooks the Market Square, and played its part in the BBC drama Jamaica Inn.
(c) Simon Whaley